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Prem Nath Pardesi-Prem Chand of Kashmir

By Dr. Brij Premi

The people of Kashmir are known for their sharp in tellect, scholarship, artistic imagination and creative potential from times immemorial. They have shown their worth in the varied fields of philosophy, art and literature. Our contribution to Sanskrit, Persian, Dogri, Urdu, Hindi and English languages proves our grip not only on the medium but also the depth on the philosophical, poetical, theological, historical and other subjects alike. During the 20th century Urdu became a powerful medium of expression, after it became the court language in 1889 but in the absence of a local paper (which started from early thirties) it was difficult to express oneself. It was at this juncture in early twenties, before the publication of any paper from Kashmir, that some dailies and weeklies provided opportunity to the young talented writers of Kashmir to express themselves. One such weekly journal was Akhbar-i-Aam of Lahore, edited by Pandit Gopi Nath Gurtu. It started reserving some columns for the publication of News and Views about Kashmir. This gave philip to the young budding writers of the Valley. Prem Nath Sadhu Raunaq, a man with a promising pen, began sending his poems to this weekly. The publication of his poems encouraged him to put his zeal and zest in his writings. It was Raunaq, who in later years assumed the pen name of "Pardesi" and dominated the field of Urdu short story in Kashmir.

Raunaq came from a middle class family. His grand father, Pandit Sahaj Koul was a high-up in the Dogra hierarchy. He had as such accumulated lot of wealth and estate, but this wealth did not last long. Soon it slipped away from his hands. Consequently his son, Pandit Mahadev Koul had to seek an ordinary employment in the state department of Dredge and Floods. This being a temporary service, Pandit Mahadev Koul soon found himself out of job and finally breathed his last at an early age. Raunaq was in his teens then. He had barely passed matriculation and took his college education for a short span of time. In order to provide livelihood for his family he had to bid farewell to education. In the beginning, he took employment as an agent with a lawyer, then he shifted to a railway agency for sometime. It was some years later that he succeeded in securing employment in the state customs and excise department as Sub-Inspector, where he served most of his life. In this service, Raunaq was posted to remote corners of the state, which provided him an opportunity to visit many places and study the masses from close quarters. These tours helped him to understand the suffering of the people under the Dogra autocracy. This ultimately changed the entire course of his thinking and motivated him to portray the real life of the people.

Prem Nath Raunaq started his writing career by composing poems and writing stories for children. His earlier poems were published in “Vitasta”, Hamdard, Ranbir and Akhbar-i-Aam of Lahore during the early thirties. But he felt soon that his real field was not poetry. He, therefore, tried his pen in prose. For a long time he retained his pen name Raunaq but abandoned it in later years when he wrote short stories and "Adbi-i-Latif". He wrote a lot from 1932-1938 but all these writings contained romantic characters divorced from the hard and naked realities of day to day life. Not only the scheme of plots but the characters and the dialogues also, were alien. It was the same time, when Munshi Prem Chand, Sajjad Hyder Yeldaram, Sudhershan, Majnu Gorkhpuri and Niaz Fatehpuri had created a stir in the work of Urdu fiction. Prem Chand though an idealist had smoothened the ground for realism though he himself continued to be an idealist for a long time. Barring Prem Chand all other writers were writing with romantic flavour. The translation of Tagore and his style also had created a stir in the contemporary fiction. Pardesi flourished in this atmosphere. He was fascinated in the beginning by Tagore in his poetic prose and subsequently by Prem Chand. This finds an echo in the earlier Adabi-i-Latifs and short stories. Dekate Geet, Pujari, Milnay Kay Din, Do Ankhay, Birhan Kay Geet, Phool, Sazish, Nabeena Gakiayar, Ban Malla, Aprinay Chand Say, etc. are some of such writings to quote. This form of writing is exclusively reflected in Adab-i-Lateef technique and is predominantly influenced by Tagore.

The style and the content is rich with his emotional touches decorated with a deep sense of aesthetics. Writing about this form, in one of his letters in response to my querries Sh. P.N. Bazaz, a reknowned author and journalist, recalls those days:-

"He showed me a number of short stories almost all of which were unpublished. They were one and all romantic in character with nothing in them corresponding to real life, the actors were invariably non-Kashmiris and their field of activity was outside Kashmir."

