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Dr. Brij Premi was a Gentle Colossus

By Dr. R.K. Tamiri

Dr. Brij Premi lived for just  fifty-five years, yet he left behind a solid legacy in the form of brilliant creative literature, which many would envy. He had his tryst with Urdu literature through short stories. His monumental work on Saadat Hasan Manto, the enfant terrible of Urdu literature earned him fame. It also made Manto better known. Dr Brij Premi's literary biography of Pt. Prem Nath Pardesi, an eminent litterateur of yesteryears, is a pioneering work. It has yet to see the light of the day. Dr. Premi was in deep love with Kashmir and took pride in its rich past. This made him explore Kashmir in all its dimensions—Historical, Cultural, Social, Literary etc. His work in this field parallels that of Mohiuddin Fauq, another outstanding historian of Kashmiri origin. Dr Premi had suave temperament and was full of affection for others. He was a gentle colossus.

Dr. Premi's family lived in the ancient locality of Drabiyar, in Habbakadal quarter of Srinagar. He was born on 24th September, 1935, which happened to be the day of Janam Ashtmi. His parents decided to name him Brij Krishan. Sometime independence, the family shifted to Rang Teng, Ali Kadal in a rented accommodation. Dr. Premi had his early education from DAV High School, Srinagar.

Pt. Sham Lal Aima, father of Dr. Premi, was an able teacher and a man of many parts. He was a good short story writer. Such men of literature-Pt. Nand Lal Talib, Pt. Kashyap Bandhu, Pt. PN Bazaz, Pt.  Prem Nath Pardesi, etc. would often drop at his house. Dr. Premi grew up in this ambience and imbibed interest in literature. He had his initial grooming under his father. Later, Pt. Prem Nath Pardesi became his mentor.

The death of Pt. Sham Lal Aima at young age of 44 in 1949 came as a major setback to Dr. Premi. He was just 14, but the only eligible member in the family who could succeed his father as the bread earner to take care of two brothers, a sister and mother. Young Premi, who had just enrolled himself as a science student in the college, was recalled back. He was employed in place of his father and served in 'Boy Service' for two years, before being recruited as a regular teacher. He was posted in Modern School, Amirakadal on a monthly salary of Rs 30.

Dr. Premi saw hard life. He had to take tuition work to supplement the family income. Being a man of literary tastes, he disliked this job. He refers to it in one of his allegories in 'Varasat'. On another occasion he was transferred to Ompora (Budgam) a village 11 kms away from Srinagar. He used to go to Ompora daily on bicycle, at times even on foot. Excessive cycling affected his health. Dr. Premi earned the respect of his colleagues for being workaholic, efficient and honest. He passed his MA examination in Urdu as a private candidate with distinction. He had already cleared honours in Urdu (1953) and B.Ed. (1960).

As a Short story writer:

His first break in literature came in 1949 when Amar Jyoti, Srinagar published his short story 'Aqa'. He wrote many more stories in other journals and newspapers. 'Sapno Ki Sham', created sensation in literary circles of Kashmir. Premi became the youngest ever writer to be published in Biswin Sadhi. He received over two hundred letters of appreciation. This story was set in rural landscape of Ompora and had many local characters. Famed Urdu writer, late Pushkar Nath Bhat till then had not seen a Karewa. Soon after the publication of this story, he visited Ompora in the company of his friend Dr. Premi to see how a Karewa looked like.

Many more good short stories came from his pen. These include Lamhon Ki Raakh, Mere Bachey Ki Salgrah, Tees Dard Ke, Khabon Ke Darichey, Mansbal Sookh Gaya, Ujadi Baharon Ke Ujade Phil etc. Premi liked the fiction of Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi and Krishan Chander, the doyens of progressive movement in Urdu literature.

Premi wrote over sixty short stories, though less than 25 are available today. He had mastered the technique of short story writing and wrote elegant prose. He was influenced by PN Pardesi, Tagore and Maupassant. His range of themes was vast and included Romance, depiction of nature and realism. In 'Lamhon Ki Raakh', he experiments with Chashme Shavoor (stream of consciousness) a technique introduced by Qurrat-ul-An Hyder.

