“The art of poetry should live”: Inside Kashmir’s village of poets

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Ranjoor Tilgami finds a panah-gah in poetry; a refuge.

“There are moments when you feel like there is an emotional volcano within you,” Ranjoor, which literally means sorrowful and distressed in Urdu, said. “You think you will burst; when some people feel like that, they cry and feel better. I write,” he said.

Ranjoor speaks Kashmiri with fluency and intersperses his words with a humourous relief. He often breaks off to talk about the history and beauty of Tilgham, his village which has become a part of his identity.

“This is a beautiful place, even as there has been so much developed here, there is still nature here,” he said. “It is winter now and you may not be able to see, but when summer comes the beauty enhances.”

Ranjoor is among the more than dozen poets from Tilgham, an otherwise obscure village near the highway town of Pattan in north Kashmir. The tradition of poetry in the village was born a century ago when one of its residents, Shah Ibrahim, started to pen verses.

The generation of poets that followed created a culture of poetry in Tilgham and inspired Ranjoor, 70, and many others – some of them are young and some now with wrinkled faces.

Ranjoor lives a lonely life after his wife died a decade ago and his children shunned him. “Since I started living alone, I realized the value of loneliness. I do not want to live with anyone now. I want to live alone,” he said.

He feels the people of Kashmir have not been given a chance to express themselves for more than five centuries. “We are simple people,” he said. “We are not able to express ourselves properly. Kashmiris are only trying to survive.”

Ranjoor’s poetry during his youthful days talked of romanticism but he now prefers to write about jadeed hyes aagahi, or modern sensitivity. “In this, a person writes about his restlessness, loneliness, helplessness and the situation around him.” 


A left turn and a 30-minute journey from the Pattan town on a long macadamized snaking road leads to Tilgham, a village with decently built houses that place its residents up on the socio-economic ladder. There are orchards surrounding almost every house.

On the journey toward the village, the air feels fresh; different from what one breathes in a city and the breeze makes the atmosphere lively.

“I don’t want to get out of this village. I want to live here till I die,” Ranjoor said as he insisted, to begin with, the history of Tilgham, something that makes him delightful and proud.

The name of the village, Ranjoor said, has been mentioned in Rajatarangini, Kashmir’s twelfth-century book of history written in Sanskrit by a Kashmiri historian Kalhana.

Ranjoor said that the village was named after a local ruler Tilak Ram. “In some of our old revenue records, it is even named as Teligram. With the passage of time, it came to be known as Tilgham,” he said.

There also have been archaeological explorations of Tilgham which led to an old water supply system made of clay and some coins and sculptures. “It shows that the village has a rich history,” Ranjoor said.

Kashmir poetry
Khalid Bashir, Fayaz Tilghami, Ranjoor Tilghami and Showkat Ahmad Lone together at Fayaz Tilghami’s house in Tilgham. Photograph by Umer Asif for The Kashmir Walla.

Romanticism, politics, and introspection

Tilgham’s poets write about the usual topics and the unusual ones too. Their verses are about romanticism, humor, and also politics. Some also write about society and call for introspection.

Some of the poets of Tilgham have published books and received recognition from several cultural organizations, some still remained under-appreciated. 

Fayaz Tilghami, a 70-year-old poet, does not like to be addressed by his surname as he believes that his village is his identity. 

He welcomes even the unknown people to his home and believes that hospitality comes naturally to the people of Kashmir. 

Fayaz survived brain surgery a few years ago and has since developed forgetfulness. He now keeps a diary close to him before he goes to sleep as he believes that he can pen a verse anytime, anywhere. “Forgetfulness is not suitable for a poet,” he said.

Fayaz found a passion for writing around fifty years ago when he would read poems in newspapers. “There used to be a newspaper called Akhbar-e-khidmat. As a student, I would read that every day and I was inspired by their poetry,” he said. 

In 1969, Fayaz’s first ghazal, “Dilas dedwan mye kornam loale naaran, siras az faash kornam baale yaaran” got published in the same newspaper. 

After the ghazal got published, Fayaz received a letter from Mohiuddin Hajini, a highly reputed writer from nearby Hajin village in those days. Hajni was impressed with Fayaz’s work and got him a job as a teacher. 

Fayaz along with other poets would then meet at an organization known as Adbi Markaz Kamraaz — one of Kashmir’s biggest literary bodies formed by Hajini where they would share their poetry and learn from each other. It motivated the wannabe poets to think and write. 

As Fayaz taught at Khaipora high school, he also started writing poetry for his students that would be performed at events in the form of Kashmiri folk dance rouf, Kashmiri wedding songs wanwun, and Kashmiri musical storytelling ladishah. “This gave me the motivation to write a children’s book in 1984,” said Tilghami. 

Over the period of time, the poet not only wrote several dramas but also ten books. His books include Lajawaab, Nishaat Ansari, and Han Han Talaash

“The poetry earlier was about ishq and it would be about their love for god or for a person. With time it has now changed, poets can now write about anything; a poet can bring a revolution with his pen,” he said.

For most poets, Fayaz said, poetry feels intuitive sometimes and makes the sensitive readers think about what the poet has to say. “The poets have intuitions and they have a different understanding of society,” he said.

Fayaz’s more recent verse is titled tchandav, or the search.

Panen lashie ne havaan kaensi paanas

Panen tamath! vanav kya gaer zaanas

Kenen ma thevmezh kuni jaaye aasekh

Pyevaan ven din avai preth kun dukanas

[They show them not their own corpse

The own! Not to mention the unfamiliar’s

Perchance they have put it on sale

So I search it at all the shops]

Fayaz pauses as he talks and is careful about the choice of his words. As welcoming as he is for the guests, he also maintains a calm, somber posture.

“A poet is successful if he has a hold on techniques. The reader experiences the beauty of poetry before understanding its meaning,” said Fayaz.

The poet, Fayaz believes, writes about whatever he witnesses and feels around him. “Even the feelings that he is not able to express for a long time and remain within him pours out in the form of poetry. Poetry shouts within a person and tells him ‘write me’,” he said. 

The Gen-Next

Showkat Ahmad Lone, 38, and Khalid Bashir, 40, are part of the new generation of poets of Tilgham.

Lone and Bashir have a deep respect for Fayaz and Ranjoor and abstain from speaking out of turn. They waited quietly as the elder poets spoke.

“We cannot talk in front of them (Fayaz and Ranjoor). They are seniors and we have no experience,” the two young poets insist.

Ranjoor intervenes and encourages them to talk.

“Even though writing poetry is an inbuilt art, to make it perfect one needs a guide or a teacher,” said Lone, a primary school teacher. 

The young poet once went to Ranjoor to show him his work. The teacher, however, was not impressed and tore apart the page on which Lone had scribbled the verses. “He also told me to write about the things nobody else writes about.”

Lone said Ranjoor’s advice improved his poetry. “He advised me to be my own critique and that helped me,” said Lone. 

Bashir, also a primary school teacher, has also written fictional stories, or afsanas. “I got inspired by Fayaz Sahab and Wani Sahab. From my childhood I have been listening to their poetry which is very famous in the village,” said Bashir. 

Of the two poetry teachers, Bashir preferred to go to Ranjoor as he was more amiable and easy-going. “I have such reverence for Fayaz sahab that I was never able to go in front of him to show him my poetry,” Bashir said.

Bashir said that he is trying to follow the tips and tricks given to him by his teachers. “I should be able to teach that to others in the future,” said Bashir. “The art of poetry should live in Tilgham.”

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