Pardesi's such writings are not all waste. One can very well visualize, Pardesi in making. He language is simple, his style is chaste and his imagery is fertile. One may not find ruthlessness of life in these themes but one enjoys the intensity of emotions expressed in a wonderful style. These prose pieces, though strictly not short stories, have definitely the fragrance of the stories. These are stories without a definite plot scheme but with thoughtfulness and something sublime in them. Surprisingly, Pardesi has not included such writings, some of them marvellous compositions, in any one of his collections.

Paradesi's creative genius found full expression in the columns of 'Vitasta' edited by Sh. P.N. Bazaz and 'Martand' of Sanatan Dharma Yuvak Sabha. These papers, especially "Martand' which came into existence in 1935, very soon dominated the field of journalism in Kashmir during its early years. Its special numbers earned a great name in the whole of Northern India. During these years of making, Pardesi like Prem Chand and Saadat Hassan Manto, wrote under many fictitious names. Some of the names were Raunaq, Prem Nath Sadhu, Sadhu Kashmiri, Babu, Ullama Illat and Balak Ram Bari. He took an anti-government stance and wrote some columns of 'Vitasta' and ‘Hamdard’ permanently. Since he was a government servant, he never wanted to be exposed but all the same he acted like Prem Chand and contributed his bit to the freedom struggle of Kashmir. In one of his letters addressed to me, Sh. P.N. Bazaz writes:-

"Pardesi was anxious that his production of a political nature should not be divulged to the authorities or political leaders. He had complete confidence in me and I never let any one know the identity of the author of any article, play or short story even though I incurred displeasure of the authorities and top leaders by their publication".

These writings earned him and the papers a great name. It is in the stories written during this time that one is amazed to find the fertility of his creative genius. He wrote inexhaustibly and wove stories of different shades. This entire period is influenced by the earlier writings of Prem Chand, whom he considered his Guru. Most of these writings bloom with colour, romance and thrill, no doubt that these writings at the same time speak of immaturity and deficiency in craft of story weaving. Besides writing for 'Martand' and other journals outside the state, he virtually edited the special and Sunday editions of 'Hamdard'. His range of writing, besides stories and Adab-i-Lateef, was spread to the literary discussions, book reviews and articles on social reform. This included caricatures and comments on contemporary politics and state administration. All this was, however, being done earlier and the progressive movement in Urdu literature had not taken its birth till then and the struggle for freedom and secular character had not taken shape in Kashmir. It is on this account that one feels immaturity of content in this period in Pardesi's writings. The entire field is dominated by romantic background and one feels that it has no relevance to the life and sufferings of the common masses. These writings simply amaze and do not infuse any revolutionary fervour. The entire process is unearthly and speaks of the stories of the unknown worlds.

The first collection of his short stories 'Sham-e-Saher' reveals such themes 'Rajo Ki Dolli', 'Parcel', Man Ka Piyar', Jaikara' 'Santosh', Sulakhun Kay Peechay', 'Sacha Dost' etc. are some of the stories which need mention in this context.

Pardesi had seen many ups and downs in his life. The untimely death of his father had put him to penury and he was compelled to take-up employment. This poverty and want gave him an insight in understanding the problems of poor people. The Dogra autocracy had made the life of the people meaningless under the strain of exploitation. The blood stained hands of feudal system had tightened its grip on the administrative set-up, resulting in exploitation, nepotism, illiteracy, unemployment and economic disparity amongst the people. In 1938, National Conference emerged under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The freedom struggle received inspiration from the national movement and achieved new dimension. Maharaja Hari Singh's government in the beginning had shown some democratic aptitude but he was soon overshelved by his unwise advisers. The result was the democratic rights were denied. Masses were burdened under heavy taxation, higher cost of living, illiteracy and backwardness.

Pardesi  during this period had toured the entire state in the capacity of Sub-Inspector of Customs and Excise and had obtained first hand knowledge of the people. He had also widened his knowledge and vision after studying the progressive literature and classics of different languages. He learnt a good deal about Gorky, Chekov and Maupassant also. Pardesi felt for the first time that all his writings were waste.  He had heard the whisper of the changing tide and it was at this time he felt that he had not been honest in his writings. He confessed his shortcomings as under :-

"I cannot be proud of what I wrote from 1932-1938. I could not visualise what my duties would be as a writer of short stories, the duties towards my beloved country-the same country whose 400 million masses remained enslaved for 4 centuries and whose roots had been hollowed in poverty and exploitation". (Behte Chirag).

