A Visit to Kashmir’s Poet
Frozen Dal Lake, stiffened doors of Hotel, window panes full of vapour, without electricity is my hotel facing well known Boulevard Road of Srinagar. The elongated footpath between the Lake and Boulevard road is full of footprints impressed by people staggering on snow. With soporific eyes I watch this whole from the window of Shah Abbas Hotel as I woke up just couple of minutes before at 7:40 am.
We are here to feel what actually is winter, but the warm interactions with people of Kashmir, abates the chill of season and makes one feel mildly hot amidst snow.
Let my Family go anywhere today; I have a distinct plan for approaching afternoon. I have in my mind a plan to visit a younger poet of Kashmir, whose poetry invades my thought all times in home Lucknow and as well in Chennai. Though said sorrowful poetry adds to my sadness, but equally I am yearning to meet this poet. On bed—last night, I was questioning my heart about whole session that may take place as soon I meet him. But I didn’t know the address where the interaction would take place, even I didn’t know where his residence lies. What I knew was name and somewhere I read, he belonged to minority Shia community.
Soon after the breakfast, I asked my Daddy to ask his friend Anwar Hussain about this poet—Hussain was also a Shia Muslim, a friend of my daddy from Kashmir, living in Srinagar’s old town. Daddy called Hussain, who regretfully answered, for being oblivious about the person dad had asked. I then raised my hand and the pitch of voice simultaneously, hastened to whisper into daddy’s ear, “not to quit the call.” I told daddy to tell uncle Hussain, that poet belongs to family involved in recitation of elegies with Grand Muharram Procession of Kashmir, as if it might help to trace him. Fortunately, daddy conveyed same and uncle Hussain was asked for two minutes so that he would confirm with other person as well.
Four minutes later rang my Daddy’s phone, my heart beats raced. Daddy picked the call and luckily uncle directed daddy to visit a nearby place just 3.5 kilometres from the hotel we were staying in. Family packed the baggage to Gulmarg and I drove to Daulat Abad, in Khanyar vicinity where lies ancestral residence of poet I was up to meet. It took me around 20 minutes to drive 2 kilometres carefully on slippery snowy road. It was 11:50 in the morning but day was cloudy enough as one might mark the time with late evening. A traditional Baker’s shop emitting smoke was clearly visible in cold air of Kashmir’s winter near Daulat Abad mosque, where I beckoned an ununiformed student and asked for Poet’s four lettered long name Mirza Sharafat Hussain Beigh. He smiled and said “acha merzan hund” meaning “OK belonging to Mirza’s”. This humble boy guided me to a place that ended to an old heritage looking house where a color board was suspended naming any Handicapped Association. I entered the premises and asked for Mirza Sharafat. A person crawling on floor loudly said in Kashmiri which I translate like this “They are no more here, they live at Bemina”. This statement was enough to numb my nerves, with bare disappointment I insisted, if he would give me the address of his new residence. He proved as intellectual and wrote the address on the paper packing of Gold Flake cigarette. I clutched the hard paper and drove to the new address with the help of Google Map that was proper eleven kilometres far from ancestral residence.
At 01:20 in the less energetic noontide I reached exact sector and now my eyes were searching and scanning all marble plates naming owners of respective residences. At the end of long narrow street of colony I was now about to turn my car back— ignoring last house, I halted there and gazed over black letters engraved on clean white marble, reading ‘Mirza Beigh Residency’ in calligraphic font with curls and twisted serifs, ‘Walls of Warmth’ reads another line below the main line, that really warmed my pupil with satisfaction, and this was probably the residence of my poet. I pressed the main door bell—waiting under snow coupled mild rain—no one opened the door, in spite of repeated rings, only ghost was witness to my efforts. I entered myself, crossing the path near courtyard, I reached the vestibule and ringed the inner bell— again no one responded to my call. I rested over parapet after wiping water away, removed snowflakes off that had made black drape pure white. Just a minute—After all this, a lady looking around 50 yrs old wearing thick woollen scarf, came suddenly, stood still at threshold and looked at me, with kind shrunk eyes, somehow reluctant but exchanged pleasantries, then asked my purpose of being there. As I started replying, she said “Let us talk inside,” I entered following her steps, and meanwhile I told her my wish to meet Mirza Sharafat. She smiled with joy and we reached the inner entrance, where she pointed towards an ebony door from extreme right side and told me to sit inside.
While I sighed and sat on a warm Kashmiri carpet therein, I heard she calling “Sharafat saebah, pocchh ha chuy andre” same I translate as “Sharafat, You have a guest inside.” Following moment gave me enough time to look into white walls adorned with British styled frames and portraits of their forefathers. The woody type aroma or any exotic smell peculiar to museums was adding to the charmful aura of that room. Before I heard someone’s steps approaching the door I hurried to Bookshelf, laid by some Arabic books and only one English novel ‘Can Love Happen Twice’.
Knocked the door and coughed twice, Mirza Sharafat beautified by a mild smile entered wearing walnut colored Pheran. Same looking as I saw him on internet last time, only moustaches have grown downwards to chin. I stood; Shook hands and he offered me a seat adjacent to a piece of Hamadan carpet he sat on. My Palpitations grew though poet was younger to me around couple of years. Responding to me with pleasing words, Mirza asked my introduction, and I replied with requisite information: ‘I am doing MBA from Chennai’ I added. Then I began, uttering everything that was in my heart. Ramblingly expressing how much I loved his poetry was result of my nervousness. We discussed some of his sad Urdu poems, elegy, and English poems. He was shy that I didn’t expect and talking less, adorned with half smile. I was conveying love from my fellows in Lucknow for the poet who used to read his poetry every night, mean whilst first woman, whom I saw, came with Tea, and a little girl with pigtails sat on my lap which was the most loving part. Woman was the mother, a benevolent lady who then left with girl. Mirza offered me coffee and he himself preferred Noon Chai(Pink Tea), what I preferred was to talk, talk and talk so much. I wanted an explanation of a sentimental poem authored by him. Wow! He explained verse by verse. Tears rolled my cheeks, but Mirza was upset with my emotional behaviour. He insisted me to smile as he said “I don’t make guests sad even not at the cost of poetry.” he closed his diary and said “no more explanations.” Then I dared to ask my last question, “You have any girl friend?” to which he answered a half-suppressed smile, verbal reply came none, and I was not that brainless to repeat my question. Then at last, on my demand, we discussed the last English poem where he answered all questions of mine, and narrated his long discourse with doctor related to his ailment that was treated:
“Over my illness, doctors will think tonight
With each syrup, life will shrink tonight
I am not that brave to enter grave
In an endless gorge, soul may sink tonight”
My heart was contented, full of bliss and wholly satisfied, I asked for permission to leave. Shook hands with Mirza again, asked him to sign my diary, who then followed me to bid adieu from Walls of Warmth.
In the hotel room I was feeling nostalgic, wanted to go back to Poet as if I discussed nothing, a feeling of emptiness was aching me, my urge evinced my wish to meet him again. Now, my diary was sensational for me, it carried that peculiar fragrance of aura I missed a lot, it carried a signature and most surprisingly a single Urdu couplet that I didn’t know he had written. It was surely a question to my tears those profused while listening to his poem there. He asked me a serious question in couplets of Saifuddin Saif:
Humko to gardish e halaat pa rona aya
Roney waley tujhe kis baat pa rona aya?