Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fable of Ugly Kashmiri as explained in a Magazine

The writer of an article titled The Valley of Kashmir and its Women, published in Blackwood' Magazine in 1875, having read Victor Jacquemont and his tale of Kashmiri women being “carried off into the Punjab and India”, wrote:
“I am afraid a good deal of traffic still goes on, notwithstanding the law which forbids women and mares to be taken out of the country; and as it has gone on for generations, it is easily explicable how the women of Kashmir should be so ugly. A continuous process of eliminating the pretty girls and leaving the ugly ones to continue the race must lower the standard of beauty.”
By now, we can explainable guess why there was a law forbidding trafficking of women, but we can make no guess about the ban on trafficking of mares. How were the clauses of this ban written, wonder, if they too mentioned women and mares in the same sentence?

Anyway, the writer of the article then went on to make a comment of his own on the “standard of beauty”. He wrote:
“But the want of good condition strikes one more painfully in Kashmir than the want of beauty. The aquiline nosed, long chins, and long faces of the women of Kashmir, would allow only of a peculiar and rather Jewish style of beauty; but even that is not brought out well by the state of their physique; and I don't suppose the most beautiful woman in the world would show to advantage it [if] she were imperfectly washed and dressed in the ordinary feminine attire of Kashmir -- a dirty, whitish cotton night-gown.”
The writer was talking about the beloved attire of Kashmiris: a pheran.

More than a century and a half later, in around 1930s, a Kashmiri Pandit, Kashayap Bandhu went around suggesting social and cultural change among his Pandit community; and making women get rid of pheran was high on his agenda.

Songs were written:
Travee Pheran lo lo
Zooj, Pooch tye Narivaar
Yim chhi shikasaek sardaar
mali baerthaey gardan
Travee Pheran lo lo
O! Give up the Pheran, dear
Give up Zooj, Pooch and Narivaar
these are harbinger of only squalor
Lo! your neck is covered with muck
Give up the Pheran, O dear!

Pheran is also known as narivaar, in Kashmiri language narivaar is a piece of clothing that covers the arms and shoulders. Besides narivaar, a pheran comprises of two more sets of clothing, a zooj and a pooch. And together, they do have a tendency to attract a lot of dust and dirt. Kashayap Bandhu and his bunch of close associates started a door-to-door movement and organized community meets. Disdainful, some pandits critical of his ideas began to call him Kash Bandooq or a rifle filled with sawdust.

The repose of women was equally poetic :
taaraachand bulbulo trawoo israar
aes na baa traawoy z'ahtih narivaar
TaraChand, O! Stop chattering like a Bulbul,
leave the doggedness, for we will never leave,
our precious gown – narivaar

In the end, although, other dresses and forms of clothing (more Indian) did make inroads in Kashmir, but pheren even today remains much loved.

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The article The Valley of Kashmir and its Women was republished in The New York Times
dated May2, 1875


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This is page 6 of the series Fables of Kashmiri Beauty

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previous pages:
next pages:
  • Fable of Kashmiri Beauty (generally) as told by Younghusband: page 7
  • Guide to the Fable of Kashmiri Beauty as given in a Tourist Book: page 8

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