Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Only Kashmiri on Mars, 1898


In 1897-98 when H.G. Wells came out with his 'The War of the World' it took the western world by storm. The plot set in London had aliens from Mars who almost succeed at exterminating humans on this planet only to be stopped accidentally by microbial infection. Inspired by the success of plot and world's fascination with Mars, a slew of derivative unofficial spinoffs by other science fiction writers followed. In one of the best know unofficial sequels to 'The War of the World', a Kashmiri, the only human living on planet Mars, puts end to the Martian scourge and saves earth for human race.

In 'Edison's Conquest of Mars' written by American astronomer Garrett P. Serviss in 1898, actions begins where 'The War of the World' ends. Martians have been defeated, but humans know they will be back to finish the job. To stop them, a group of brave men lead by American inventor Thomas Alva Edison decide to take the fight to the Martians. In a they leave for Mars using the 'anti-gravity' device built by Edison. And on reaching Mars what do they find besides the giant Martians? Surprise! Surprise! A beautiful Kashmiri girl, the last one remaining of the race of humans that nine thousand years had been abducted from Kashmir and taken to Mars as slaves, the one who now sings songs to the aliens and keeps them entertained. The girl offers them the solution to the Martian problem, she tells them how to flood the canals of Mars and end the Martian civilisation.

I am not making this up. An extract from the book:



One of the first bits of information which the Professor had given out was the name of the girl. 
We Learn Her Name. 
It was Aina (pronounced Ah-ee-na).This news was flashed throughout the squadron, and the name of our beautiful captive was on the lips of all.
After that came her story. It was a marvellous narrative. Translated into our tongue it ran as follows:
"The traditions of my fathers, handed down for generations so many that no one can number them, declare that the planet of Mars was not the place of our origin."
"Ages and ages ago our forefathers dwelt on another and distant world that was nearer to the sun than this one is, and enjoyed brighter daylight than we have here."
"They dwelt—as I have often heard the story from my father, who had learned it by heart from his father, and he from his—in a beautiful valley that was surrounded by enormous mountains towering into the clouds and white about their tops with snow that never melted. In the valley were lakes, around which clustered the dwellings of our race."
"It was, the traditions say, a land wonderful for its fertility, filled with all things that the heart could desire, splendid with flowers and rich with luscious fruits."
"It was a land of music, and the people who dwelt in it were very happy."
While the girl was telling this part of her story the Heidelberg Professor became visibly more and more excited. Presently he could keep quiet no longer, and suddenly exclaimed, turning to us who were listening, as the words of the girl were interpreted for us by one of the other linguists:
"Gentlemen, it is the Vale of Cashmere! Has not my great countryman, Adelung, so declared? Has he not said that the Valley of Cashmere was the cradle of the human race already?"
"From the Valley of Cashmere to the planet Mars—what a romance!" exclaimed one of the bystanders.
Colonel Smith appeared to be particularly moved, and I heard him humming under his breath, greatly to my astonishment, for this rough soldier was not much given to poetry or music:
"Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere,
  With its roses the brightest that earth ever gave;
Its temples, its grottoes, its fountains as clear,
  As the love-lighted eyes that hang over the wave."
Mr. Sidney Phillips, standing by, and also catching the murmur of Colonel Smith's words, showed in his handsome countenance some indications of distress, as if he wished he had thought of those lines himself.
Aina Tells Her Story.
The girl resumed her narrative:"Suddenly there dropped down out of the sky strange gigantic enemies, armed with mysterious weapons, and began to slay and burn and make desolate. Our forefathers could not withstand them. They seemed like demons, who had been sent from the abodes of evil to destroy our race."
"Some of the wise men said that this thing had come upon our people because they had been very wicked, and the gods in Heaven were angry. Some said they came from the moon, and some from the far-away stars. But of these things my forefathers knew nothing for a certainty."
"The destroyers showed no mercy to the inhabitants of the beautiful valley. Not content with making it a desert, they swept over other parts of the earth."
"The tradition says that they carried off from the valley, which was our native land, a large number of our people, taking them first into a strange country, where there were oceans of sand, but where a great river, flowing through the midst of the sands, created a narrow land of fertility. Here, after having slain and driven out the native inhabitants, they remained for many years, keeping our people, whom they had carried into captivity, as slaves."

