Kashmiri folk music which communicated events and emotions is fast moving out of public memory with the onslaught of Bollywood culture

In the year 2000, songs from the movie Mission Kashmir, Rinda poshamal gindi-ney dra-yi lo-lo and Bumbro Bumbro introduced Kashmiri lyrics to the rest of the nation. A love poem, the original Rind Posh Maal was knitted by the late 18 century Kashmiri Poet, Rasul Mir. The fact that the Kashmiris are still singing it occasionally reflects on the continuing popularity of this poem. Unfortunately, this has not been the fate of the rest of the traditional Kashmiri folk songs, music and dance forms. They have been overshadowed by cinematic glitz, with the younger generation shaking a leg to the tune of the latest chartbusters.

Kashmir is the proud possessor of a unique cultural heritage -- be it language, music, performing arts, handicraft, or any other art form. “The heart and soul of our culture were Kashmiri folk songs but as Bollywood songs made their entry into our markets, Kashmiris, particularly youngsters, developed a keen liking and interest in them,” said Former Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL), renowned critic and poet, Mohammad Yousuf Taing.

Veteran singer Abdul Gaffar Kanihami recounts, “Lol-gevun (love songs), popularised by Habba Khatoon, were a rage during our times as youth expressed their love by singing couplets filled with messages of love and affection. The foray of Bollywood and western songs gave local music a run for its money.”

Similarly, ‘Rouf songs’ or Wanwun were very popular in marriages and festivals, remembers Kanimahi. These songs were so enthralling, that no girl or woman, or even an old age woman would miss participating in them.

According to Zahid Mukhtayar, parents too share the responsibility for the loss. “As parents, we have failed to inculcate in our children the significance of our culture. We encourage them to speak in every other language except Kashmiri, dress up in non-traditional outfits and bring them in close sync with outside musical beats.”

Feroz Fayaz, 55, remembers rustic songs like Nendi Ba’eth which are sung during the weeding season. “I still remember that during weeding of paddy fields, men would sing in chorus. The effect of the songs was so embalming that hardly anyone noticed the passing of time,” Tariballi adds that Sont Gevun (spring songs) were also a sensation as the coming of spring was welcomed with it.

Fayaz laments that Kashmiri culture has plummeted to its lowest ebb; gone are the days when boys, girls, men and women would assemble in hordes and take part in cultural functions. “Our half-hearted approach and arrival of non-Kashmiri songs took away the sheen of folk songs. Nowadays, it is rare to see someone boasting or claiming to know anything about Kashmiri folk songs,” he rues.

One of the reasons for the neglect of traditional songs singers of the Valley feel is due to lack of patronage by the government. “Instead of encouraging us, the government is discouraging us. We are struggling to feed our families and keep Kashmiri Sufiana music alive,” laments well known Muneer Mir.

Mir points out institutions like the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL), Doordarshan, and Radio Kashmir are not helping veteran singers. Instead of providing artists with monetary help and support, they invite artists to perform just once a year, only to please government dignitaries.

Veteran singers, after rendering years of services, have been knocking at the government’s door for redressal of their grievances. “On JKAACL’s recommendation, the Central government in 2009 had decided to financially help impoverished Kashmiri veteran singers. After registering for it, we were informed that under a Special Pension Scheme, Rs 4,000 will be paid to each on a monthly basis. But till date, not a single penny has reached our pockets,” laments Abdul Ahad Parray, a Sufiana expert.

Voicing similar concerns, singer Abdul Gaffar Kanihami predicts a dark future for Sufiana singing in Kashmir. “If the government continues to treat us with this indifference, in the near future this richest form of Kashmiri culture will be confined to books only. We defied all odds and have somehow managed to keep at least a section of people in touch with our art. But we don’t think the younger generation will show such resilience.” (Charkha Features)