Life and legacy of a revolutionary poet



Prof Syed Mohammad Raza.jpg

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Some goodbyes are never said easily. I vividly remember that somber rainy morning, exactly two years ago, when raindrops gently mixed with teardrops.  My uncle, who taught us how to fight against odds, had lost the biggest battle of his life. His tragic and untimely death left us all shattered but gave us a new resolve to carry forward his unfinished mission.

Of course, life is a fleeting shadow and death is inevitable. We all have to depart someday. So, I will not mourn his death. I will celebrate his life, his legacy.

Prof. Syed Mohammad Raza, ‘Raza Uncle’ or ‘Raza Sir’ for many of us, was an acclaimed scholar and poet of Kashmiri and Urdu. His contribution to Kashmiri literature, especially Kashmiri poetry, will be remembered for a very long time. He taught Urdu at Kashmir University for many years.

Prof. Raza’s love for Kashmiri language, history and culture was unmistakably reflected in his works. In our ‘noon-chai discussions’, he would often lament over the slow and painful demise of Kashmiri language. He wanted Kashmiri youth, including myself, to emulate the likes of Mahjoor, Rehman Rahi and Amin Kamil.

On September 3 last year, when the catastrophic floods had wreaked havoc in Kashmir, Prof. Raza left for his heavenly abode

He was perhaps the best-known expert on Ghalibyat in Kashmir. He was tremendously influenced by the works of Mirza Asadullah Ghalib. Once, while in Delhi for a conference, he literally dragged me to Ghalib’s grave in Nizamuddin.  Then, we spent hours in the adjacent Ghalib Academy, searching for rare manuscripts.

Apart from being a prolific writer, Prof. Raza was also a voracious reader. There was hardly any space to sit in his small living room at his ancestral home in Budgam. The collection of books ranged from biographies of renowned scholars and poets, contemporary world history, Islamic history, Kashmir politics and poetry books.

He would so passionately talk about Aristotle, Nietzsche, Marx, Locke, Avicenna, Confucius, Foucault, Iqbal, Ghalib, Maududi and Khomeini. There was never a dull moment with him around. His scholarly temperament was infectious and his intellectual pursuits were mighty. Literary people tend to be tad serious and somber but his sense of humor was razor sharp, which often had us in splits.

Prof. Raza was also perhaps the best-known marsiya nigaar (one who writes elegiac poems in the memory of the martyrs of Karbala) in Kashmir. He perfected the art of writing nauhas (elegies) in Kashmiri language. During the month of Muharram, he would appear on local television channels to recite nauhas and host special commemorative shows on Muharram. He was greatly influenced by the works of Mir Anees and Mirza Dabir, the two greatest exponents of marsiya nigari.

On September 3 last year, when the catastrophic floods had wreaked havoc in Kashmir, Prof. Raza left for his heavenly abode. Despite the floods and heavy rain, thousands of people participated in his funeral, which included many eminent literary personalities of Kashmir valley. Rain and tears were virtually indistinguishable as people slowly marched towards the graveyard.

I had flown from Kabul just a few days before his death. We had planned to visit many places and work together on many projects but it turned out to be our last meeting. I lost a friend, philosopher and guide. But, as Thomas Campbell said, to live in hearts we leave behind is not to die. He lives on.

 (First published in The Witness magazine)