Sarvanand Koul Premi – Martyr to a belief

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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 newspaper 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 neighborhood.
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 he 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 changeove as Jawaharlal Nehru had advised him to carry along all sections of 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 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, undergone 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 Hazratbal Shrine. The diabolical act caused widespread anger among the followers which in no time assumed an anti-India colour. 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 Lal Bahadur 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 (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, Premiji 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 life, for young and college going students, generally, Cine stars and film songs-not the seriously written poetry and serious looking poets-are 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 hallmark of the carefree and unassuming rural life and the raw surroundings, Premiji had come from. That was my first acquaintance with the person and thus got the sketch of Premiji ingrained in my mind!
Later on, at number of times I did have fleeting glimpse of Premiji 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, O N 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 October 1984, when my younger brother Virji tied marital knot with dear Tejaji, daughter of Pt Radhakrishan. Pt Sarvanand Koul ji was there to receive the Barat. 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 scholarships and command on vocabulary, of so many languages, were so wide and intense as to bring home, both, letter and spirit of Tagore’s Gitanjali to the readers of Kashmiri language. Premiji’s biography of Saint Mirza Kak is a cherished possession of the devotees.
Limitations impede me to assess the literary greatness of Premiji. 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 Premiji’s life story, his activism (both educational and political) aimed at ameliorating the lot of downtrodden, 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 neighbours 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 Premiji 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 Premiji and his younger son the culprits have committed a threefold murder. Trust has been the third causality: Trust, created by Premiji, of which his neighbours, of different faith, were the major 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 Premiji’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, Rest In Peace
(The author is a former Principal District & Session Judge)

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