Scholars of eminence. Prof. Abdul Qadir Sarwari, Prof. Manzoor Azmi (ex-HoD, Jammu University), Pt. Pushkar Nath Bhat, Shri Moti Lal Saqi etc. have praised his short stories. Prof. Sarwari applauded the language, plot construction and realism of Premi's stories in 'Kashmir Mein Urdu'. Dr. Azmi was impressed with his characterisation and portrayal of Kashmir's social life. Moti Lal Saqi attributed realism in his short stories to the Marxist influence. Premi's stories were full of life. His admirers were dismayed when he gave up short story writing and took to criticism and research. The issue was taken up by Pt. Pushkar Nath Bhat, his friend. Dr. Premi had no answers.

Premi wrote for daily, Martand under name de Guerre of 'Qusheen'. Dr Premi also guided others. His comments on plays written by Sh. Makhan Lal Kaul, a noted playwright form part of the book titled "Mayi Manz Chai". Premi helped MN Kak, his colleague of MP H/S, Srinagar days, in updating the literary magazine Gaash Augur (1972-73). The magazine enjoyed good circulation.

Progressive Phase :

Dr. Premi came under Marxist influence in mid-fifties. As per Shri CL Chrungoo, his friend, colleague and comrade, progressive cultural movement of fifties pushed him towards Marxism. Premi was closely associated with Democratic Conference in 1960s and sat on Dharna during 1967 employees strike. His son Dr. Premi recalls," I first time saw Marx's photograph in my father's personal library, which was full of Russian and Left literature". His close associates included Mr. PN Jyotshi, Advocate, Mr PL Mattoo, Mr Ashok Dulloo etc. Messers Mattoo and Dulloo, alongwith Prof. Bashir Qadiri (former HoD Pol. Sc. A/S College) were part of a club called 'Golden' of which Premi was the leading light. This was a meeting point for literary discussions. Dr. Premi also enjoyed good association with Prof. M.K. Teng and Prof Ramkrishan of Kashmir University.

During the days of Cultural Movement two literary groups were in existence—Halqa Alim-o-Adab at Khanyar and Anjuman-e-Arbab-e-Zauk. Mr. Bahuddin Zahid, who too had taste for Urdu literature was quite active with Alim-o-Adab. Meetings used to take place at his home. These were attended by well-known literary personalities—Messers Tahir Muztar, Pushkar Nath Bhat, Wajid Ahmed Andrabi, Hakim Manzoor, Makhmoor Badakshi, Rehman Rahi, GN Firaq, PN Pardesi etc. Premi was Secretary of the Club. The writers would read their afsanas (compositions). In one of the meetings a non-Kashmiri writer, created sensation by reading out his 'afsana' ex-tempore. Kamar Jalalabadi, who later joined films also visited once the club at the instance of Hakim Manzoor. Devendra Satyarthy would join them at times. In Arabab-e-Zauk mainly progressive writers were invited. Subsequently, the literary meetings used to be held in Mahraj Gunj and other interior parts of the city, the purpose being to expose the common people to progressive culture.

Dr. Premi's involvement with the left movement in 1960s left  him no time to pursue literature.

During this period he occasionally gave radio-talks. For nearly seven years he wrote very little. During the day he had to attend the professional work, in evenings he was busy with tuitions, meetings connected with party work continued till late hours of the night. This affected his health. Dr. Premi Romani comments, "Had those seven years not gone waste, my father would have attained great heights in Urdu literature".

Work on Manto :

He began his dissertation work on Manto as a private candidate in early 1970s. These were the years when he served as District Education Survey officer in Budgam, a job he performed with distinction. His guide was Prof. Hamidi Kashmiri, who happened to be his classfellow of college years.

