Naseem Shafaie is busy chronicling Wanwun and Natiya Kalaam in Kashmiri

Story by  Ehsan Fazili | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 15-12-2023
Naseem Shefaie in Shimla
Naseem Shefaie in Shimla


Ehsan Fazili/Srinagar

Naseem Shafaie’s third Kashmiri anthology Bae Wanith Zaani Kus (To whom I should tell) was released in Srinagar a month back. The release of the poetic collection of the only woman Sahitya Academy awardee in Kashmiri literature was a moment to cherish for the languages that are facing challenges due to the rising trend of natives speaking Hindustani (Kashmiris call it Urdu). The revamped Tagore Hall of the J&K Academy of Art, Culture, and Languages resonated with applause as the 72-year-old poet released her latest book. The occasion was the annual literary meet of the Adbi Markaz Kamraz, a premier literary organization of Kashmir.

Naseem Shafaie’s contribution to the Kashmiri language is immense. She has been conferred with the Tagore Award, State award, and many other honours for her contribution to Kashmiri literature. She earlier said she feels proud to be compared with the contemporary European women authors.

Speaking on the phone from her home, Naseem told Awaz-the Voice that this book is only part of her poetry collection over the years. “The Naatia kalam (in praise of Prophet Mohammad) and Hussaini (in praise of the Imams) have not been included in this collection. These would be published separately during the coming months.”

Naseem Shefaie presiding over a function

Naseem has been regularly participating in Hussaini Mushairas (poetic symposiums held in praise of Prophet Muhammad’s progeny) during Muharram in the Shia-dominated Budgam district near Srinagar for the last more than three decades. “Almost 60 percent of work has been completed for the publication of the Naatia and Hussaini poetry”, which is being published in the next few months, she said.

Another project that she is currently engaged in is “attempting on compilation of classical Kashmiri Wanwun (Chorus sung by women during weddings and other social occasion in Kashmir, she told Awaz-the Voice.

Naseem’s poetry is of pathos and courage of Kashmiri, especially women. The three-decade turmoil in Kashmir and the agony of women are chronicled in her collection. Na Thsay Na Aks (Neither shadow nor reflection) which won her Sahitya Academy award also reflects the minds and feelings of Kashmiri women caught in the struggle of managing family and their individuality in the times that saw Kashmir in the middle of violence and social turmoil.

Naseem Shefaie's picture along other literary gians of Kashmiri literature

“I belong to my land and my people, and I feel the sufferings of common man, particularly Kashmiri women, and this had remained at the heart of my writings,” she said. The woman in her poetry tries to look “inside a Kashmiri woman.” Women have been given scanty space in the poetry in general, she said.

“Every woman in Kashmir is a creator, as she sings and murmurs in every situation, be it happiness or sadness”, Naseem commented. Thus, she refers to the Kashmiri Wanwun (marriages) songs or the death of a loved one. “Even when she (Kashmiri woman) holds a child in her lap, the woman creates” her inner feelings that are reflected. “She wants to register her being,” Naseem commented while referring to the women writers not only in Kashmir but also across the country.

She says she can feel the travails that Kashmiri woman as a mother, sister, or, daughter witnessed over the last three decades of turbulence in Kashmir.

Naseem's biggest lament is the neglect of the Kashmiri language by the very people to whom it belongs. She says that most of the parents of school-going children in Kashmir are encouraging them to speak in Urdu (Hindustani) at home.

Having taught the Kashmiri language in different colleges in Kashmir for more than 32 years, she continues to contribute to Kashmiri poetry in different ways and has been busy in participating not only in Mushairas within the valley but also at the national level. Her poetry has been translated into different foreign languages reaching Italy, Germany, and Nepal.

Naseem Shefai in a saffron orchard

A champion of promoting the Kashmiri language, Naseem Shafaie has been among those who first received formal education at the postgraduate level when it was started in the University of Kashmir in the late 1970’s. She is proud to be taught by stalwarts like Prof Rehman Rahi, the only Jnanpith awardee for the Kashmiri language.

During this year, Naseem Shafaie has participated in at least three national-level literary events held at different levels in Kolkatta, Shimla, and Bhopal. The first seven-day-long International Literary Festival organized by the Government of India and Sahitya Academy began on March 23 in Shimla. Its second event was held in September at Bhopal, where the President of India, Droupadi Murmu was the guest of honour.

Her two earlier poetic collections include Derche Machrith (Open Windows), published in 1999, and Na Thsay Na Aks (Neither Shadow Nor Reflection (2009), the latter winning her Sahitya Academy award in 2011.

Shafaie’s other anthologies are Derche Machrith (Open Windows), published in 1999, and Na Thsay Na Aks (Neither Shadow or Reflection, 2009). The latter won her the Sahitya Akademi Award for Kashmiri.

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Na Thsay Na Aks was also among the eight winners of the inaugural Tagore Literature Award the same year. Her poetry has been translated into English, Urdu, Kannada, Tamil, Marathi and Telugu.