Naagri, Nastalique And Kashmiri!
14 August 2004
The Daily Excelsior
Dr. R. L. Bhat
Jammu: Like every good jewel Kashmir, the jewel in Indian crown, seems to carry the gemstone curse. There is the political curse where power play laced with religious bigotism is fraught by personal ambitions and frustrated by individual idiosyncrasies is producing a confusion that confounds half the world. Here, Tahreek Hurriyati Kashmir condemns Hurriyat for being less true to Kashmir cause and then goes to sit in the lap of Pakistan, which has colonized a third of original Jammu and Kashmir and gifted away parts of it to win support for its claim over the rest. That may be okay for Pakistan, but what of the Kashmiri leadership, the Hurriyat factions, the people enamored of the 'identity and individuality' of Kashmir? And, what do the newest patent-holders of the izzat and aabroo do? Mahbooba, in her latest gem of a pronouncement, is worried that Pakistanis are not allowed to visit Kashmir, freely! Of course, the party with other mainstream ones is mortally opposed to women of the state holding citizenship rights in the state, on their own merit, after marriage. As if these curvilinear curses were not enough to fox thinking in and on Kashmir, the litterateurs there are busy overlaying this bewilderment with confusion over the script for the language of Kashmir. The occasion seems to be the acceptance of Naagri as an 'additional alternate script' for writing Kashmiri. A brief reiteration of the facts would be in order here. Kashmir, as recorded by Alburni and borne out by hosts of manuscripts collected and still lying uncollected there, is the home of one of the earliest scripts, the Shaarda. One of the oldest manuscripts in National Museum in New Delhi is a birch-bark manuscript from Kashmir in Shaarda. But somehow, the protagonists of Kashmiriyat do not love or like the oldest and most original symbol of Kashmiriyat, Shaarda. And, the fact does not appear strange to them in the least. On the other hand mention of Shaarda evokes feelings akin to those induced by the women's bill. It is; goodbye Shaarda, we are Kashmiris, upholders of Kashmiriyat! Now Naagri and Nastalique are both alien to the language of Kashmir, though not equally so. Naagri, or Devnagri as it is commonly called, is a cousin of Shaarda once or twice removed while Nastalique is the scion of a far away land and family, which has been become an adopted relations. Of course, there is nothing wrong in that. The westerners, who live in active abandonment of relatives- parents, children, brothers, cousins, uncles-come in hordes to Kolkata, even go to Africa, to adopt 'children'. It is a spirit of accommodation and forbearance, as any social scientist in here would tell you. Apparently, love of Nastalique, as is evident from the fact of the Government of the State having accepted it as a script for writing Kashmiri, comes of this adjustment and moderation, the sweet fellow-feeling, an adoration of the other. So does having Urdu as the State language do. Great thing this! You rarely find examples of such tolerance around. But why, the hue and cry over an adaptation of cousin Naagri being accepted an 'additional alternate script' for Kashmiri? Mention of another fact is needed here. Naagri, rather an adaptation of the Naagri script, modified for writing Kashmiri has only been accepted as an 'additional' script for writing Kashmiri. Nastalique has not been'discarded' or removed from being a script of Kashmiri. Now having 'additional alternate scripts' is a common thing in this State- almost a state policy. Dogri, officially, has two scripts Urdu (Nastalique) and Naagri. Gurmukhi and Nastalique are officially accepted by the State as alternate scripts for writing Punjabi. Apparently alternate scripts have been approved to promote these languages. An additional alternate script for Kashmiri is in line with this policy of the State. Yet not only does Kashmiri have a single approved script, Nastalique, but every suggestion of an additional alternate script is vehemently opposed, even though all reasons and arguments prove that there is a great need of it. Kashmiri speaking people are not confined to the Valley. They live in sizeable numbers in all districts of Jammu and now all over the nation. Most of these non-valley Kashmiri speakers do not read Urdu, the prototype of Nastalique. Not having a script which they could read easily, is a handicap faced by all of them. It hampers the usage of Kashmiri language by these speakers and, thereby, tells upon growth of the language itself. A language which has Diasporas to cater to benefits from this facility. Nay needs it, at times. Hence, Sindhi is written in Arabic and Sindhi scripts. For, it is the language not script that matters. Scripts are clothes that a language wears. Just as the Chief Minister of Kashmir does not cease to be a Kashmiri for wearing a suit and tie, a script- any script- would not deter the language of Kashmir from being Kashmiri so long as it is spoken and people write in it. The day people cease to speak it, cease to write it, the language would suffer, may even die. The reason behind adapting Naagri script for Kashmiri is this worry to keep the language from dying amongst the people who do not speak Urdu and find it difficult to read Nastalique. As the former secretary of Cultural Academy Mohd Yousef Teng informed at a function in Jammu sometime back, more Kashmiri literature is being produced outside Kashmir than inside the Valley. At least five major Kashmiri periodicals are regularly published from Jammu, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. All use Naagri script. Would it help Kashmiri language and promote Kashmiri literature to stifle this huge output of literature which may not have been produced but for the availability of the alternate Naagri script? Indeed, why is something that is considered necessary for Dogri and Punjabi deemed harmful for Kashmiri? Shall obstinacy over scripts win over the concern for Kashmiri language? Shall the love and loyalty to Nastalique be allowed to shackle the growth and development of Kashmiri language? Sooner than later, lovers of Kashmiri shall have to reckon these facts and come up with a healthy, language-friendly attitude and sue for acceptance of Naagri adaptation in the State to promote the language. Else, their love of the language would itself become suspect. More than that, it may hamper the very language of Kashmir, its growth and development.