Interview | “Without language, there is no culture”: In conversation with Amin Bhat

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Mohammad Amin Bhat, an acclaimed playwright, recently became the president of Adbi Markaz Kamraz, the biggest literary organisation of Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmir Walla spoke with Bhat about his journey as an artist and about Adbi Markaz Kamraz. 

Tell us about your journey as a playwright.  How did you start and the whole journey? 

During the growing years, people experience and observe a lot of things. People express themselves in different ways. For me, it is very difficult to explain where it started. But doubtless, I come from a humble background; my father ran a small shop in my hometown, Baramulla. In those days, English newspapers were not common in Kashmiri Muslim households. However, my area was surrounded by Kashmiri Pandit households. They used to sell old newspapers and magazines at my father’s shop. I would just sit there and as soon as that package would come, I would try to pick up magazines. Those magazines used to be full of stories. I would steal them and read them later. I was very shy but with time, I grew in terms of my confidence and I have gotten the habit of reading from my father. 

I had the opportunity of going outside Kashmir to see the theatre. I learned a lot there. I realised that these dowry and unemployment plays are all superficial. We should try to address the genesis. One has to take risks sometimes. Your conviction should be strong. 

Is there a play that is really memorable for you, that you did again and again?

I had written a play called naad (call). It won an award in the academy festival and it was widely appreciated in a television festival as well. I believe that it was a very bold play. 

I had written the structure of a play and named it, “Phone number 786”. I showed it to a friend in Mumbai. He took it forward to a friend in Saregama. They created a movie on it and called it Hamid, which is an adaptation of my play. That movie bagged a national award. Many people approached me to write for them. But I told them that I only write when I feel like it.

What is Adbi Markaz Kamraz? How has it helped in promoting and supporting the literature produced in Kashmir?

The Adbi Markaz Kamraaz was constituted in 1971. Back then, it was being discussed all around. I started working with them around 1985. 

This fifty-year-old initiative is a very unique kind of concept. We always speak about identities. Nowadays, identities are cultural. Political identities have become a part of bigger identity in the global village now. Despite the fact people are entitled to have aspirations. And if you remove language from culture, there is no culture. Based on how we dress up and behave nowadays, nobody can tell our cultural identity. That is what we conceived at Adbi Markaz Kamraz. 

There was a time when we went into self-censorship mode. It was believed that the plays should be written on topics like dowry and unemployment. The mentality has its genesis in the political system. We usually say that literature has no political dimension but I personally believe that everything is political. Even the poetry or play writing.

If you want to promote or preserve the language, it is important to dignify it. Language should have dignity and that happens through literature. 

Today, people speak Kashmiri proudly. In 1971, when the principles of Adbi Markaz Kamraz were formed, it was decided that Adbi Markaz Kamraz will work for the introduction of Kashmiri language in schools and also to strive for getting it the status of an official language. It took us twenty-two years to introduce Kashmiri language in schools. 

Then Aziz Hajini came as the president and Shujaat Bukhari came as the general secretary. These people were very practical. They tried to make this platform much bigger than it was at that time. Kashmir has a beautiful cultural identity, something that we can be proud of. It was a knowledgeable society. They wanted to give it that position. Those were the golden years. 

What are the challenges that Adbi Markaz Kamraz faced over the years?

I don’t like using the term challenges. However, there have been tasks. There is a lot of work that could have been done and which still has to be done. We are trying to preserve and promote the language. We may hold some workshops about the script. We want to contribute to the historic decision of Kashmiri language being the official language by teaching people to write in Kashmiri. All the great things in this world have a humble beginning. One needs to start from somewhere. 

As the new president of Adbi Markaz Kamraz, what are your plans for promoting the literature? What changes and developments can we expect in the future?

The biggest thing is that we finally have an office for Adbi Markaz Kamraz. My aim is to make that building the cultural secretariat of Kashmir. I dream of that day. I have a lot of plans but I cannot discuss them without discussing the plans with the members. Once that happens, I will be in a more comfortable position to speak about the plans. 

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