Rehman Rahi is the greatest living poet of the Kashmiri language. Rahi was born on 6 May, 1925, and lives in Vichar Nag, Nowshera in Srinagar. He has published five collections of poems and about seven books of literary criticism in Kashmiri. Many of his poems have been translated into Hindi and English.
Rahi has been a subject of the documentary films ‘Rahi’ by M K Raina and ‘A Night of Prophecy’ by Amar Kanwar. He also translated Nietzsche’s Thus spake Zarathustra and the poems of the Punjabi Sufi poet, Baba Farid, into Kashmiri. He has published his research on the modern Persian poet, Farogh Farrukhzad, Kashmiri poet Mehjoor and ancient Sanskrit poetics. Perhaps Rahi’s greatest contribution to Kashmiri literature has been as a tireless campaigner of the Kashmiri language- a language which was neither taught in schools nor colleges in Kashmir. Though the situation has slightly improved, most Kashmiris still can’t read or write in Kashmiri.
Rahi played a pivotal role in the establishment of a Postgraduate Department of Kashmiri in the University of Kashmir and in the introduction of Kashmiri as an optional subject at undergraduate and graduate levels of education in Kashmir. Rahi received the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Padma Shri for excellence in literature and education. Rahi was also awarded India's highest literary award, the Jnanpith. Rahi has been a teacher to an entire generation of Kashmiri poets.
In 1952 and 1956, Rahi published two early anthologies Sanwan Saaz and Nauroz-e-Sabha which established him as a major poet in the language. Rahi published Siyah Rude Jaren Manz (Under the Dark Downpour) in 1997. This is easily the best collection of Kashmiri poetry to have been published in the the last two decades. The interesting thing about this book is that the last time Rehman Rahi published a collection of poems was in 1962. Despite trying his best he couldn’t find enough support to publish another collection of poems from 1962 to 1997. This sums up the state of Kashmiri literature in the period.
Rahi’s poems about the 1990s in Siyah Rude Jaren Manz (Under the Dark Downpour) reveal the fragility of the inner space when confronted with the violence of the world. I would like to quote here from a poem he had written in February 1995 during the siege at Chrar-e-Sharif, the most venerated shrine of Kashmiris.
Sheen ous galan, wav dalaan, bagh phulan aes
Hai sonthe gawahi dyeezi aes kael tyi gyeva aes
Phaluv tyi wathih roud, tim aaluv tyi vati moud
Tehkeek Karen wael tawarikh lyekhan roud
The melting of snow, a soft breeze, a garden in blossom
Be my witness, O Spring, we dumbstruck too could sing
We couldn’t even close our doors, the dying voices never reached us
The researchers kept recording us as history
In another poem, he writes:
Rahi, hawa tiy zaagi chu jasoos aes wat
Walaikumas nae war tae kath bath karzi kyah
Rahi, even the breeze spies on you
You can’t even greet someone here, and you speak of a dialogue
Some of Rehman Rahi’s other poems which deal with the 1990s are Khudaya (O God) written in January 1995 and Malul Shab (Priceless Night) written in January 1990. But perhaps Rahi’s most evocative lines written much before 1990 aptly anticipated the Kashmiri rebellion:
Zinde rozan bapath chi maraan lukh che marakh na
Lute path chakha pyaale kyoho uf ti karakh na
To live, people die. Won’t you die?
Or you are going to drink this poison without any protest?
These lines by Rahi became very popular through a ghazal rendition by the singer Vijay Malla.
Rahi’s poem Jalwae te Zabur [PDF]
Translation of Jalwae te Zabur by Muhammad Amin [PDF]