Kosher mystic in letter and spirit—Rahi goes on 

His doting for the Kashmiri language is an eternal love story.

In a maudlin atmosphere created by a veteran versifier’s departure lately, a murmur failed to become a farewell moment. 

Some of the pallbearers wanted the fallen poet’s avowal as his epitaph. It compliments, they argued, Rehman Rahi’s lifelong literary campaign and contribution. 

Everybody sees the moon, goes the poetic remark, but Kashmiris see it differently.

The rhymester’s remark, many reckon, reflects his deep love for identity rooted in the kosher language he likened with a nation. 

And in that nation, the bard argued, mystics like Nund Reshi and Lal Ded are the founding stones. Their shruks and vakhs predominantly drove the native discourse for decades and kept the native language alive for which they became the household legends in Kashmir. 

While paying homage to his homeland’s language torchbearers, Rahi went for a Shikara ride on Jhelum one day. The ripping time, with the river and his rhymes, became one of his rare televised talks. 

Haye kasher zev
Me che cheeni drieh
Cze myeen khabar 
Cze myeev nzar
Cze myeen shaoor ‘ich sonzil zich
Cze myeeni zameer’ich mecx’sang

(O Kashmiri language! 
I swear by you,
you are my awareness, 
my vision too
the radiant ray of my perception
the whirling violin of my conscience!) 

Had it not been for his Kashmiri language, he once said, the poet would’ve never been able to achieve insightful expression of thought. 

But what was poetry for Rahi?

“Poetry is like a snail,” he explained during his lifetime, “and just like a snail perceives things by very slowly and carefully feeling its way and spreading its touch in the surroundings, much in the same way a poet brings words into play to seek the subject of his poetry, or the shape of his experience, of which, before composing his verses, he had only a faint or ambiguous perception. It’s clear that to reach the soul of such verses, the reader must touch every word of the poet with the fingertips of feeling, ponder over their meaning in the depths of thinking and raise them to the heights of creative imagination so that he too may discover the magic of the poet’s fundamental experience as a unity.”


Before coming of age, Rehman Rahi was a passionate student of the iconic Islamia School in the pre-47 era, with regular run-ins with some runaway romantics and readers. 

During those tumultuous times, he toiled to polish his poetic expression. His love for Iqbal and his poetic volume was quite prodigious. Rahi’s reporter-stint with some political mouthpiece apart, it was his active role in the progressive writers movement that made him pen romanticism, existential dilemma and the human predicament. 

The poet’s love for language propelled his pen-pushing career and took it to a professor emeritus’s chair. At the fag-end of his classroom career, his literary campaign took the concrete form of the University of Kashmir’s Kashmiri Department. 

But in the deeply disturbed decade of 90s, the doyen went silent — prompting many to question his “politics of poetry”. His valiant verses eventually addressed the public concern arguing that it’s a tightrope walk for the men-of-letters in the strife zone. “They can’t stay silent over the situation,” he said. “But at the same time, they can’t become casualty either.”

Amid the debate, Rahi contained himself from being influenced by any social changes which could be seen well reflected in his poetry, be it the Marxist idiosyncrasy, Stalinism, Modernism or the dwindling Kashmiri language, or the depleting readers for Kashmiri literature. His doting for the Kashmiri language is an eternal love story. 

Often seen attributing the vastitude of his work to the flexibility that this language offers, the only Kashmiri conferred with Jnanpith award said that “as long as this beautiful language shall live, Rahi also shall live on”.

Always bubbling with pride and passion for his language, Rahi was always grateful and acknowledged mystic figures for having played a pivotal role in bringing out the true nectar of the Kashmiri language and taking it to a higher pedestal. 

In ‘Shiekh ul Alam Sund Shairana Andaz’, Rahi provides a detailed interpretation of the patron saint’s verses called shruks. “Rahi’s understanding of the shruks is no less than an ode,” Abir Bazaz, a Kashmiri academic, notes in his dissertation about the negative theology of Nund Rishi.

Reading and judging Haẓrat-e Shaikh’s poetry, Rahi writes in his essay on the saint, it is important to bear in mind that Haẓrat Shaikh is fundamentally a Rishi and a Sufi of deep meanings because of which the overall air (kulham fizā) of his experience is extraordinary (ghạ̄r momūli). 

“Like most poets,” Rahi notes, “he [Nund Reshi] does not array his poetry with human love, longing, or revenge. Nor does he clothe everyday experience in the garment of poetry. In his best moments, Haẓrat-e Shaikh, instead of desiring recognition for himself from you or us finds himself face-to-face before the Six Directions and the creator of the universe.” 

The truth is, Rahi writes, that many of the Sheikh’s shruks are like sleeping embers in the ash and until the soot that has settled on these embers is shaken off, “we cannot have a proper estimate of their light or heat”.

In a one-to-one with Abir, Rahi concedes his astonishment that he was able to draw out the meaning of the following shruk:

Duniyahkis tạtis mạtis nāras 
Dīshith anāras kạrim gath 
Shaitạ̄n lạsh lạjim petsi bāras 
Rạ̄vam tsūras tāras vath 

(The mad fire of this world 
I see a pomegranate I circumambulate it in desire 
The mound of dry grass catches fire 
The thief loses even the path back home)

To break down Nund Rishi’s shruks, many say, requires a mystic mastery. And this is what, they say, made Rahi a mystic in letter and spirit.

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