More than a decade back, sitting in a newspaper office, a fellow writer Ashraf Sahil suggested the idea of instituting of the ‘private awards’ in Kashmir for literature. Comparing the reports and writings of journalists of Kashmir, works of some writers with the literary works of Barbara Harlow, he suggested instituting of annual awards for best journalists, fiction writers, novelists and poets of the year. And for creating a trust for starting the awards, he expressed his readiness of donating half of his retirement emoluments as seed money. Much before the idea could concretise, he was taken critically ill and died in harness. And, the idea also died with him. The idea once again cropped some years back, when a civil society group in a roundtable conference focussing on the importance of promoting ‘genuine literature’ – “literature that maintains its rhythm in pace with the dynamic currents of society” also contemplated of introducing ‘the People’s Award in literature and fine arts’. Moreover, it also talked about mobilising funds for encouraging scholars for conducting research independent of taboos and do’s and don’ts by the academic councils of various universities in the state.
Once again, I realised the importance of introducing the ‘private awards’ or the ‘peoples awards’ for literature and creating institutions for offering fellowships and grants for supporting scholars for conducting genuine research in different disciplines without any tags attached when two young scholars approached a ‘non-academic’ like me for guidance for suggesting them some topic for research on Kashmir. On the face of it, the subject they had subject for research work for their doctorate were virgin and not much work had been done on them. Nevertheless, the respective Boards of Research Studies of their Universities in the state and outside had asked them to tailor the proposals in keeping with the “sensitivities of the State.” In these takes from the universities, I also found answers to the queries of some scholar friends; why I depended too much on the research works of American and European authors and scholars, including scholars like Mirdu Rai and Ayesha Jalal of South Asian origin instead of the research work by some scholars from universities of Jammu and Kashmir and many other Indian Universities . It is a subject that needs to be dwelled upon in greater depth. Nonetheless, I will touch it briefly in this column while making a point for the need for funding of research work by the society.
The idea of the ‘Private Awards’ or the ‘Peoples Awards’ may not find favour with many older generation poets and writers, part of a literary movement during the sixties and the seventies. That the Government of India has founded some ‘prestigious awards’ the Jnanpith Award, the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Yuva Puraskar for promoting literature and focussing on achievements in this field can’t be denied. And the state of Jammu and Kashmir has also done its bit by introducing some awards to recognise the achievements of writers and poets. Many familiar names, contributing to poetry and literature in the state have been recipients of these awards. Equally some of Kashmir writers, like many others have been awarded civilian award Padma Shri for their works. That the masterpieces of the literature of dissent were ignored is a reality, and on many an occasion, this award was subjected to expediencies creating ripples of protests in the literary circles is also a fact. Some years back poet, painter and journalist Pritish Nandy in an article the ‘Importance of Awards’ protested against subjecting these awards to politics wrote:
“ So when a Sant Singh Chatwal is awarded a Padma Bhushan after facing five CBI cases for cheating banks in India and other frauds in the US, it’s a shame that will take us years to live down. Interestingly, our Embassy in Washington DC was asked to recommend him for a Padma Shri. When they refused, his award was upgraded to a Padma Bhushan as if to score a point.”
In 2010, Awarding Padma Shri, to G M Mir alias Mume Kanna, after it had been recommended after it had been supported by the state, had its tale to say about the awards given by the State. Nonetheless, in our state, where political conveniences reign supreme, the introduction of the ‘people’s awards’ has become imperative for acknowledging the literary excellence of poets and writers who write in the vein of their predecessors like Abdul Ahad Azad. In Urdu and Kashmiri, there are lots of literary work that deserved the ‘peoples awards’, two names that instantly came to my mind are a collection of short stories ‘Ailaan Jari Hai’ and a poetic collection, ‘Taran Gari’ Lots, of youth during the past two decades have taken to writing in English, and have produced masterpieces of poetry and fiction. A couple of online journals carrying works of these talented poets and writers testify; many of them are going to make it to the top like their predecessors Agha Shahid Ali and Mirza Waheed. These youngsters deserve to be acknowledged by their society- and the private awards could be a recognition that would encourage them to produce the best literary works and bring literature of the land on the map world literature.
The introduction of the private awards in the state would not be blasphemous. In India alone not speak of other countries there are at least half a dozen significant and prestigious organisation in private that have instituted awards for literature, these include Tata Literature Live Award, the Hindu Literary Prize, the Crossword Book Award and the Birla Foundation Award. These organisations are recognising literary merit of the works if the writers who may not be in sync with the power centres or the recommending authorities.
Most of the research studies on South Asia by American and European writers are genuinely quality works compared to their counterparts in the region because these are done independently of the state and control of the universities. And are sponsored by the private, independent, non-profit organisation. The research studies conducted on the region by scholars from Robert R Wirsing to Stephen and from Ayesha Jalal to Chitralekha Zutshi but for funding by the independent funding organisation would not have been possible. Chitralekha acknowledges this writes, that her book ‘Language of Belonging’ that involved travel in three continents would not have been likely without fellowship from American Institute of Indian Studies, a grant from Taraknath Das Foundation at Columbia University and Tufts University.
The civil society and patrons of the environment and literature need to come forward to see authentic research done on various facets of the state that otherwise the Universities and state-run institutes are disinclined to take up. The cliché “state sensitivities” that hangs like the sword of Damocles in the ‘Boards of Research Studies’ in our Universities does not come in conducting honest research.
Z. G .MUHAMMAD
Columnist and Writer