While he had a satisfying and successful journey as an IB officer in the first inning of his life, Inder Krishen Koul or Talib Kashmiri, as he is more popularly known, refused to relax in the second as he decided to pick up a pen to vent out all that he wanted to, but couldn’t all these years. If success of his books is anything to go by, Talib Kashmiri is definitely here for a long and brilliant inning.
Talib was born in a typical middle class Pandit family of Srinagar, in 1948. His father, a Revenue officer was also a well-known writer of his time, having written in Urdu and Persian for various newspapers and magazines between Forties’ and Sixties’ of the 20th century, was one of the men Talib attribute his interest in writing to. His insatiable love for classic English and Urdu literature right since his school days made him acquainted with medieval writers like Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway, Somerset Maugham, Jane Austen, Pearl S Buck; he also read extensively the contemporary writers like Irwing Wallace, Arthur Hailey, Agatha Christie and others. Among the Urdu writers, Munshi Prem Chand, Krishen Chander, Saadat Hussain Mantoo and Akhtar-ul-Imaan influenced his thinking the most, as he shares.
Talib recalls one of his first writings, “One particular incident in my early teens which made me ponder over what love, life and death should or do mean to an individual living in human society was a suicide committed by a young man in our neighborhood who had fallen in love with her cousin and in those days taking one’s own life was the only solution to escape family condemnation, social and public retribution for the ‘sinful’ act. I thought over this tragic episode almost endlessly then and wrote a few lines too which I read to one of my friends who praised me for what he called my ‘writing skills’. I felt encouraged and from then on, I started writing whatever I thought should be written about.”
Life had greater plans for Talib though as he was selected to a significant position in Intelligence Bureau for Government of India. While his official duties as well as the ‘obvious reasons’ kept him from publishing any book during his term of service, his writings, in the form of poems and short stories, regularly found place in many newspapers and magazines, both within and out of the India, some notables among them being Sher-o-Sokhan (Toronto, Canada), Jadeed Adab (Germany), Dastak (Karachi, Pakistan), Deedahwar (Boston, USA), a process that has continued till now.
Talib tells us more about his subjects of writing, “Human sufferings, miseries and grief are an inalienable part of man’s life and the basic cause for these afflictions lies in his day to day problems, economic despondencies, social inequalities, exploitations, physical and mental stresses, mistrust, deprivation of love and care, psychic disorders and financial hardships. I feel so long as these are not highlighted effectively, it would be impossible to mitigate them by anyone who may sincerely wish to do. Hence, my writings generally revolve round about these very subjects. Apart from these, hatred, cheating, dishonesty, intrigue, violence and bloodshed are other forms of human behaviour which I despise the most and therefore prefer to expose the evil influences of such obnoxious traits in human beings, in my creative works even if these are directed against the most influential and power wielding Shylocks in our society and public life. On the completely different end, I also try to write stories of humour and satire.”
All what he saw, experienced and lived all his life, Talib reproduced in the form of words, only a year after his superannuation in 2008. The collection of his short stories in Urdu came in the form of a book titled “Shanaakht-e-Gul”, which was published in 2009. Appreciated by all, the book became a success, earning Talib the cult status like none other in literary fraternity of the state. The popularity of the book can be gauzed by the fact that Talib, on consistent insistence of his friends and readers, had to later come with translated version of the same in English, in the form of ‘The Wilting Flower’. He further had to follow it with another version in Kashmiri, keeping in view the expanded readership base. The book in his mother tongue came out by the name “Bara’ Gat’saan Posh”.
Talib has another book to his credit. His second book in Urdu, ‘Aakhri Khwaahish- The Last Wish’ is a novel depicting the story of relating the traumatic experiences and seemingly unending turbulences in the life of two Kashmiri girls, one a Pandit and another a Muslim, wrought equally by the prevailing social inequalities, political upheavals in the state as well as by the terrorist violence & high handedness. Besides many other articles and short stories, Talib has given another gift to its mother tongue by compiling a book of popular Kashmiri proverbs with Anglicized equivalents, comprising of over a thousand such proverbs and idioms, titled ‘Kaashi’r’ Muhaavra’.
Adding to the list, Talib has also put his efforts in preparing a condensed guide in DevNagri script of the ‘VatakPooza’ for an easy and convenient performance of Shivratri Pooja, one of the most prominent religious rituals among Kashmiri Pandits. For his contribution to Urdu literature, he has also been honoured by various organisations, notables being the Urdu Development Council, J&K and Taskeen group of papers, Jammu. Over the span of time, Talib has remained associated with several literary organizations including Anjuman Frough-e-Urdu, Anjuman Tarraqui-e-Hind Urdu’s J&K chapter and Adbi Kunj, Jammu, still being the General Secretary of the last one.
We asked him why he chose to write by the name ‘Talib Kashmiri’. “In past two decades, ever since the emergence of Taliban outfit in Afghanistan, the word ‘Talib’ seems to have attained ominous and dangerous portents although any Urdu or Arabic dictionary will show its meaning simply as a ‘Seeker’. If you seek knowledge you are ‘Talib-e-Ilim’; if you seek God, you are ‘Talib-e-Khuda’. Since I too seek something, rather many things like peace, love, brotherhood, friendship, trust, goodwill and the like, I too become a Talib. And since I am a Kashmiri, belonging to this beautiful place, it finds place in my pen name,” he smiles.
Talib had this to comment on the current literary scenario of the state, “I do not see the future of literature bleak in J&K state provided the monopolistic trends in this creative field are sincerely done away with. Literature should not be allowed to become a source of money minting and political & bureaucratic influences and favouritisms in deciding the standard of creative literary works should be effectively curbed. Quality and purposefulness should be the sole criteria for deciding the worth of a literary work for giving rewards or conferring awards and only the non- partisan scholars and literary luminaries of outstanding achievements, proven integrity and unblemished record should be entrusted with the task of giving their recommendations.” He also had some suggestions to give, “Plagiarists and such of the literary figures who use ghost writers should be identified, discouraged and deprived of any honors. On the other hand talented writers who have limited economic resources need to be provided adequate financial assistance.”
So what is it that inspires him to wake up and continue doing what he is doing? Talib tells, “A world and social order where there is no room for acrimony, ill will, exploitation of others (whether economic or emotional), corruption , violence or want; where there is truth, love, respect, concern for others’ well-being is the goal which inspires me to carry on with my mission. The least every one of us deserves is a dignified existence, a square meal at the end of a day’s hard toil, a better clothing to drape in and a roof on one’s family’s head which is worth calling a dwelling to live in. And I wish to strive towards this end till my last breath in my own humble way.”
Talib is of the opinion that any journey, no matter how long or short, cannot be walked alone and he is grateful to his family for being his companion in his journey. “I am deeply indebted to my wife who, not even once made me feel dearth of time for my creative activities. Whenever I wrote a new story I would invariably read it out first to my better half and I acknowledge there were several occasions when she would favour me with some valuable suggestions. Other family members and some family friends too have been a source of encouragement and inspiration in my literary activities and I am really very thankful to them.”
Talib Kashmiri is currently working on another short story collection which is nearing completion. “I also intend to bring out as my non-fiction work, an exhaustive anthology on the ancient historical geography of Jammu & Kashmir which can serve as a reference book to the students of the said subject. I am also currently engaged in compiling a comprehensive diglot edition in Kashmiri and English of the Flora and Fauna of J&K which too can serve as a reference book for the students of taxonomy in the life sciences subject, particularly in the context of local and biological nomenclatures,” he informs.