Balraj Bakshi, a well known name in the literary circles has transcended in fame not only J&K but has crossed the borders. He has faced turbulent times and bitter struggle in his life since the days of his childhood. The traumatic days at the time of the partition of British India and violence that erupted afterwards, had its impact on his life when his parents were evacuated from his ancestral home and shifted to a refugee camp where he was born. A series of events including the tragic and untimely demise of his father, had their impact on his young sensitive mind and personality. His mother de el was left to fend for herself and eventually became a Government school teacher, who brought him up to him. He remembers composing poetry at a young age of fifteen years when he was in class 6th and since then, there is no looking back. He has exhibited his talent as a writer, journalist, literary critic, story writer, translator and producer of documentaries, serials, music albums for Doordarshan. He writes with equal ease in Hindi, English, Dogri and Urdu but it is his works written in Urdu which have largely brought him worldwide recognition. He was associated with many newspapers and literary magazines. No wonder, he has been awarded by Urdu Academies of Bihar & U. P, besides the Government of J&K for his exceptional contribution to literature. Though ailing for sometime past, he is still full of energy and spirit of life and agreed to be interviewed at his residence of him at Udhampur. Here are the excerpts of his interview with the writer and poet Ashok Sharma.
AS :Tell the readers something about your early life.
BB : My parents were evacuated in a Dakota plane when Poonch city was under siege of Pakistani Forces in 1947. The Govt of India dumped the evacuees in hastily set up refugee camps at Nagrota, Simbal, Miran Sahib etc. on the outskirts of Jammu city and out of the state also. I was born in one of such refugee tents at Nagrota (Jammu) on 7th of Dec. 1949.
My mind still possesses the memories of a four/five year old child housed in a vast compound of a house near the only ‘Serai’ at the start of the ‘dhakki’ descending towards the Holy Devika stream at Udhampur. There were four or five rooms in which my parents with my younger brother Ashok, my maternal grand parents, maternal uncle Vishwa Nath and my two maternal aunties with their families, were housed. They had separate kitchens.
AS: How did you develop interest in writing?
BB: My father, Kirpa Ram Bakshi, a sub-inspector of Police died in 1957 when I was only nine years of age. My mother Smt. Ram Pyari Sharma used to fondle my father’s memorabilia of her, like his rank stars, uniform, breeches, belt and other things, and she wept bitterly with me and my younger brother of her sitting by her side in utter incomprehension. We were oblivious of her anguish and pain from her. A note book was also one of my father’s valuable possessions in which my father used to write popular film songs of that era and bhajans in Urdu language. Because my mother could read and write Urdu, Hindi and Gurmukhi, She often used to recite to us those songs and poems which left an indelible impression on my mind. Since my Urdu syllabus books also contained Urdu poetry, I developed an inclination for Urdu poetry.
AS: What are the main literary works published by you?
BB: I have published a collection of short stories in Urdu entitled ‘EIK BOOND ZINDAGI’, the only publication of the J&K state that has been awarded by two Urdu Akademies, those of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.’Aasaniyat’ a collection/dictionary of verbs & nouns of Urdu which I published in 2021, is the first ever book on the subject in the Indian Subcontinent. ‘Aasaniyat – 2’, has also been published. I have also published ‘Mitti Kay Mausam’, a collection of my poetry. ‘Zaaviye’, a book on Criticism has also been published. Three other books are in the press.
BB: I was Member of Panel of Advisors constituted by SahityaAkademy, New Delhi for Translation Award for year 2014. I was Member of Panel of Advisors constituted by SahityaAkademy, New Delhi for Translation Award for year 2017. I remained Member of Panel of Advisors of J&K Cultural Academy for Translation Award in Urdu for the year 2019.I have undergone 3-week Intensive Training Course on Translation, conducted by Central Institute of Indian Languages Mysore, first ever in Urdu from J&K. I am registered with the National Register of Translators maintained by the National Translation Mission (Ministry of HRD), Mysore. I have translated a Dogri novel ‘Qaidi’ in Urdu, a project assigned by Sahitya Academy, New Delhi in 2012. The book was published in 2015. I have done various Translation projects for J&K Academy of Arts, Culture & Languages. I also translated a portion of ‘Jammu & Kashmir Police Manual’ in Urdu, for Jammu & Kashmir Police Department.
AS:In view of all this academic activity, you must be highly educated in Urdu language and literature.
BB: No. As a matter of fact, I have studied Urdu only up to 10th Class, after which I opted for science stream.
AS: This is really strange. How did you excel in Urdu language and literature?
BB: I was addicted to reading. This was how I learned Urdu. I was also an avid listener of All India Radio’s Urdu service, Radio Lahore and BBC Urdu, and learned a lot from them.
AS :Tell us, have you contributed to literary magazines in India or abroad?
BB:As an Urdu poet and short story writer, my first short story in Urdu titled ‘Chandni ka Dhuaan’ was published in ‘Shair’ Mumbai in 1969. Since then I have extensively published in Urdu magazines of national and international repute and eminence. My short stories have been published in Chahaar Su and Savera, Urdu magazines from Pakistan. I have been reciting poetry in All India Urdu Mushaira for the last 26 years. I have also recited poetry for Foreign Service of AIR. I have written scores of critical appreciation articles on GopiChandNarang, Baani, ChanderBhanKhayaal, FSEijaz, Manto, Krishan Kumar Toor, Shakeel-ur-Rehman, and scores of literary research articles and short stories, which have been published in the prestigious Urdu magazines of India and Pakistan like, Shair, Tehreek, SabRas, AajKal, Sabaque Urdu,IntesaabAalami, NayaVaraq, Tehreer-e-Nau, AhadNaama, Chaharsu and many many more others.
AS: How is modern life different from life in olden times?
BB: There is nothing new in this world. All emotions, all situations, all relations are as old as this universe. Same attachments, same jealousies, same rivalries, same selfishnesses. There is nothing new. What we term as new, is actually an extension of the old. It might appear as new to me but, in fact, only I am new. Rest of the world is quite old. But you cannot go back in time. Whatever the consequences, you have to welcome the times to come. There is no point in being nostalgic for the times gone by.
AS: What in your opinion, is the status of literary output in J&K?
BB : So far as Urdu is concerned, Abdul Ghani Sheikh from Laddakh, Noor Shah and Vehshi Sayeed from Srinagar, Junaid Jazib, Zanfar Khokhar from Rajouri, Girdhari Lal Khayal from Jammu are promising fiction writers. Liaqat Jaffery, Irfan Aarif and Alamdar Adam from Poonch are very good poets.
AS: An important question. Why didn’t you write in Dogri?
BB: I have written many songs in Dogri. In fact one of my Dogrisong is a raging hit for last 15 years. The song is :Imblishakhatti hi,
Khandu kola mithhi hi,
AS: What do you think is the future of creative writing in J&K?
BB: You cannot write unless you inculcate the habit of reading. You must study world literature voraciously to set your literary priorities straight. Unfortunately, no one likes to read.