No Books for Children

  • Qadri Inzamam
  • Publish Date: Apr 29 2016 8:54PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Apr 29 2016 8:57PM
No Books for Children

 Why has Children’s literature in Kashmir hit a dead end?


 If you’re looking for some children’s literature at a bookshop in Kashmir, don’t be surprised to find nothing written by local authors. You may end up leaving with a children’s book written by foreign authors. Grimm’s Fairy Stories, for example.

In Lal Chowk, Srinagar, two popular bookstores thronged by book lovers are short of children’s literature authored by local writers. On residency road, Gulshan Book House has been selling books of various literary genres for years, but there are no books written by Kashmiri authors that could occupy a few shelves. A short distance away, another bookshop, Password, is similarly found lacking in children’s books authored by Kashmiri writers.

Given the absence of children’s literature by local authors, the bookstore owners say the customers rarely ask for children’s books written by local authors. “We hardly get any customer who asks for a book for children written in Kashmiri or Urdu language,” says a salesman at one of these bookstores. “Sometimes some customer asks for Children’s books written by foreign writers, mostly comics.”

The last time any major step was taken towards promotion of children’s literature was way back in 1979. Sadrudin Bach, the then Minister of Information, hosted a competition to write books for children. A number of authors participated and were later awarded and facilitated. Professor Zaman Azurdah was one of the participants who wrote his book, Guldasta, for children, which was later published. The other manuscripts that came out of the competition have been since forgotten.

Parvez Manous, a teacher by profession, has written as many as 20 books, including a few books for children. He says the reason behind decline of children’s literature is both due to disinterest shown by authors and discouragement from government and other institutions. Once a writer is published or recognized in some literary circles, he considers it below his standard to write for children, says Manous. “They think writing for children might hurt their ego.”

Parvez says the curriculum in our schools has been framed in such a manner that the children complete it in a few months and then they have nothing to study but to revise the same old lessons again and again. “If literature could be included in their syllabus, they would read it and benefit from it,” he says, blaming the State Education Intuition for not taking any step to introduce and promote children’s literature.  “Had our children been exposed to literature from an early age, they would become good readers and writers in future.”

Increased penetration of mobile phones and Cable TV over the years has also hampered the growth and popularity of children’s literature. TV and mobile phones have also changed the way children want stories to be told, adds Parvez. A story narrated with the help of audio-visuals is more enticing and preferred by children. “Visuals are important for a children’s story. The fonts, the line spacing and the whole formatting of the book for children must be according to their tastes and that is what I have tried to achieve in my upcoming book,” he says.

State Cultural Academy’s Kashmiri section had translated Amin Kamil’s Asal Prai and Nazir Kulgami’s Gindan Prai some 18 years ago.  Back in 2012, they published two volumes of G N Aatash’s Kashir Shuir Adbich Somrag. The long gap of 18 years tells a lot about how Kashmiri literature is made available to the children.

“There was not much literature available for children in Kashmiri language,” says Javid Iqbal, the editor of Kashmiri section in Cultural Academy. He names only four books written for children which have been published so far by the Academy.

Professor Shad Ramzan, who heads the Department of Kashmiri language in Kashmir University, says that ever since Sahitya Academy announced monetary awards for writing books, the standards of writing has fallen. But despite the financial rewards, he says, nothing is being written for children.

Most of the writers writing for children in Kashmir happen to come from the education department. Being familiar with the attitudes and moods of children, they are better aware of what type of literature children can benefit from. But Parvez says that the government has been showing no interest at all towards such endeavors.

Chan Mama, a collection of 20 stories in Pahadi language authored by Parvez Manous, is one of the few books written for children. The stories touch on social, moral and religious values. The book won Parvez ‘Best Book Award’ in 2006 conferred to him by State Cultural Academy. In 2014, Governor N N Vohra commissioned Parvez to write another book for children which is in its final stage of publishing. The book is titled ‘Papa Jaldi Aa Jana’, a collection of 14 stories for children in Urdu language.

But is this enough for the children of Jammu and Kashmir?

Zareef Ahmad Zareef has been contributing to the Kashmiri literature for many years now and has also written for children. His book titled “Chanch Poot” is a compilation of verses and rhymes written for children. “These rhymes or Tuk entail our cultural and traditional values,” says Zareef, adding that the decline in quality children’s literature is directly related to the neglect of Kashmiri and Urdu language.

Though Sahitya Academy provides financial assistance of fifty thousand rupees to the writers, Zareef alleges that most of those writers come up with “poor literature” that affects the children’s ability to better understand their moral and social values.

“One such writer has published his family photographs in his book that is meant to be for children,” says Zareef, without naming the book and its author. “There’re no quality books being written that could inspire our children.”

Zareef says translating foreign literature in Kashmiri language has become a trend now given the monetary benefits translators receive from Sahitya Academy. As a result, he adds, the content is poor and often not relevant to our social context. “We need new literature of our own, new plots and new stories that would influence our children,” he says. “That will only be achieved if we get serious about this subject.”

The Chief Editor of Cultural Academy’s Pahadi section, Dr. Farooq Anwar says that not many writers come forward to benefit from the financial assistance provided by the academy. M A Tak, Chief Editor in Urdu section, however, says that the academy had been working hard to promote literature for children through various means. “We offer 50 percent subsidy to those who come forward to write a book,” he says. “We also award the best authors and hold seminars.”

But sadly, not much has been written for children in Urdu language after Professor Zaman Azurdah wrote his book “Guldatsa” in 1979. It was republished once way back in 2003.

Professor Mansoor, who heads the Urdu department at Kashmir University, believes that with the decline of Urdu language in Kashmir, the scope of writing in this medium has also narrowed. Professor Hameeda Nayeem, HoD English at KU, adds that Kashmir lags behind in mainstream literature, “so writing for children is a distant thought.”

Prominent authors like Amin Kamil, Rahman Raahi, Zareef Ahmad Zareef, Parvez Manous, Qayoom Sabir, Zamaan Aazardah and many others have written for children. But since the languages they write in are dying, the image of these authors is also getting blurred on the literary canvas of Kashmir. What pushes them more into oblivion is the negligence from the government and other institutions that could have promoted their writings and encouraged newer authors to attract more children towards literature.

Professor Shad Ramzan says the history of children’s literature in Kashmir is blank, and the present looks equally saddening. Zareef Ahmad Zareef adds that a society bereft of its own literature and languages is doomed.

“There are countless stories that our children need to know and get inspiration from,” says Zareef. “If they are kept ignorant of those stories, what will happen to our future?”  Only time will tell the future of children’s literature in Kashmir.