Saturday, 2 May 2015

Why Read Rahi?

Because Rahi is to Kashmir what Sartre is to France
Muhammmad Yusuf Taing, one of the frontline critics of Kashmiri literature and culture, believes  that it will require another 500 years to produce second Rahi. Why? Let us seek to investigate today.
How it is possible,for any critic, to say that “Rahi is Kashmir”, as Charles de Gaule, the famous French President, said about Sartre: “Sartre is France.” “What do you like from Rahi’s poetry?” “All of it is dear to me,” replied one of the meticulous readers, and critics of Kashmiri poetry. If we ask this question regarding even the great Kashmiri Sufi poets, not to speak of other poets, none of our important critics can go to this extent. 
Rahi giving us, in captivating and sublime language, the best of Persian Masters in (post)modern idiom,. He has expressed the best of Indio-Persian Kashmiri literary heritage in the (post)modern or contemporary idiom, it is he who has distilled in local idiom,  certain important elements in Hafiz, Bedil and Ghalib, on the one hand, and German Romantic-mystic poets on the other hand. And this, without failing to appropriate the mostly benign influences from almost a dozen of the best writers including transcendentalists, modernists, existentialist and absurdists. 
Whose work presents the most comprehensive and serious adaptation of or engagement with the Tradition?  If we have to pick up one living writer from Kashmir who can stand shoulder to shoulder with the literary giants from other cultures in the contemporary world, whom would we pick up?  Rrahi.
Rahi’s wide readings across traditions (his translations from variety of literatures shows this), his great capacity to be receptive to all experience, (he resists all dogmatic posturing both as a critic and a poet), his deep respect for the Tradition, and his great integrity to concede his “art of failure” in the face of the Inscrutable but Irresistible Power and Beauty that moves all things, make him quintessentially human in Shakespearian-Keatsean-Yeatsean terms.
Some studies on Rahi’s poetry have been published but little on him as a translator and critic. Rahi’s Kahvit easily passes as the best book on literary criticism in Kashmiri. There is something universal in his sensibility and taste that he could find himself at home  (as translator) in such diverse things as Arabic  masterpiece Sab'a Muallaqat, Punjabi Baba Farid’s Sufi poetry, English Marlowe’s Dr Faustus and Russian and German poetic and philosophical texts while not forgetting Persian that is his staple food.
The difficulties of penetrating Rahi’s universe of meaning convince me that he is not difficult because he intends to, but because Kashmiri tradition is “difficult.” Rahi has sought to give expression to almost all that is great, grand, noble, profound, and perennial in our tradition. The text used as Kashmir University tarana shows his horizon of imagination, his assimilative power and his grasp of the quintessential intellectual, spiritual, religious, artistic genius of Kashmir.
One can’t easily choose from Rahi’s verses to comment. Almost everything he has written deserves a comment. Just as tabarruk a few pieces:  The poem  “Splendour and the Psalm” sings a  hymn to language that even Heidegger would have perhaps paused before and even considered quoting to express his profoundly mystical vision of language as the house of Being. A more beautiful and compelling  argument for stating importance of Kashmiri language has not been made so far by all the institutions seeking to boost it.  Its haunting conclusion written in supremely lyrical tone reads: 
“O Kashmiri language
I swear. you are
…my vision and imagination
The shimmering beam of my consciousness
The frenzied violin of my conscience”. 
His lyrical genius expressed in Su gulab roi mei deuthum…is worthy heir to the legacy of Mehmood Gami and Rasul Mir. His Ad na se roudum panes tam  echoes our greatest Sufi poetry and could well be sung in Sufi gatherings if people didn’t get misled by the outward appearance of Rahi and could see the essential connection between art and saintliness. His poem Zindagi  is supremely lucid and an apt statement about our existential predicament. 
Rahi is a poet of heights and depths and that explains why he is not easily accessible. Reading Rahi, one gets a peep into almost everything important that engages modern mind and  that calls for response from a truly representative or universal poet.  Appropriating all the paths mankind has in approaching the ultimate questions of truth or reality – philosophy, mysticism, religion and poetry – Rahi gives us a poetry that will need generations to explore in all its riches.
He recovers from the modern wasteland of spirit something of the Sacred to illumine the dark odyssey that life has become today. Rahi’s faith consists in opening up to the Mystery that is the Divine or Sacred grounding everything he finds life in its essence while duly acknowledging our inability to have a proper dialogue with it ( thus resulting in his essentially tragic but not despairing vision) in the sense that one could ecstatically sing with Rumi or Hafiz. However, he has enough faith to make an address to It: “Chi yus chuk ti su, moan faryad boaz” reminding one of a chorus in Aeschylus addressing the Greek God “ Zeus:  whatever he may be.” Like this Zeus, the Sacred of Rahi  “constitutes  the hidden and unrepresentable background that sustains all the meaningful practices of the culture.”  How can we otherwise explain his exquisite Na’at  and tributes to Marsia. One can unearth such a deep and powerful conception of the sacred in “Rahi, the gossaen” Rahi who writes exquisite Na’at, Rahi who, in Kakaseque vein, finds hard to decode the language in which God talks to us.
He is the poet of future. Contemporaries have only admired him so far from a distance leaving the job of mining into his riches to the future generation as secularization and nihilism make their impact feel on a wider scale in the youth. I wish Rahi lives for another 50 years to see his work being appreciated across the world and a number of monuments raised in his honour.
Here many critics have confounded the man and the artist in Rahi; his great art redeems him if he needs this redemption. He is not a saint; he is an artist. The best of Rahi is unsaid; I hope we can decipher it between the lines he has bequeathed us. Rahi is a phenomenon. No reader of him can claim to have exhausted his riches. He is too subtle, profound and polysemic to let you sleep complacently after trying to read him.
We don’t have Kulliyati Rahi and I hope someday we will have it along with the translation in some major world languages. Rahi is modern Kashmiri literature’s daektik.
Tail Piece:
  I wait – I kept waiting till the last moment of Kamil Sahib as well – for special series of lectures and other interactive sessions with Rahi Sahib to be organized by tens of cultural and literary organizations including Kashmiri Department and J &K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.
We need to revive a tradition associated with Sufi poets and Pirs whom mureeds make best use of – every week a gathering in their honour and during other days creating occasions for them to speak – for trying to extract from Rahi what he has to offer. Some people are too important to be allowed to stay with their families only.
Once Rahi Sahib used to regularly come to Kashmir University on  Thursdays. Now that tradition too has gone. So where will Rahi lovers and students and scholars meet him?

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