Gul Gulshan Gulfam is the story of a man, his houseboats and the siege of Kashmir
When my first novel Sheen Ta Vatapod (Snow and the Bridle Path) was published in 1987, many of my friends and associates were skeptical, for how could I, who had dedicated my life to theatre and spent much of my life in the company of dramaturges, switch from drama to fiction, that too so late in life! However, the main reason behind my sudden switch was my realisation that drama, despite its strength to influence its audience and stimulate them directly, is finite in scope as it does not overcome the limits of space and time and keep pace with the fast-changing moods of passion, inscapes and transience of reality.
This perception had been lurking in my mind for a long time and spurred me to experiment with the production of long radio serial plays like Vyath Rooz Pakaan (And the Vyath Continued Flowing) and Lala Joo and Sons in Kashmiri. Yet, even after having orchestrated, and then directed such open-ended plays, my mind was not satiated in depicting the latent motives of the characters. Even dialogues and soliloquies seemed inadequate to represent the complex undercurrents that make up the human psyche. I felt that poetry and the novel were the best forms in which the human mind could be unravelled fully. Poetry has been considered divine revelation, but my Creator did not deem me suitable for this faculty. So it was an obvious choice for me to adopt the genre of the novel and this is how Sheen Ta Vatapod (translated by me into English and published under the title Sheen – Snow And The Bridle Path) came to be. The novel was given the year’s best book award from the Jammu & Kashmir Academy of Art Culture & Languages and went on to win the national award from Sahitya Akademi. Soon after publishing this novel, I started writing my second novel.
The outline of this new novel occurred to me in the late 1940s when I rented a small boat at the rate of one rupee per day from the quay of my native place, Chinkral Mohalla, in the city of Srinagar. Taking my childhood friends along, I roved through the Maer Canal of the old city and reached Gagribal in the Dal Lake. It was during this journey that the Dal formed an indelible imprint on my mind, and I took an interest in the dwellers of the Dal. Then, when I reached the college, my brother’s business with the tourists strengthened my relationship with the houseboat owners in the lake and this interaction continued for years to come. For many years, I even assisted owners of a couple of houseboats in maintaining their correspondence with various foreign tourists. This experience provided me with an opportunity to understand the family life of the houseboat owners, and their relation to other boatmen and residents of the hamlets in and around the lake.
Soon after, my career in broadcasting (first with Radio Kashmir and then with All India Radio) started. It was during that period that in Dachigam Wild Life Sanctuary, I had the good fortune of getting acquainted with a reputed and venerable person – Abdul Samad Kotroo. He owned a chain of houseboats in the Dal Lake. In fact, I was engaged in preparing a documentary there on the rare and pretty inmates of the sanctuary, particularly the Kashmiri stag, known as the hangul. The chief warden of wildlife at the time, Mir Inayat Ullah, had brought Haji Abdul Samad Kotroo along to record an interview for the documentary on the habits and behaviour of various birds and animals living in the sanctuary. Kotroo Sahib was an authority on wildlife in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
I instantly became an admirer of Kotroo Sahib’s sharp and empathetic mind and transparency of heart. Kotroo Sahib’s experience of life and his understanding of the local people was immense. This became the foundation stone of our relationship which lasted up to his departure for heavenly abode. My interactions with this exceptional human being and his family members inspired me to write about the lives of the boatmen of the lake who has been mingling the sweat of their toil with the waters of the lake for generations. Being a father figure, Kotroo Sahib was venerated by not only the boatmen but also the vegetable growers who dwelled in the marshes around the lake. He had continued the tradition that his father had set – of treating the tourists, who would often come to escape the maddening city life to stay in his houseboat, as his own kith. Similarly, Malla Khaliq is conscientious in his duties of making his guests feel at home. This is how the seed of the novel Gul Gulshan Gulfam was sown in my mind and I started weaving the fabric of this novel and writing it.
It was a boon of God that I got acquainted with the proprietors of a big production house of Mumbai – the film-makers Sunil Mehta and Prem Krishen when they had come to Kashmir to shoot their television film Nai Shirvaani (based on the Russian short story ‘The Overcoat’). When they heard the story of Gul Gulshan Gulfam, they were so impressed that they immediately purchased its broadcasting rights from me. This was the genesis of the tele-serial Gul Gulshan Gulfam, that became a milestone in Indian television history.
The fame of this serial reached even foreign countries in Europe and also the United States where many broadcasting companies telecast it with subtitles, and Kashmiri people, felt for the first time that a beautiful aspect of their social life was portrayed to the world with honesty and empathy. Not only this, the popularity of the series was so impressive, that some hotel owners in Kashmir even changed names of their hotels, and erected the signboards saying Gul Gulshan Gulfam! Some of those signboards are still there – outside the Harwan Gardens, in the Gulmarg bazaar, on the tuck shop at Sona Marg.
Despite having attained such popularity, I still did not find my creative urge satiated, and my desire to write a full-length novel, as originally started, haunted me all the time. However, after the commercial success of Gul Gulshan Gulfam, I got so engrossed in work that I hardly had any respite to pursue such desires. For six long years, I was busy writing the screenplay of Junoon, the longest TV-serial of that time. After Junoon, my time was taken up in writing other popular serials like Ghuttan, Manzil, Saye Devdaar Ke, Baaghi, Noor Jahan and many others. But during all these years of relentless work, the desire to complete the novel Gul Gulshan Gulfam made me impatient. Two years after that hectic period of my life, I managed to lessen the burden of commercial writing and stayed for two successive summers at my Srinagar residence where my long cherished dream of completing this novel in Kashmiri, my mother tongue, was fulfilled.
The scope of a television series is short-lived and its frame is limited at various levels. Though I had tried my best to present all the characters of the serial in keeping with the cultural traditions of Kashmir, I personally felt that something was lost in the adaptation from the screenplay to the screen and they lacked an authenticity as they did not converse in their native tongue. In the form of the novel, the characters finally embraced their own mother tongue, and they became more solid and natural.
In stimulating me to write this novel, I am grateful to my brother Late Manohar Kaul and my wife Late Shanta Kaul, both of whom are writers as well. They were my unfailing audience every evening to the portions that I wrote during the day. They not only heard me intently, but also scrutinized every detail with honesty and gave me their counsel. I also express my gratitude to the writer Anita Kaul for going through the first draft and tightening it.
This novel, when published in the original, created a stir in the literary circles. Several critics classified it as an epic in Kashmiri literature and there was a demand that it should be translated into English, so that its message would reach readers all over the world, so that they get a feel of the life of these simple boatmen and so that they feel that Kashmir is not only Heaven on Earth but also a real abode of love. So with this desire I was motivated to get the novel translated into English. The search for getting a competent person to take up this work was rather difficult as I wanted him to be a person who was conversant and fluent with both the languages. I was lucky that Professor Shafi Shauq agreed to undertake this mammoth task as he is a renowned litterateur in both the languages. He has kept the local flavour intact.
(This piece written by Pran Kishore appears in the P.S section of the book. Gul Gulshan Gulfam is now available at bookstores.)
Here’s the title song of the TV serial: