Friday, 3 January 2014

Reading Prof. G. R. Malik as Critic

Today we discuss one of the most gifted teachers and distinguished scholars that Kashmir University has the honour of  nurturing – Prof. G. R. Malik. There are two kinds of students of English in Kashmir University – those who have heard Prof. Malik lecturing on English Romantics or Shakespeare and those who are not so fortunate.

A scholar of classics of at least four languages, arguably the most accomplished scholar of Iqbal studies in Kashmir, the most illustrious teacher of English literature in last three decades, a treat to listen in religious gatherings and refresher programmes or teacher training sessions or as speaker in seminars, the most formidable voice in  what some  literary critics have called Tameeri Adab movement in Kashmir, Prof. G. R.  Malik is the best known Kashmiri literary critic of English literature. He is also  one of the most articulate Kashmiri ideologues of Islamic literary and cultural tradition.

It is unfortunate that no comprehensive critical appreciation of Prof Malik’s work has so far been attempted. Perhaps it is because our critics here in the State chose to ignore him or fail to take note of him for some personal reasons or can’t adequately appreciate his contributions that are marked by vast readings and breadth of horizon. Value judgments that take some isolated extra literary engagement of the critic can’t be taken seriously in this regard and are best ignored and it is largely such “criticism” that has been forthcoming  in Kashmir.

Some of his key merits as a critic and teacher of literature may be pointed out here to emphasize the point why he will continue to be inspiration for newer scholars looking for treasures of the best of both Oriental and Western literature.

His wide readings across literatures

I don’t think he has hardly  any rival in the scholars/teachers/literary critics of the State in this regard as he has great command of Kashmiri, Urdu, Persian and English languages and  has working knowledge of Arabic and more importantly a great taste for literary works, especially classics of all these languages. What is more important is how he has been able to put in perspective what he has read.

His strong grounding in Tradition 

What distinguishes him from otherwise greater poets or critics or other scholars of certain literary traditions here is  his strong connection with Tradition though he has approached it primarily from religious rather than metaphysical prism. There is freshness of spirit in him that makes his readings treasured pieces in the classical sense that requires twin principles of delight and instruction for reading literature. Who else than Prof. Malik can illuminate, in such a scholarly and delightful manner and put in the perspective of Tradition, the sublime depths of many great Masters of literature like Ghalib or Rumi or Iqbal or Shakespeare or Wordsworth or Yeats for students of literature in Kashmir?

His catholicity of literary taste

Despite being a staunch critic of all anti-transcendental secular thought currents that have informed much of modern literature and criticism he has enjoyed teaching such works as Waiting for Godot. He has no difficulty in assimilating or putting in perspective such divergent writers as Eliot, Yeats, Beckett, Joyce, Goethe, Hafiz, Ghalib and Iqbal  - to name only few of the giants whom he liberally quotes. He has no issues on different ideological  backgrounds informing great artists while reading or enjoying their works as works of art. His range is quite astounding as can be glimpsed from titles of his published works or papers. Although he advocates art for life’s sake he has great ear for Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde who stood for the opposite ideal. An advocate of art as escape from personality, as an essentially inspired and mystical enterprise, as a moral force against dehumanization, as  consecration to the Spirit of Beauty, Prof. Malik is arguably Kashmir’s finest flowering of  the marriage of literary traditions  - Western and Islamic Indo-Persian. As a contributor to IGNOU texts on criticism his services and credentials have been nationally acknowledged.

Precise and Lucid Style

His critical pieces are valuable for clarity, focus and lucidity. His such works as  Kashmiri Culture and Literature: Some Glimpses of Kashmiri Culture can be presented as evidence of his diverse gifts as stylist who hardly indulges in vague generalizations but writes precisely and takes the pains to document or give references where needed. As classics of modern literary criticism of Kashmir one can cite his  essays on Oriental Aesthetics, Agha Shahid Ali, Ghani, Syed Ali Hamdani – to name only a handful  - in this book.  His ability to present the most abstruse works in lucid style is simply enviable.  His qualifying clauses show how careful and precise his scholarship is.

Inimitable Iqbal Scholar

He has written on Iqbal with such authority and grace that his essays on Iqbal are the most quoted or anthologized works in Iqbal criticism across the world. His wide readings in Islamic and allied disciplines that are required for Iqbal criticism contribute to his better reception. Equally at home in his prose or poetical writings his Surood-i-Sehr Aafreen and The Bloody Horizon: Iqbal’s Response to the West are permanent additions to both Iqbal criticism and studies on comparative literature. His major work  Iqbal and the English Romantics must be ranked amongst the few best doctoral works of humanities departments in the Kashmir University  till date.

If we want to write a comprehensive history, or review, of Kashmiri literary tradition we must have along with Rahi or Rashid Nazki or Kamil, Prof. Malik  (although I have been unable to comprehend total rejection of the mystical in Rusul Mir in his monograph on him and his very sparse allusions to Kashmiri aestheticians in his works) in the Editorial board.

Prof Malik has had the good fortune to learn from the Masters of both the Western and Oriental literatures that has contributed to fashioning his personality as a critic. His revaluations of Kashmiri literary and cultural personalities are of considerable importance for any student of Kashmir. He has no great opinion about much of literary culture today but has not lost hope and is generous enough to eloquently  welcome work of budding poets and write forewords to many works. Very few local poets have succeeded in impressing him. He votes for Lal Ded as our greatest poet for presenting to the world. Amongst contemporaries he has eloquently praised parts of Rahi’s work and is quite respectful of very few other modern poets. His works on explication of Islam in modern idiom are amongst the best from Kashmir but this is not the focus today.

In the West there is a tradition of presenting a collection of essays in honour of distinguished scholars on their birthdays. There is also some institutional or extra institutional mechanism for extracting the best from such personalities. When shall we present such volumes to the likes of Rahi and Malik? It is critics like Prof Malik who introduce us to the best that is thought here or elsewhere. Critics are eyes of people. The question is do we know who are our best critics? And what are we doing to take them seriously?

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