Brij Premi had two considerations in choosing Manto for his Ph.D. work. One, Manto's forefathers were Kashmiri, Manto was the best representative of creative mind of Kashmir. Secondly, Manto was a virtuoso in the art of short story writing. Premi says, "Manto had a method and a way of his own in communicating himself. I admired his plot construction, the art of characterisation, the subject individuality and the economy of words...The treatment of his topics was excellent, perhaps none could match him....Manto's art is not propaganda and journalism. He was not a poet nor does one come across ornamentalism in his language...He can shake the reader, not by using unnecessary vocabulary but through his sheer style of writing....His essays, letters, pen-sketches, radio dramas and translations are of good standard and show excellence. They are no less interesting".

Elsewhere, he observes, "by temperament Manto was outspoken. He was a writer who worked in hurry. He has written much about himself, but it lacks an organisation and order. It was very difficult to organise all this into a single entity".

Premi had lot of difficulties in working on Manto. The latter was an obstracised writer. His writings were available mostly in Pakistan. It was a stupendous task to procure these. It is a tribute to the patience and edurance of Dr. Premi that he took all these challenges in his stride. He virtually contacted everybody who could tell him about Manto. These include Safia Begum, his wife and Ahmed Nadeem Qasimi and Abu Sayeed Qureishi, Manto's close friends. Qureishi and Manto, both were 'disciples' of Bari Alig, a journalist with left views. Manto himself admits that had it not been for Bari, he would have been a criminal, rather than a writer. Premi even identified the person who made Manto turn to Bacchus, that was to ruin the famed writer eventually.

Premi's thesis was approved by two leading luminaries of Urdu literature, one of whom was an outstanding researcher, and the other was regarded as pillar of modern Urdu poetry. Though thesis was submitted in 1976, it took another decade for its publication. Premi's other studies on Manto, Manto Katha were published posthumously in 1994. His work on Manto received rave reviews from people like Warris Alvi, KA Abbas, Ali Sardar Jafri, Kashmiri Lal Zakir, Gopi Chand Narang, Khwaja Ahmed Farooqi, Abu Sayeed Qureishi etc. Prof. Mohd. Hassan wrote : "Till date this work of Brij Premi is the last word on Mantoo; and for every student of short story writing, this book is worth reading". UP (1986) and West Bengal (1987) Urdu Academies felicitated Dr. Premi on his work on Manto. Recently, Dr. Manazir Ashique Harganvi, Professor of Urdu in Bhagalpur University has  alleged that Jagdish Wadhawan has copied most of the contents of his Mantonama' from Dr. Brij Premi's book.

Dr. Premi joined Urdu Department of Kashmir University in 1977, under the Headship of Prof. Shakil-ur-Rehman. Prior to this he had served State Education department in assignments as Basic teacher, Master, Additional Head Master and District Planning officer.

University Years:

In University, a new world opened for him. He found the environment extremely stimulating for intellectual work. It was here he came in close contact with Prof. Ale Ahmed Suroor, Dr. Shakeel UR Rehman, Mr Qazi Gh. Mohd (of Bandipur), Dr. Hamidi Kashmiri, Messers Quddus Javed (Present HoD of Kashmir University). Many leading personalities of Urdu came to Kashmir to attend symposia or as experts. They included Messers KL Zakir, GC Narang, Qamar Rais, Shahryar, Shamim Hanfi, Jagar Nath Azad, Prof. Masood Hasan, Prof. Mohd. Hasan, Prof. Gopi Chand Aman. Dr. Premi immersed himself in Literary criticism and Research. He had already collaborated with Prof. Sarwari in his field work for 'Kashmir Mein Urdu'. During that period he had met noted Kashmiri Urdu writers—NL Talib, Padam Nath Ganjoo, Mirza Kamaluddin, DN Nadim, Jiya Lal Nazir, Dina Nath Dhar 'Barq' Kashmiri, Mir Ghulam Rasool Nazki.

