By B L SARAF
In mid sixties of the 20th Century I was pursuing graduation studies in S P College Srinagar . Coming from a far off place called Shopian and having been brought up in a rural atmosphere it seemed natural that whenever my father -Pandit Saroop Nath , be in the city he would ,invariably , send for me or, time permitting , himself visit the college. Father did so to enquire about my welfare : or , may be , assure himself that his rustic son, who was new to the place , had not fallen to the charm of “other side “ of the city . True to the pattern , one day in early summer of 1964 father, who had come down , sent a word that I should see him after my class work was over . The suggested meeting place was the office of “ Roznama Khadmat “ then an official news paper of the ruling National Conference party . The place was convenient because it lay opposite to my college – in a lane taking off from the Residency road , near India Coffee House , abutting the “ Bund “. The iconic Ahdoos Hotel was in close neighbor hood .
Those days Khadmat was being edited by Pandit Nand lal Wattal , a veteran journalist and an authentic freedom fighter whom I had met with earlier , in company of my father . Before Independence my father himself had spent precious period of his life fighting the autocratic rule which made him suffer incarceration of many years . He was one among the few Kashmiri Pandits who had joined National Conference , soon after it metamorphosed from its earlier incarnation of Muslim Conference, in 1939 . Sheikh Abdulla was instrumental in the changeover as Jawaharlal Nehru had advised him to carry along all sections of the J&K , so that a meaningful campaign could be launched to usher in a democratic rule in the state .
Entering the office I bowed to Sh Wattal , who was in the chair and those seated around the table – father included . I was signaled to take a seat in a corner which I did . They were in a serious discussion which at times had an animated tone – at times it assumed a somber note . Sometimes they felt silent . Nonetheless , their silence was too eloquent to miss the underlying worry and concern for the future .
The seriousness of the discussion was palpable and quite understandable . Pt Jawaharlal Nehru had just passed away . The State, in general, and Kashmir in particular had ,in the winter months , under gone a political and religious upheaval of a larger proportion . People in the Valley had come out on the roads in what looked to be a near revolt against India . Reason for the uprising was a despicable act . A Sacred Relic was found missing from the revered place in Hazrat bal Shrine . The diabolical act caused widespread anger among the followers which in no time assumed an anti India color . Knowledgeable persons hold that had it not been the political sagacity of Maulana Massoudi , who lead the people in Kashmir in those tumultuous times , and the political cum administrative deftness employed by Shri Lal Bhadur Shastri – deputed by Nehru to bring situation back from the brink – game would have been over for India then ,in January 1964 . The political fallout locally , however , couldn’t be avoided which effectively spelt the end of Bakshi Gulam Mohammad’s political carrier and ensured rise of G M Sadiq to the throne . Nehru ,too , suffered a shock which , apparently ,brought his end nearer .
When the meeting ended and people moved out of the office , father signaled me to follow him close by . After enquiring about my welfare and progress in studies father relieved me . The significance of what followed thereafter recalls the whole scene to my mind , rather vividly . No sooner had I moved towards my destination than father summoned me back and told me to pay respects to a gentleman standing alongside him . Together , both had moved out of the Khadmat office . I did as ordered . Whereupon father gave a detailed introduction of the person , his achievements in the field of art and literature and the role he had played in spread of education in the far flung area of Kokernag . Father respectfully called him Master Premi JI ( suffixed was his pen name ) and recounted his association with Masterji when both were incarcerated in quit Kashmir movement . And the illustrious person for whom I was summoned back to pay respects happened to be Pt Sarvanand Koul Premi of Soaf – Shali , Kokernag . Then I came to know that , driven by his journalistic propensity , Premi JI was a regular visitor to the Khadmat office .
Frankly speaking , even such a imposing C V of a man wouldn’t impress, much, a young man like me ( as I was then ) who had just come out of adolescence . At that stage of the life , for young and college going students , generally , Cine stars and film songs – not the seriously written poetry and serious looking poets – are the objects of attraction and interest . Nonetheless , there was something in persona of the man that I felt compelled to have a second look of him . Masterji looked a typical Kashmiri Pandit , had sharp facial features and a slim physique where on his well tailored Bandgalla jacket and trousers fitted appropriate . His well tended luxurious crop of hair was properly combed and , in the mould of so many male matinee idols of the time , had a straight parting line . If I recall correctly , Master ji had a Tilak dotting his forehead . All in all , his physical turn out exhibited a youngish and an immaculate demeanor , normally not a hall mark of the carefree and unassuming rural life and the raw surroundings, Premi JI had come from . That was my first acquaintance with the person ; and thus got the sketch of Premi ji ingrained in my mind !
