Source : The Tribune – Harbans Singh
Regular contribution from young and old writers is trying to make up for dwindling readership and lack of publishers of Dogri literature
In 1943, when Dinu Bhai Pant composed Sheher pehlo pehl under the genre of gitlu, the tickle or titillation, there was no forum for the poem to be published. The irrepressible poet would visit various neighbourhoods of Jammu and recite his poem to all those who cared to listen. And, listen they did! It was that single poem that released the pent-up creativity of the Dogri-speaking people.
Those who study history of languages might be baffled by the fact that even though Dogri finds mention in Amir Khusro’s Masnawi Nuh Siphir, and subsequently, all through history there have been eminent people from the Jammu and Kangra region, who sporadically wrote in Dogri, yet it could never develop into a throbbing literary scene. Also, during the rule of Maharaja Ranbir Singh in the 19th century, it was the court language along with Persian. The literature, as we know it, came to be created only after the bold efforts of Dinu Bhai Pant.
It was only after 1957 that Dogri literary works came to be regularly published, and since then there has been no looking back. The interregnum, however, was not a barren period. Led by Ram Nath Shastri, Dinu Bhai Pant, Ved Pal Deep, Yash Sharma, Tara Smailpuri and Kehri Singh Madhukar to name a few, this period made significant contribution towards the evolution of literature through magazines and periodicals.
Most of these writers were progressive in their thought and the streak of rebellion and the cry for justice for the farmers and the downtrodden was dominant. The standouts were Dinu Bhai Pant’s Mehnat da Geet, the Song of Labour and Gujari, The Milk-maid, and Madhukar’s Kohlu and Eh kun mau da lal seeta thari ya, who is this son of a mother who has died of cold.
This empathy for the downtrodden as well as the celebration of the labouring class and the farmers remained a dominant theme even when the state of Jammu and Kashmir became the first in the country to introduce land reforms and strip the privileged class of its aura and power.
Bawa Jitto, the legendary hero, has enjoyed an abiding presence in the Dogri consciousness; cutting across the class and caste divide. This explains how he has been reinvented by authors of various genres. If Ram Nath Shastri wrote a play about his life and ultimate sacrifice, others like Jitendra Udhampuri have recreated him in his poetry. In this genre, Parkash Premi, with his Bedden dharti di, The Pain of The Earth, about the suffering of the mother and the farmer and the earth, stands among the best that has been produced in this country.
The Raje Diyan Mandiyan by Padma Sachdev too falls in this category. To Sachdev also goes the credit of making the rest of the country sit up and take notice of Dogri when she prevailed upon Lata Mangeshkar to sing a Dogri song. Surprisingly, the years immediately after the accession of the state were marred by controversial politics that led to a near revolt and alienation of Jammu, and, yet it is not reflected in the literature of the 1950s or even subsequent years. While the political wound continues to fester to this day, it appears to have been excised from the consciousness of the creative class.
Currently, there is a new breed of writers, bold in experiments and exploring the inner self as well as the dark secrets and recesses of human consciousness and society. A large number among them are bi-lingual if not multilingual. Among the in-between generation, the most significant name that draws attention is Ved Rahi. Possessed of multiple talents, he produced two great novels — one from the history of Kashmir and the other of a more recent experience. While Lal Ded deals with the celebrated saint-poetess of Kashmir, Anant has the Amarnath Yatra agitation of recent years as its backdrop. Both, however, delve into the philosophical aspect of life.
Among the younger lot, names of Mohan Singh, Promila Manhas, Vijaya Thakur, Vijay Begana, Naseeb Singh Manhas, Devinder Thakur and Ritu Singh stand out. The vibrancy of the literary movement and the restlessness of the young writers can be gauged by the fact that Surjit Hosh brings the writers regularly under the roof of Meri Mitar Mandli:Ek Sahityak Kranti for regular discussions in Udhampur.
Champa Sharma, who has primarily written about middle-class women in her stories deserves a special mention. Her writing marked the presence of Dogri literature among the contemporary writers. Her Saak Sunna, Preet Pital — Relations Are Gold, Love Is Brass, established her as a writer of prominence in the genre.
Writers like Lalit Magotra, long-time president of the Dogri Sanstha and also member of the executive committee of the Sahitya Akademi, Delhi and Ved Rahi straddle the two generation of creative writers. After writing stories and plays for a long time, it is only in the second innings that Magotra began to write poetry, an important one being Zameen.
Thus, cutting across generations, creativity thrives among these hill people even though the odds are heavily stacked against them. For one, the readership is limited and like most regional languages, a few among them are willing to buy. But even a bigger hurdle is that there are no publishers who are ready to support and market the writers. Thus, the writers spend their own money to keep the movement running.
In this scenario, the role and support of the akademi is a drop of manna. Both Ajiz Hajini, the president of J&K Academy for Arts and Culture and Lalit Magotra President of Dogri Sanstha, the oldest organisation in the region, agree that Sahitya Akademi has helped sustain the creativity of not only Dogri writers, but all regional writers as well. Hajini, however, does not give too much of importance to the awards though he himself has been an award winner. A threat to Dogri, just like in case of regional languages, is from the onslaught of English and the ever-spreading wings of globalisation.
Thus, the situation requires all-hands-on-deck approach and we must realise that mother tongue and national and international languages are not always incompatible.
— The writer is author of Karan Singh: Jammu & Kashmir (1949-1967)