Dr. Brij Premi took great pride in Kashmir's cultural heritage. He would say, "It is an immense treasure. We have to preserve it." This love made him pursue research work on Kashmir. His works on literary criticism include Harf-i-Justajoo (1982), Zauq-i-Nazar (1987), Chand Tehrerein (1988). Zauk-i-Nazar includes essays on Manto, PN Pardesi, Sardar Jafri, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Talib Kashmiri etc. Jalwae Sadrang (1985) and Kashmiri Ke Mazameen (1989) reveal different facets of Premi's research work. Commenting about Jalwae Sadrang, Prof. Sabir Aafaqi, a noted literateur says the book has revealed many hidden aspects of Kashmir.

Premi's work on socio-cultural history of Kashmir has encyclopedic dimensions. He has traced history of progressive writers’ Movement and Urdu Prose in Kashmir, focussed on urban history, archeological remains, costumes of people, travelogues of Foreign travellers and the life of leading literary personalities. Due to restrictions imposed on wordage by Birla Foundation and the J&K Cultural Academy, Dr. Premi has not been able to do full justice to the pen-sketches of personalities. His work (still unpublished) on Pt. Prem Nath Pardesi, 'Prem Nath Pardesahd Shakhsiyat aur Funkar', running into 150 odd pages is a monumental work. It focusses on life, short stories, poetry, Mahakama and unpublished writings of the greater literateur. Pardesi had written a novel 'Poti', which was lost during the turbulent days of Tribal Raid. His Panch Din, a reportage of the raid is still unpublished. Ramanand Sagar and Devender Satyarthy, whenever they came to Kashmir, dropped at his house at Malik Angan, Fateh Kadal. As a postgraduate guide, Dr. Premi supervised studies on Prem Chand, Ismat Chugtai, Urdu journalism in J&K and Ahmed Nadeem Qasimi. Dr. Premi during his years at the University has guided 4 Ph.D and 9 MA/M.Phil students.

In his literary career, Dr. Premi remained associated with leading journals—Ustad, Hamara Ustad, Desh, Gaash Augur, Bazyaft, Sadaf  all published from Srinagar) and Sohale (Gaya). He also remained involved with many literary and cultural organisations. His last assignment was 'History of Kashmiri Literature-Trends and Traditions in Urdu'.

Dr. Premi was intoxicated in his love for Kashmir. About Kashmir he says, "The place, my place, the place I live in, has its mornings and evenings known for its poetic grandeur, more subtle and sweeter than those of say Benaras, Ayodhya...Where I live is a city through which flows the Vitasta, another form and expression of Parvati, Shiva's consort. This city was so to say brought into being by Shiva for sins to be washed off and ushering in peace and tranquillity". He used to listen for hours the Sufiana Kalam on rabab. He liked Shams Faqir and the Vakhs of Lal Ded.

His two published works in Kashmiri include Vechanai'  (1999) and Varasat' (2003), besides the translation of Moti Lal Saqi's monograph on Samad Mir. 'Vechnai' carries foreword by M.Amin Kamil and Bansi Nirdosh seperately. It was reviewed by Moti Lal Saqi and Akhtar Mohiuddin. 'Varasat' includes afsana—Saya Geit and Vudai, translations of Manto's stories-Toba Tekh Singh, Sher aur Gadriya, Kali Kali, Islah, allegories on unkept promises, Tuition work etc. It was reviewed by Prof. RL Shant.

Dr Brij Premi's work is slowly gaining recognition. A student of Jammu University, Dr. Chaman Lal completed dissertation study on 'Brij Premi Aur Unki Adabi Khidmat', under the guidance of Dr. Shoaib Inayat Malik, in 1999.

Due to Dr. Premi's premature death in 1990 (he was an old patient of Diabetes), many of his works remained unpublished. His illustrious son, Dr. Premi Romani, himself a noted Urdu scholar, has rendered great service to Urdu lovers by retrieving and publishing his works. Presently, he is engaged in rendering his Urdu writings into English, to make these reach a wider audience. We need to know  Dr. Brij Premi. He has been a greater stylist of Urdu language. His writings form part of Kashmir's Urdu heritage.

*(The author is a Keen Researcher, his field of study includes Oral History, Kashmiri Literature and Folk-Lore. Presently, he is engaged in study of Kashmiri Writers in Diaspora and has worked on ancestry of Allama Iqbal.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

  

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