The plot twist devised by Garrett P. Serviss mashed up some of the more popular obsessions of the western world around that time: 'Canals of Mars', 'Eden on Earth'. The idea of Kashmir as Eden comes from 1806 writings of German philologist Johann Christoph Adelung who attempting to explain the common origin of all languages, postulated Kashmir as cradle of entire human civilisation. Add to that the romantic image of Kashmir in western mind as created by Thomas Moore's famous lines from Lalla Rookh (1817) - 'Who hasn’t heard of the Valley of Kashmir?', an exotic science fiction brew, (or Kehwa as we Kashmiris would prefer) is ready.

So, Who hasn't heard of the Valley of Kashmir? Apparently, even Martians have!

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Read:
Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898) here at gutenberg.org


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Portrait of a Raider


One of few works which gives a name and a face to the anonymous horde of 'Kabailis' that descended upon Kashmir in 1947-48. 


Gulmar, though his big hawk-like nose rather marred his good looks, had the attraction of youth, and was divertingly Mahsud. He asked direct, practical questions on everything. Like Rahim he had admirable manners - Pathans may prove the best servants in the world.; but he was restless, a piece of quicksilver, you could never ignore him. Possessor evidently of a strong character, you felt that, if you didn't look out, he would soon have complete control of your affairs.
He did not seem physically very tough. Within days he fell a victim to Karachi belly, and I was doctoring him with liver pills; he also blistered his feet accompanying me on walks, not yet vigorous ones because of my recent operation. Admittedly he had a new pair of chaplis - the heavy, sandal-like shoes worn by Pathans; they had been bought in honour of his fresh employment, and eventually of course would be paid for by me. But, like Rahim, he plainly thought physical exercise crazy. If you had no need to walk you didn't do it; you sat around and got fat.
During these strolls he soon became a keen and adept helper in my photographic efforts. It was a new form of shikar or sport. From just behind me he would crack jokes ingeniously with the victims, diverting their attention from the lens, keeping their faces alive until the moment of the shot - and then, the deed done, would laugh delightedly at their surprise.
When we were out shooting in this fashion one day, he spoke of his own shooting in Kashmir; real shooting.
"Shooting at what?"
"Men, of course, Sahib."
I looked at him astonished. "But you only seem about seventeen"
"Yes, Sahib."
"But you can't have been fighting the Indians when thirteen?"
"Yes, Sahib" - and enquiry left no doubt that he had, and thought it not at all remarkable. He gave details of where he had gone and they made geographical sense. He had been bombed and rocketed by Indian planes, machine-gunned by Indian infantry. He had been half smothered by the blood and entrails of a mule, blown up a few yards away. He spoke of having spent a night on a snowy hillside - without socks or coat - to snipe Indian troops at dawn.

"Carrying a man's rifle was rather tiring for me sometimes", he grudgingly admitted. Remembrance of my facile thoughts on his stamina made me ashamed.

~ Ian Melville Stephens, 'Horned moon: An account of a journey through Pakistan, Kashmir, and Afghanistan' (1953). Back then, Ian Stephens, former editor of 'The Statesman', was one of the first person allowed to cross into India from Pakistan by walking across LOC. Back then, he was also one of the few person's sympathetic to Pakistan (even quit his job possibly because he thought Pakistan was getting a raw deal), someone who believed that the country had a shot at been a progressive nation. Stephens would meet these simple natives, men capable of abominable deeds in bouts of mass madness, and yet he found them admirable as that is how things were region between Delhi and Karachi, a region he lovingly re-christened 'Delkaria'.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

thousand widows 51



"Section of the thousand widows of our Kashmir Jawans -each of whom received Rs. 51/- for the loss of her husband. Rs. 51, 000/- collected from the public were distributed to these widows. Sardar Baldev Singh and General Criappa, of course made speeches. When the rupees are spent, the widows can still live on the words."

~ August 1949, Filmindia Magazine. The magazine over the years kept sliding to right of political spectrum. And was about a decade later banned in Kashmir.

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