What do I, Parveiz Ali, think of the Kashmiri book, Tawazun (Takhleeq te Tanqeed)? To start with, it has been authored by Wali Muhammad Aseer and published by Taj Printing Services, Delhi (2019). It costs ₹500.
Let’s start with the basic question: what is the function of criticism in literature? Is it a registration of literary works produced over the years in a chronological order? No.
Although, it isn’t easy to compartmentalize the functions of literary criticism, we can say its basic function is to interpret literary work in a way that increases our appreciation of a work of art, by examining and evaluating it, so that we are able to get to meaningful insights and conclusions based on a justified rationale.
The supposedly critical work Tawazun consists of 50 chapters. Each chapter is dedicated to a writer (apart from some three chapters which are devoted to cultural background of Kistawar, Kashmiri literature from the Chenab valley, and the contribution of Kashmiri pandits).
Is there any systematic approach followed throughout the book? Any attempt to develop a relationship of content to cultural politics, religion, society, and even politics? Is the form and content of the work influenced by the writer’s gender?
Put as many questions as you want based on the wide spectrum of critical approaches, be it formalistic, historical, psychological, sociological, biographical, or archetypal. There isn’t single evidence where the writer is engaged in literary criticism per se.
“The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is – what it was intended to do and how it is meant to be used,” CS Lewis, a literary critic, argues in the preface to “Paradise Lost” (P1).
I would like to ask where we may place the present book in the spectrum of criticism. Does it touch the chords of criticism anywhere or is it just an amateurishly-titled book, takhleeq te tanqeed (creation and criticism)?
One may humbly ask and desire to know what is written after all in such a fat book.
Pick up any chapter and you find that there are two types of introductions: one, starting from the date and place of birth; and then, a complete record of an author’s educational qualifications, followed by a job profile (from which post did they start and at what position they reached superannuation.
One beholds a complete list of books published by the authors without discussing their literary value.
View this post on Instagram
One may argue that someone’s biography is important for a critical evaluation of their work, but one wonders that after spending so much energy on the biographical aspect, there is no attempt to make the biographical details a base for arguments regarding the body of the work of the particular writer.
I wonder why the author has spent so much energy in it, when he hasn’t used it at all for his main concern: literary criticism. Instead, the biographical details are followed by a montage of passing references quoted previously by any writer in their articles, or by a newspaper, reviewer or historian.
And then, we reach the happy endings, where our respected critic showers heaps of praise on the writer he is supposedly evaluating.
Let’s look at some examples randomly.
Chapter 50 titled, Farooq Shaheen as a Critic, starts with how his book, which was awarded Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar (2012), introduced him to the literary circles, and his other works too, including translations by him.
Then a complete biographical sketch of him is given followed by some random passages from his award winning book without drawing any conclusion from them.
Whatever has been said about Farooq Shaheen by some writers in their works is recorded again, and lastly Dr Iqbal’s couplet about Shaheen is quoted with a comment that the author feels like it was said for Farooq Shaheen.
Chapter 27 is titled: Eminent Kashmiri Essayist – Prof Mohd. Zaman Azurdah. As usual, the chapter is introduced detailing Azurdah’s books, followed by references about him from Kashmiri literary history by Naji Munawar and Shafi Shauq.
It is pertinent to mention here, the reference from literary history have been quoted about almost each person and in every chapter.
This is followed by his complete biography and job profile, as one sees in service records, highlighting in bold letters how many research scholars worked under his supervision.
Don’t forget to note his house number too, is mentioned. At last he says, Prof Mohd. Azurdah, an eminent essayist, wonderful orator deserves honour and respect for writing 30 essay collections in Urdu and Kashmiri.
Chapter 47 titled, Dr Gulzar Ahmad Rather and his Compilations, consists of a total of nine pages, giving us the book names he has compiled, the book chapters he has written.
Dr Gulzar’s complete biography is followed by his educational qualification, which reads like a resume. The author believes despite having high qualification it was destined that Dr Gulzar should work in Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and languages.
The author has quoted the poem ‘Gulzar’ written by Ayub Sabir, the opening verse of which is: “rut anhaar chum gulzar, dilbar yaar chum gulzar”.
The author quotes so many references, unnecessarily, from his compilations and other literary figures of Kashmir without using it to make a point.
Finally, the author has only one complaint from Dr Gulzar: that he uses English numerals instead of Urdu ones, in his body of work.
Norman Holland writes that, “literary criticism … takes as its subject matter, not a text, but the transaction between a reader and a text.” (Five Readers Reading, New Haven, 1975, p.248).
However, one fails to find any such transaction in the whole book.
Say, if one were to ask literary critics who have immensely contributed to the field if this is criticism, they would say a big no because in literary criticism, as new critics, we must deal with the “words on the page”.
Like all other places, we aren’t indifferent. We too, love to adorn our book with a foreword, afterword, blurbs, prefaces etc. It is a token of love and a way of appreciation for one’s creativity, but shouldn’t we play the role of responsible readers?
Why should there be unnecessary praises for something which deserves humble suggestions? Doesn’t the onus lie on all of us who write such introductory words for the books?
And, the same is true for Muhammad Yusuf Tiang, professors Margoob Banhali and Shad Ramzan, who have written liberally in praise of this book.
Summing up, should we consider such books as criticism or the literal biography? Should such books be long-listed for national awards such as the Sahitya Akademi? Should such books bag a national award in the literary criticism genre?
Does this suggest to us something mischievous from the direction of the regional co-ordinators? How is the mechanism of jury constitution taking place? What impact will it have on our future generation?
Do we rob the scholarship ethics from our creative writers through such decisions? Are we producing a generation bereft of confidence?
These are some of the uncomfortable questions that we need to ask ourselves, while deciding the merit of a critical work and forwarding it for a national award.
The author can be reached at email@example.com