Latter on , at number of times I did have fleeting glimpse of Premi Ji on the dais either in Tagore hall or in Auditorium of Women’s College Amira kadal , Srinagar ; where he would demonstrate his literary acumen in company of greats like Dina nath Nadim , Prof Hajni , Rehman Rahi , Amin Kamil and dozens of other literary giants . In Women’s College Auditorium I found Premi ji seated among host of political bigwigs of the period ; namely Syed Mir Qasim , Pir Gyasudin , Noor Mohammed , M L Misri , ON Trisal , Abdul Sattar Ranjoor , A G Namtahli and many others .
My serious and fairly profitable interaction with the great man took place in Village Hangulgund , in the house of late Pt Radhakrishan Hangloo – an illustrious father of an equally illustrious son – Prof Rattan lal Hangloo . It was a pleasant autumn day , in Oct 1984 , when my younger brother Vir JI tied marital knot with dear Teja ji – daughter of Pt Radhakrishan . Pt Sarvanand Koul ji was there to receive the Baraat .It so happened that Mirza Gulam Qadir Beg ( elder brother of Mirza Afzal Beg ) was also present there . The three political activists ( father included ) , known to one another very well , had a very absorbing discussion among themselves , of which politics constituted a major part . The discussion provided me with a good measure to assess the brilliance , clarity of thought , firmness of belief in Kashmir’s pluralism and emancipated articulation cum interpretation of religious scriptures – across religions – Premi ji was endowed with .
Shaeed Sarvanand Koul Premi was , undoubtedly , a multifaceted personality . As alluded to hereinbefore, he combined in himself a poet , author , thinker , scholar , an authentic translator and a socio-political activist of high repute . Journalism was another feather added to his cap . Range of his scholarship and command on vocabulary , of so many languages , were so wide and intense as to bring home ,both, letter and spirit of Tagore’s Gitangali to the readers of Kashmiri language . Premi JI’s biography of Saint Mirza Kak is a cherished possession of the devotees .
Limitations impede me to assess the literary greatness of Premi JI . The domain experts have done it elaborately . The exercise , nevertheless , is ongoing one . With the passage of time new and hitherto unexplored facets of Martyr’s literary and political works keep on coming to the fore . It is said that indigenous communities across globe have always attached profound cultural , political and spiritual significances to the great works of poets , painters and art practitioners .Poetry has been representing voice of the people ,their trials , tribulations and aspirations in the language entwined with ideas , emotions touching the very core of readers hearts and minds . It is not an overstatement to say that in our times ,so far as Kashmir is concerned , one of the intense ,passionate and exciting voices belonged to Pt Sarvanand Koul Premi . It is a tragedy -beyond words – that such a voice got silenced by a demented assassin .
Going through Premi Ji’s life story , his activism ( both educational and political ) aimed at ameliorating the lot of down trodden , yearning for a democratic form of governance and literary out puts – of varied nature – one could safely say that , as a true intellectual , he was endowed with a quality to hold multiple ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain ability and courage to concentrate on one of them – that of the syncretism which in our context is euphemistically known as Kashmiriat . It is the firmness of that belief which explains Koul Sahib’s insistence to stay put when terrorists had ordered his whole community to move out of the Valley . On the other side , some may say that it was too much of a generous attribute he , fatally , granted to his neighbors of other faith . And , that may afford a reason for them to raise a question that Sarvanand Koul Prem’s intelligence proved inadequate when confronted with the hard realities of the time . Could , therefore, they say that more than assassins’ bullet Premi Ji fell prey to his own error of judgment ? My answer to it is emphatic NO .
Well , history is replete with the instances where great men of learning fell prey to the demented, despite having fore knowledge of what they ultimately came to . Hundreds of men and women who had made a mark in their lives , across globe and faiths , have been crucified at the Cross . Generally , the hangmen happened to belong to the tribe which had befitted most of the hard toil put in by those whom they put to the Cross . In the martyrdom of Premi JI and his younger son the culprits have committed a threefold murder . Trust has been the third causality : Trust , created by Premi JI , of which his neighbors , of different faith , were the measure beneficiaries . A Trustee seldom causes a breach in the trust . In the martyrdom of Pt Sarvanand Koul and his younger son Verinder onus is heavy on the beneficiaries to account for the betrayal . They are as much culpable , albeit passively , as those who committed the dastardly act , actually.
Terrorists may have snatched his mortal remains but Master Premi Ji’s humanism , in the genre of Abdual Ahad Azad and Gulam Mohammad Mehjoor , will remain immortal to sustain hope in human values . No wonder , it was Mehjoor who gave us Premi out of Pt Sarvanand Koul .
For Pt Sarvanand Koul Premi the poet has very apt words ;
Hazaroon Saal Nargis Apni Be noory Pae Rotee Hai
Badie Mushkil say Hoteh Hain Chaman Mein Deedawar Paida
Respected Premi JI , Rest In Peace
BUSHAN LAL SARAF is a former Principal District & Sessions Judge . He is a columnist and author of book New Lexicon Of the Kashmiris . He can be mailed at bushanlalsaraf@ g mail.com Mb No 94191 -61022 . He originally belongs to Shopian , Kashmir and is presently living , in exile , in Jammu. 181205