Omkar Koul as a Short Story writer
Omkar Koul is a well known linguist and a short story writer from Kashmir valley who has more than fifty two books to his credit mostly related to comparative studies of Indian languages, their teaching and their development. Kashmiri language and linguistics has been his special area of focus.
Koul inherited love of letters from his poet father, Prem Nath Koul 'Arpan' and was further influenced by village folk dance and drama such as 'bachcha nagma', 'banda pather', 'kanils' accompanying muslim bridegrooms with 'dhols' and 'Surnais', besides regular 'bhajans', 'leelas' and 'artis' at home in Bogam, Kulgam. Some leelas (bhajans) were written by local artistes including his father which inspired him to try his own hand in this genre at a very early stage of his life. His maiden effort was found out by his father who, however, did not discourage him. He continued writing poetry, short stories and his diary from 1960 onwards during his college and university days but unfortunately these manuscripts got destroyed during his migration from the valley in 1990. After his MA (Hindi), he went to Delhi looking for a job in Oct 1963. It was during this time that his first short story 'Tution' was published in a literary magazine in 1964. His pursuit of linguistics during his Ph D at Agra (1964-67), stay in USA (1968-71), as also his precoccupation with his job as Principal, Central Institute of Indian Languages, Northern Regional Language Centre, Patiala (1971-87) did not allow him time enough to devote to creative writing because he remained engrossed in research work and critical studies. However, his stint as Professor and Head of the Languages Department at LBSNAA, Mussoorie, a picturesque and hilly place,(1987-94) and later as Deputy Director/Director at Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore from1994 upto his retirement in 2001, rekindled the fire of creative writing in him.
About his writing, he holds that it became necessary and compulsory due to the career chosen by him but he writes short stories for his own pleasure. He translated eleven Kashmiri stories into Hindi for a Kolkatta organisation for the first time which were published in a collection “Bharti Shresht Kahaniyan” and were later published in 1992 separately as “Kashmiri Kahaniyan”. His collection of 55 short stories in Hindi, 'Mulaqat', was published in 2001 for which he received an award from the Government of India in 2003 given to him by Hon'ble Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The book was later translated by Pyare 'Hatash' into Kahmiri in 2003 and Abdul Mughani into Urdu in 2006.
Looking at the length of the stories in 'Mulaqat'(The Meeting) and 'Aekhri Faesle'(The Final Decision), a collection of Kashmiri short stories, these can easily be categorised as short-short stories or mini stories, a genre of fiction that has received impetus of late, rather than as short stories. Notwithstanding, the writer claims in his preface to Mulaqat, “In my opinion the story is neither short nor long.The story reveals itself in as many words as the subject matter permits.These stories have diversity as regards the subjects they deal with and the style they employ.” These stories mostly pertain to personal, social and cultural subjects, romance, flirtations, inter- and intra-personal relations in families and society, issues of women and old age, poverty, nepotism, comparative cost of living in US etc. While the system of education, methods of teaching, inter-relations of teachers and students and examination system dominate the subjects dealt in the stories, the most poignant stories told by Koul are that of migration of Kashmiri Pandits, a miniscule minority bestowed with intellectual prowess, as a result of militancy in their homeland , Kashmir. Some other stories like 'Ullu', 'Saanp' and 'Nazar' have both wit and subtle humor in them.
Some of the stories in 'Aekhri Faesle' that have impressed me most are as follows. In 'Nosh', the mother-in-law in a mindless narrative narrates the failure of the marriage of her son, an uneducated and unemployed man, who is forced to marry an unsuspecting girl, in order to make him realize his responsibility, but his continuous refusal to do any work, resorting to domestic violence and the consequent reaction of his wife makes things worse. The story unwittingly represents the fate of many a poor girl in the Indian subcontinent. The style of narrating the story through a continuous monologue of the mother in law (stream of consciousness) is interesting.This style has also been adopted in 'Sule Tilwoen' who narrates the woes of his own miserable life. Exploitation of poor and illiterate has also been deftly portrayed in 'Roghe ' where a village boy is deprived of a promised job for fear of not getting a replacement. In 'Ashram' aspersions are cast upon a kind and philanthropic lady who patronizes an unknown poor man so much so that she has to leave the Ashram and die. Chuni lal , however, takes care of her till death and frowns at the people calling them the killers of Kaushaliya behn. In 'Aekhre Faesle', an ill treated father and widower, throws out his children and resolves to live on his own. Other stories related to old age are 'Dadu', 'Panun Yezath',and 'Koethe'. In yet another touching story , 'Khata', a muslim girl saves the life of her hindu neighbours at the cost of her own life. Another story related to migration is 'Hisab'. In 'Panchath', a muslim girl asserts her right to decide about her and her husband's future rather than succumbing to the diktats of Panchayat.
Omkar Koul draws characters from his surroundings and often paints the scenario in a touching manner as in 'Khata' and 'Roghe'.Social relevance of his stories need not be over emphasised. Though many of his stories have been written about Kashmir, yet his wide travels and experiences have enriched his stories and found him new and varied subjects. I would, however, want him to dissect his characters patiently like a surgeon and not rush through the story since the subjects of some of his stories demand a lengthier treatment. I wish and hope he enriches the Kashmiri language with many more stories in days to come.