Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor (1887-1952) is often referred to as Shayar-e-Kashmir, or the ‘Poet of Kashmir’ and a look at his biography and repertoire is enough to tell us why. Mahjoor worked as an administrator dealing in land records in the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. As a result of this, he travelled far and wide in the valley getting acquainted with the plight of the landless peasantry. This familiarity with destitute farmers left a deep imprint on his poetic style. He moved away from Urdu and Farsi and began to write in Kashmiri. He took poetry out of the confines of elite literary circles and ascribed to it the language, register and themes of common folk.
Tagore called Mahjoor the ‘Wordsworth of Kashmir’, alluding to the romanticism in his poetry. However, Mahjoor’s work went beyond the romanticism of the landscape and sentimentality of everyday life. He was perhaps the first poet to play with themes of patriotism, love of the land, human freedom and solidarity across religious lines, in the face of oppression. His verse praising his homeland, watan, Kashmir, draws from metaphors of nature,
bulbul wanan chu poshan
gulshan watan chu souni.
Mahjoora des sonuy
baagah chhu nundabonuy
ath lol gatghi baronuy
gulshan vatan chhu sonuy
The bulbul sings to the flowers:
‘A garden is our land!’
Mahjoor, our motherland
Is the loveliest on earth!
Shall we not love her best?
A garden is our land
(trans. Triloknath Raina)
Translated as ‘Arise O Gardener’, his poem vwolo ha baagwaano was adopted as an anthem of resistance, the rallying cry for the freedom movement in Kashmir. He calls out to his people to nurture their garden, ascribing personal responsibility to rise up against oppression.
vwolo haa baagvaano navbahaaruk shaan paadaa kar
phwolan gul gath karan bulbul tithee saamaan paadaa kar
chaman varaan rivaan shabnam tsätith jaamay
gulan tay bulbulan andar dubaaray jaan paadaa kar
ma thav gulzaaras andar swoy gulan kits swoy
yivaan sumbal chhi pay dar pay gule khandaan paadaa kar
karee kus bulbulaa aazaad panjaras mans tsu
tsu pananye dasta pananyan mushkilan aasaan paadaa kar
hakoomat maalo dolat naazo nemat bèyi shahanshaähi
yi soruy chhuy tsé nish paanas tsu amichee zaan paädaa kar
agar vuzanaavahan bastee gulan hanz traav zeero bam
bunyul kar vaav kar- gagraay kar toophaan paadaa kar
Arise O, gardener ! Create the glory of new spring!
Make flowers bloom and bulbuls sing – create such haunts!
The dew weeps, and your garden lies desolate;
Tearing their robes, your flowers are distracted.
Breathe life once again into the lifeless flower and the bulbul!
Rank nettles hamper the growth of your roses.
Weed them out, for look thousands
Of hyacinths are crowding at the gate!
Who will set you free, captive bird,
Crying in your cage? Forge with your own hands
The instruments of your deliverance!
Wealth and pride and comfort, luxury and authority,
Kingship and governance – all these are yours!
Wake up, sleeper, and know these as yours!
Bid good-bye to your dulcet strains. To rouse
This habitat of flowers, create a storm,
Let thunder rumble, – let there be an earthquake!
(trans. Trilokinath Raina)