But the thinking of Pardesi had been undergoing a change for many years. Before the beginning of the freedom struggle in Kashmir he was swayed by the realism of Prem Chand. In 1933, 'Angarey' was published. This was a new voice with new ideas—A voice choked with emotions and anger. Pardesi makes a frank confession of his being incompetent and far from honest in the following words:-

"Then Angarey, the first book of progressive writers was published. I felt that whatever I had written was sheer waste. There was nothing except romance in it. I enlarged my study and read the Indian and European authors, whose every word revealed anger, grief and revolution against the old social order, which had worn out by now. This was a new voice, which had echoed in India after Russian revolution and which had awakened the people”. (A letter to Siddiqa Begum, a well-known progressive writer)

Soon the progressive movement started in India, which gave a new dimension to the Urdu fiction. The period of purposelessness, sick romanticism, formalism and mere imaginative art was over. In sharp contradiction to this attitude problems of common man, purposefulness of values, economic disparity, hypocrisy and exploitation of haves over have-nots found the main theme in the stories of Pardesi and he began to be called 'Prem Chand’ of Kashmir by his readers. Pardesi by his extensive and keen observation translated the true spirit of his time in to his literature.

The second collection of Pardesi's short stories was 'Duniya Hamari', which appeared in forties. It has an introduction by Rajinder Singh Bedi. This collection seems to be different from his earlier works and is devoid of cheap sentimentalism and romanticism. The content of these stories is rich thematically and the treatment is conspicuously different. These stories reveal his social consciousness. The understanding of human behaviour is vivid. The style is different, simple and lucid. Pardesi does not seem to waste words, nor does he use the ladder of similies and metaphors. He weaves his stories in very simple words and leaves the conclusion to the reader. In his style and treatment of the subject, he seems closer to Saadat Hassan Mantoo. He maintains unity of impression and grip over the story by his brevity. He is neither a social reformer nor a political orater. His 'Kargar', 'Osool Ki Dunniya', 'Vapsi', etc. are some of the great examples of this period.

Pardesi was a great lover of his land. He was conscious that his contemporaries living out side the state had always considered Kashmir as a playground of cheap pleasure. Prominent among such writers was Krishen Chander and Aziz Ahmed who in the name of painting Kashmir had always distorted the real picture of this land. It is for this reason chiefly that we find very seldom the description of 'heaven on earth' - the water falls, the rivulets, the springs, mountains and meadows. Instead he portrayed the 'horrible' pictures of Kashmir. He portrayed the life of starving and toiling masses-the underprivileged, the artisans and craftsmen, the exploited 'Hatos', the peasants, the boatmen and the ordinary poor people, with their small dreams and aspirations, who were destined to live the life of misery and perish in the wilderness. His stories woven with complete confidence and dexterity, with honesty and truth spoke of the struggle for freedom from the shackles of Dogra autocracy. In order to continue his struggle, he lashed out at the system under the pen name of 'Balak Ram Bari'. His third collection 'Bahtey Chirag' was compiled after his death. This collection is the true representative of Kashmiri character and bursts out with the feelings of revolt-revolt against naked exploitation, conservatism and like his Guru, Prem Chand awakens us from deep slumber of ignorance, backwardness, and religious fanaticism, 'Kutbah', 'Kagaz Ki Jhandiya', 'Tawari' 'Khoon Aur Kikay', ;Jahan Sarhad Militi Hai', 'Junjuna', 'Bahtey Chirag', 'Karigar' 'Dhool', 'Uglay Saal', 'Devta Kahan Hain', Salesman' etc. are some of the stories worth mentioning.

Pardesi was a master craftsman of storytelling and story weaving. He maintains the element of interest from the beginning till end. His technique is neither abstract nor symbolic. He maintains unity of impression with compactness of situations, characterization and mental behaviour. In his later years, he, however made certain experiments with regard to his technique. In fact, Urdu short story in India underwent a strange process of evolution and Pardesi could not escape this influence. The use of similies and metaphars is vivid when compared to his stories written earlier. The language is better.

Pardesi was a great traditional short story writer. He synthesized plot, scheme, purposefulness and interest into one entity. He is not a propagandist but a genuine writer and hence he does not possess journalistic attitude. He is aware of the psychological factors too and paints it in broad social spectrum. It is for this reason that we find simple and complex characters in his art. He was a great writer. Had he lived a full life, he would have given more realistic pieces of art with full responsibility and artistic insight.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

  

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