Mazhar Imam and Kashmir: A tribute
Mazhar Imam, ailing for some time, breathed his last in New Delhi earlier this month. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un (إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ)). 'Surely we belong to God and to Him shall we return'.
The eminent Urdu poet and critic was, during his stint as Director Doordarshan, Srinagar, my next door neighbor at City’s Press Enclave, named after my friend and colleague Mushtaq Ali after he fell to a parcel-bomb explosion in my office in September 1995. I met Imam Sahib, for the first time, sometime in early 1980s during a visit to his apartment. I had gone there actually to see another Urdu poet from Bihar, Manazir (Hassan) Ashiq Harganvi who was staying with the family during a brief visit to Srinagar. I think being a true lover of nature’s beauty and vista, Manazir Ashiq had come to Kashmir to pay his tribute.
Sometime in March 1988, I shifted to 8 Pratap Park facing the building block where Mazhar Imam lived with his family in a second floor apartment. He was a good, soft-spoken neighbor yet we would meet hardly ever. His spouse, a courteous lady, would, however, do all she thought was indispensable towards complying with what we know is good neighborliness.
Whenever I would come across Mazhar Imam, he would quiz me: ‘Why don’t you come to Doordarshan. Are bhai ek, aadh programme karne mein kiya haraj hai?’ I was reluctant and would try to convince him. “I know your compulsions, the limitations within which Doordarshan has to work. I’ve my own views on issues and I don’t want to cause embarrassment to you or to myself.’ He would agree but then after some time ask again. He had poor opinion about some of those from my tribe. The dislike would be paid back in the kind; sometimes in open, at get-togethers. I do remember how difficult it turned out to be for us to restrain (late) Maqbool Hussein during one of these gatherings held at the Srinagar Club. I never asked either side the reason behind this antagonism.
Kashmiri ‘freedom’ campaign burst into a major violence towards the end of 1989. New Delhi responded by launching a tough military campaign to put the rebellion down. People began to fall prey to the barrage from twin guns (a third one that of renegades as well as the invisible one had yet to arrive at the scene) supposed to be pointed at one another. Mayhem followed. The men in khaki began to treat everyone at par, brutalizing the entire population. On the other hand, select killings became a favorite pastime with the sections of or individuals within the rebels for whatever reason or excuse. It were mainly innocent civilians who would be killed or injured, properties vandalized in bombings and cross firings at public places followed by reprisals and other acts of senseless vengeance.
On the night after the January 21, 1990 massacre at Gaw Kadal, Srinagar, Imam Sahib’s wife shouted for help. “Jameel Sahib, yahan aayee. Khuda ra jaldi.” We could hear gun shots from somewhere nearby. We could also hear people screaming amidst pro-freedom slogans being broadcast through mosque loudspeakers. There was ambience of dreadfulness; fear and scare overwhelming. Our photographer Habibullah Naqash and I rushed out and ran towards their apartment. By the time, she had come down to the entrance way. “Imam Sahib ne logoon ke chikhne, chilani or ronee ki awazein sunin aur woh kahin chaley gaye,” she said in choked voice.
We hurried on to the Residency Road and saw Imam Sahib walking towards Lal Chowk-Maisuma area. All the street lights had been put off and darkness had only added to the scary setting. I asked him where he was going; to do what. He replied. “I think people are embattled and need help. Let me see if I could do something.” Suddenly gun fire came from somewhere in Lal Chowk and hit the shutter of a roadside shop close at hand, creating a terrifying sound. We virtually dragged Imam Sahib inside the Press Enclave where his wife was waiting anxiously. He was trembling and we could also hear his heart beating fast. His wife screeched. ‘He would collapse. Please, take him upstairs,’ she asked. After hard persuasion, we conducted Imam Sahib to his room. His wife gave him water and some medicines. We returned to our quarter.
A couple of days later, we saw a truck parked outside and furniture and other household items from Imam Sahib’s apartment being loaded into it. ‘We’re leaving,’ his wife informed us. Most of our neighbours-Kashmiri Pandits-had already left. Imam Sahib hugged me and I could see his eyes were wet.
A year or so later, I was gazing at books at a stall during the New Delhi World Book Fair in Pragati Maidan that I heard a familiar voice, asking, “Jameel Sahib kaise hain.” It was Imam Sahib standing with his wife and some other family members behind me. We met with all warmth and cordiality. ‘Kashmir ka kiya haal hai?,” he asked. Before I could answer, he told me that he had kept himself abreast of happenings in Kashmir. “My heart goes out to the people of Kashmir,” he said in poignant pitch.
Son of a postmaster, Imam Sahib was born in Darbhanga district of Bihar but found his true calling in Kashmir, and later in Delhi. He had started his career as a journalist with the Calcutta daily Caravan. He was conferred the Sahitya Akademi award for Pichle Mausam Ka Phool” in 1994, joining an elite list of the likes of Nida Fazli, Makhmoor Saeedi, Bashir Badar, Sheen Kaaf Nizam and Jayant Parmer. firstname.lastname@example.org