Kashmir Mourns Death Of Rehman Rahi, Doyen Of Kashmiri Literature

Kashmiri poet Rehman Rahi is credited with salvaging Kashmiri from the shadow of Persian and Urdu which otherwise dominated the Kashmir Valley's literary scene. He was also awarded with the prestigious Jnanpith Award and Sahitya Akademi Fellowship.

Noted Kashmiri poet Rehman Rahi died on Monday. He was 98.

The Kashmir Valley on Monday is mourning the death of Kashmiri poet Rehman Rahi.

Rahi died on Monday at the age of 98. He was a noted poet and was awarded the Jnanpith Award in 2004. 

Rahi is credited with salvaging Kashmiri from the shadow of Persian and Urdu which otherwise dominated the Kashmir Valley's literary scene.

'He was perhaps the most humble man in Srinagar'

Abir Bazaz of Ashok University says Rahi was passionate about a range of subjects such as Greek literature, Sanskrit kavya, and European modernismn. He adds he was perhaps the most humble man in Srinagar.

“Rahi Sahib simply was the greatest poet of modern Kashmiri language. Rahi Sahib was not only a poet but also a philosopher of Kashmiri meanings. Perhaps the only way to situate Rahi Sahib is with such giants of Kashmiri literature and philosophy as Anandavardhana, Abhinavagupta, Lal Ded, Nund Rishi and Ghani Kashmiri,” says Bazaz, Assistant Professor of English at Ashoka University.

He adds, “Yet, Rahi Sahib’s vision was truly cosmopolitan. Not only did he have a passion for classical Greek literature, Persian poetry, Sanskrit kavya but also European modernisms, existentialism and Marxism. 

“I understood the depth of Rahi’s Sahib’s engagement with Marxism when he once casually discussed Althusser’s turn away from Hegel to Marx. Yet the real lesson in meeting Rahi Sahib was always a moral one. He was perhaps the most humble man in Srinagar. Rahi Sahib turned towards Sanskrit literary theory towards the end and spent his time reading Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta.” 

Tributes from Kashmiri leaders

Former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said, “I am deeply saddened by the demise of legendary Kashmiri poet and lyricist Rahman Rahi sahib. He will be remembered for his pre-eminent contribution as a poet and as a critic enriching Kashmiri language and literature in a profound manner. With his memorable and progressive poetry, he has left an indelible mark on the hearts of people. Today, the literary world of Kashmir has suffered a great loss. His death marks an end of an era.” 

Following Rahi’s death, former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti said, “Saddened to hear about the sad demise of towering literary personality and Gyaanpeeth Awardee Jinab Rehman Rahi sahab. In his death, Kashmiri literature and society has been left with a void that can never be filled. My condolences to the family.”

The life and legacy of Rehman Rahi

Rahi’s original name is Abdur Rehman Mir. Born in Srinagar in 1925, he did his masters in Persian. He also has masters in English literature from the University of Kashmir. He joined the Department of Persian at the University of Kashmir as lecturer. 

Later in 1977, he joined the newly-established Department of Kashmiri at the University of Kashmir. He taught in the department of Kashmiri till his retirement.

Rahi was the youngest Indian to be given the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1961 for “Nauroz-i-Saba”, a collection of his outstanding poems. 

The Sahitya Akademi also honoured Rahi with Sahitya Academy Fellowship, India's highest literary honour in 2000. The fellowship was given in recognition for his long contribution to Kashmiri literature and culture. Rahi received Jnanpith (for the year 2004) in 2007 for his literary work. He is the only Kashmiri to win this award ever.

Over the years, the poet emerged as the most authentic voice of Kashmiri language. His book Siyah Rood Jaren Manz (In Black Vernal Showers) released in 1996 is a long lament on the political turmoil in Kashmir. The book, which is regarded as his finest work, earned him a Padma Shri in 1999.

Rahi is credited with salvaging Kashmiri from the shadow of Persian and Urdu which otherwise dominated the Valley's literary scene.

Rahi was the founder member of Kashmiri progressive writers movement called Cultural Congress. It was set up in 1947 and lasted till early ‘60s. 

Literary critic Dr Abid Ahmad says, “In his early poems, he comes off as an idealist romantic, aspiring for a perfect world where all his young passions would find fulfilment. His poetic collection Nouroz-i-Saba bears the imprint of this mix of the progressive ideology and romantic aspirations.

“This compounding of the romantic with his passion for pure art is visible in many of his poems including Sheayir (The poet), Husn-e lazawal (The immortal beauty) and above all in fann baraye fann (Art for art’s sake). The last one celebrates art as an attitude which in itself is sufficient to survive in life.”