Thursday, January 29, 2009

poverty, Nanga bhookha, Bhookha nanga

Just finished reading Curfewed Night, an autobiographical-reportage Novel by Basharat Peer on Kashmir of post 1989. Even that book isn't free from Bollywood. On seeing his first bollywood film in a theater in the Indian town of Aligarh, the Kashmiri author-protagonist gets his 'Aazadi'. And just a paragraph earlier, he writes about seeing emaciated Rickshawallas for the first time in his life. His grandfather, who accompanied him on this trip to get him admitted to the University, pays the rickshawalla twice the fare for a ride and thinks, 'There is terrible poverty here.' The author-protagonist notes: ' The poverty in Kashmir wasn't as desperate.'

These words reminded me of lines by early European travelers to Kashmir who documented the abject poverty of Kashmir. In 1831, a French botanist named Victor Jacquemont (Born in Paris on August 8, 1801 and died in Bombay on December 7, 1832) arrived in Kashmir valley and wrote '...nowhere else in India are the masses as poor and denuded as they are in Kashmir. It is the only country where the price of work is really as low as we believe, mistakenly, to be generally in India.'* Godfrey Thomas Vigne, an English traveler who visited Kashmir in 1835 wrote, "Not a day passes whilst I was on the path to Kashmir, and even when travelling in the valley, that I did not see the bleached remains of some unfortunate wretch who dad fallen a victim either to sickness or starvation."

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Correspondence inedite 1867 Victor Jacquemont

I also remembered the slogan that cut through Arundhati Roy like a knife and clean broke her heart: Nanga bhookha Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan. (Naked, starving India, More precious than life itself - Pakistan.)

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*Nulle part dans l'Inde la masse de la population n'est aussi pauvre, aussi dénuée qu'à Cachemire. C'est le seul pays où le prix du travail soit réellement aussi bas que nous le croyons, par erreur, être généralement dans toute l'Inde.

- Correspondance inédite avec sa famille et ses amis
 by Victor Jacquemont (Published by M. Lévy, 1867), Volume 2, pp97
 [rough google translation] [download]

In the book Letters from India by Victor Jacquemont (E. Churton, 1835), an early translation of his letters, the same thought appears in lines: "India is no longer the poorest country in the world to me: Cashmeer exceeds all imaginable poverty." (page 111)

These lines, translated, were used in:   
Kashmir in the Crossfire: In the Crossfire (1996), Page 36
by Victoria Schofield and also in her book Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War, page 5

Pankaj Mishra then used Victoria Schofield's translation of the same lines in his famous article Death in Kashmir (2000). The same line later appeared in his Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond (2006), Page 168

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"Kashmir was never part of India", said a young man who seemed to be the group's chief spokesman," Our culture has always been different. We believe in Muslim ideology, the Indians preach socialist ideology. We believe in Muslim educational values, they believe in Darwin's theory. We are part of the global Islamic movement against the materialistic ideology of the west." [...] "We do not have the kind of poverty in Kashmir. Only Farooq Abdullah is stupid enough to believe that the problems of Kashmir are economic. That jobs are what we need"
- a militant speaks in a page from Tavleen Singh's Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors (1996)
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Related post: Free History books on Kashmir

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