SO able, so noble, so humble, so gentle, Lateef Kashmiri! He is no more, he lives on as a poet of promise, purity and piety. Reminiscences of a quietly, saintly and brightly illuminating soul. With Lateef Kashmiri’s ancestors migrating from Srinagar to Murree over a century and a half ago, he, with his family, was quite accustomed to and acclimatized with seemingly tough and tedious moving up and down the Lower and Upper Mall for the busy routine. Being a loveable poet beyond Murree to Pakistan at large and as a central figure at Murree Bazm e Adab and Murree Literary Circle, he received guests from literary families, especially from Karachi and Lahore. Known for his traditional warmth and hospitality, he would escort incoming guests and carrried their kids in arms and on shoulders on difficult steps, stairs, terrain and turns from Upper to Lower Mall and back.
Warm welcome in chilling weather to guests at his simple little home at Lower Mall comprised heart-warming gifts for kids, bubbling boiled eggs, locally baked cakes and rusks, steaming hot tea with smiles, cheers, pleasantries and goodwill. Modesty is thy name Lateef Kashmiri. Simplicity was his heart, soul, mind and body. His looks, face, eyes, gestures, dress, attire, body language, livelihood all depicted unique simplicity and austerity both in letter and in spirit. It is noteworthy that in view of Lateef Kashmiri’s honesty and simplicity, intellectual and literary reputation, managerial and organizational acumen, he remained the Chief Librarian of Murree Municipal Library on Mall Road for several decades before retiring and due to the literary taste and reputation of his family, Khurram, his illustrious and intellectually-oriented son, now holds this post.
Simple living high thinking Lateef Kashmiri produced one poetic masterpiece after another be it “ fikray, shehparay, afsanay, nawal, inkashafat, afkar-o-aqwal” and alike. Whichever a poetic endeavor here the message is that of love, peace, justice, sympathy, tolerance, selflessness, sacrifice and fellow feeling as duly acknowledged and complimented by men in the street, men at the helm of affairs, and more relevantly by men of letters and poets like Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Farman Fatehpuri, Jamil Malik, Hameed Kashmiri, Ahmad Zaman,Murree Literary Circle and others.
Adding to fragrance of poetic treasures of Lateef Kashmiri is such inherent “Tahqeeq-o-Tajassus”, especially pertaining to the history of Murree in all its forms and manifestations. He wrote a revealing and spell-binding script on Murree in mid 1990s: “Murree-Malka-e-kohsar”. This is “Murree the queen of hills” with its eloquence, information and presentation fascinated both the literary and the common reader indeed. Rauf Abbasi, the then Director of Punjabi Films in Lahore fancied this beautiful script so much that he deviated from popular film-making to making a documentary on Murree. Such wonderful aspects of Murree, the queen of hills” were researched upon and revealed by Lateef Kashmiri comprehensively and appealingly as for example, Murree’s history, people, culture, customs, traditions, folklores, education and politics. All in a very simple, easy, interesting, informative and inspiring manner.
For instance, how the name Murree was adopted through a traditional belief that Mary of Jesus was born in this region and that over centuries locals pronounced Mary as Murree and hence the name Murree. Similarly, how the name Ghora Gali was adopted revealing when post or mail was taken on horses from Rawalpindi to Kashmir, there was night break as horsemen and horses rested and spent night on a chilly hilly terrain given the name of Ghora Gali. Likewise, Chitta More due to its white stones, Kashmir Point and Pindi Point due to their respective panoramic views and landscape.
Soon Lateef Kashmiri and Rauf Abbasi became good friends; the script on “Murree, Malka-e-Kohsar” was ready to be filmed as one of the most gorgeous documentaries of Pakistan for the then 16 mm projector. Later they met Parvez Jamil who did on honorary basis an equally beautiful and befitting Urdu to English translation of “Murree, the Queen of Hills” as for example: “ Gar firdaus baroe zameen asst, hameen asst o hameen asst o hameen asst”….. “ If paradise were to dawn on Earth, it’s truly and only here on earth”. This captivating documentary with its equally appealing Urdu to English translation was encouraged by NAFDEC (National Film Development Corporation) with the objective of being shown as “Pakistan ka tasweeri khabarnama” with feature films and envisioned to be taken on board Pakistan International Airlines international flights.
—The writer is educator, philanthropist and freelance journalist.