Monday, August 31, 2009

Palladium

 
Remains of Palladium Cinema Hall, Lal Chowk, Srinagar. June, 2008. Burnt down in 1992.

I couldn't put my eye to the viewfinder. I didn't want to draw attention. I didn't want anyone to know that I was taking a picture. I was afraid. It seems stupid.

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She came back from school that day and ran straight to her mother who was in the kitchen at the time, sitting next to a reluctantly burning stove. Mother was decongesting stove's snooty nozzle using one of those half-blackened-needle-tipped tools. There, it was fine now. Burning with that right gushing sound. It was quite a sight, but this didn't make Mother happy. It never did, even though it was a dangerous thing to do, even though Mother was good at doing this thing. She knew what would make Mother happy. The news. The good news. She was now bursting with excitement. It was just too good. One look at her, and Mother knew her daughter had something to say. So. She told Mother the news, in single breath, she told her what she saw that afternoon on her way back (it wasn't there in the morning) from the school: Poster of Rajesh Khanna's Roti on Palladium's hoarding wall. Finally it was here. They had heard the songs together on radio, they had hummed the songs - Naach Meri Bulbul Paisa Mile Ga, Gore Rang Pe Na Itna Gumaan Kar, Yeh Jo Public Hai Sab Jaanti Hai. And now the film was here. Mother walked into the hall, looked at the wall clock- they had time. They definitely had time. Mother offered her the afternoon meal, a plateful of hot rice, a thick Dal and some fried potatoes ( a treat just for her). 'Finish all of it.' While she ate, her mother got into a Sari. They were going to see the film, they were going to see Roti. There was no doubt about it from the beginning. She knew it would turn out this way, it always did. And as usual her big brothers won't get to come along. What fun! They were still at School. They would be there for another hour or so. When they come back and find the lock on the front door, as always, to get the key, they would go to aunt's house down the street. Boys didn't seem to mind it at all, ever. After all, they did get to see the films later with gang of friends and cousins. And Mother paid for it all. So it was fine. Till: They all made it back to the house by the time Father got back from office in the evening. It was their little secret. Something on the side. They always had time on their side. So, the mother-daughter duo saw Roti that afternoon at Palladium cinema.

Later at night, after dinner, Father, as usual, did ask them, "So, How was the film?" And he got the answer, in one voice, "Rajesh Khanna, Mumtaz, Song, Dance, Pahalgam. How do you think it could have been?"
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Friday, August 28, 2009

Bakers (Kashmir, 1850-1860), 2009

 
Bakers (Kashmir, 1850-1860), oriental and India Office Collections, British Library.



found this rare image of Kashmiri Kandur waan in an awesome book called 'Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors' by Lizzie Collingham.

 
 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dod Chai ti Gaari'Poor


Dod Chai (Milk tea) and Gaari'Poor, Puri, always sweet, made from Water Chestnut (Singhara) flour. The two are especially
prepared by Pandits on phake'doh, fast day.

In old days, Singhara was the staple food among poor masses of Kashmir. During the months when normal cereals were hard to source, Wular and Dal Lake offered Gaeer, Singhara, in abundance.

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Chai Shoda: Kashmiri nommer for someone addicted to Tea.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Vinayak Tchoram Ti Aathwaar

It's 'Vinayak Tchoram Ti Aathwaar' and it's not 'Vinayak tchoram ti aathwaar' because 4th of this month is missing in Kashmiri calender. How do dates go missing? Don't ask me! 'Vinayak tchoram ti aathwaar' is my exact birthday and not my angreez birthday, which according to Georgian calender is 22nd.

It is Aathwaar, Sunday, today and it's Ganesh Chaturthi all over India but today is 3rd. 4th, tchoram, is missing. Based on my own personal calculation,'Vinayak Tchoram Ti Aathwaar' (real one) comes once every eleven years or so. I have some distant uncles who, instead of saying my name, just exclaim, 'Vinayak tchoram ti aathwaar!' whenever, every odd year,  we meet. My folks stopped 'giving' Punn with my birth . It would have been difficult to manage two things. Yeah I like that old Dung-Roth-Gold story for the day. Which reminds me, is His birthday also missing? O' Doesn't matter. But my birthday is 'missing' this year. Okay, not entirely missing  as the 'Morning Birthday Pooza' has been moved to 3rd. So the birthday is on treyum. How do dates move? Don't ask me! How do birthdays go missing? Don't ask me! Must be a celestial mystery. It can all become very confusing. How does one keep track? I get phone calls. Just like I get phone calls on 8ths, Aaethams (How many of them are there in a month anyway?). Don't eat this. Don't eat that. Okay. (But I do eat that sometimes)
So again, how can a Birthday go missing. Explain that to my defiant body cells. Receding hairline. White, that started years ago. Is that a belly? Crazy nostril hair. Is that a hair in my ear? A single strand of hair. A bouin. What does it think? Yeh Shadipur nahi, Kanpur hai! Stop. They must have made some mistake at Vicharnag, all they do is talk and drink Kehwa, instead they should be doing some Vichar-Vimarsh and cross checking their numbers. Recalculate the dates, match calculations, get on line and tell me, 'Tchoram cha Raawaan?' Is 4th missing?

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Ignore.
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Image: Ganpatyaar

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Old Biscoe School Photograph collection

Old photographs related to Biscoe School found in Tyndale Biscoe's book 'Character Building in Kashmir' (1920) -
 
Second fleet on the way through Srinagar
 
Embarkation Contest: The first boat afloat wins the prize

 
One of the School Boats and the Crew
 
(Clockwise:) Schoolboys at Road making, Peace Day Celebration, Carrying Logs for School Building, Dispensing Medicine during Cholera Epidemic

 
The Wular Lake, Kashmir
One of the popular spots for boating expeditions

 
The C.M.S. School for Girls, Srinagar
 
One of the Brahmin Lies Reproduced on Paper

The above photograph has Biscoe boys dragging a "dead dog". The story:

The school and particularly the methods of Mr. Biscoe faced stiff opposition from orthodox people of Srinagar, often leading the attack were Brahmins and the supporters of other "more normal" Schools including ones that had the backing of Mrs. Annie  Besant, of theosophical fame, who opened Hindu School, on the other bank just opposite the CMS school near the third bridge of Srinagar.  Often local Newspapers were filled with News snippets targeting the school and its way of functioning. In one such news story, the paper claimed that Mr. Biscoe made Brahmin boys drag dead dogs through the city. Stange as the news may seem,  Mr. Biscoe's response was equally typical. He writes in his book 'Character Building in Kashmir' (1920):

Many of the native papers had done us the honour of telling their readers what they thought of us, and gave accounts of what had not, as well as of what had, happened chiefly the former. For many of the Indian papers greedily swallow the lies made red hot in Srinagar. One of the yarns that appeared is worth quoting :

" Mr. Biscoe, principal of the Church mission school in Srinagar, makes his Brahman boys
drag dead dogs through the city."

This " spicy " bit of news took our fancy, and we thought it a pity that one of these yarns at least should not be founded upon something tangible, so we decided to help the editor of the paper in this matter.

We possessed an obedient dog, a spaniel, who was in the habit of "dying" for his friends when required to do so. The rest of the cast was quite easy a party of boys, a rope, and a photographer. The obedient spaniel died, and remained dead while we tied a rope to his hind leg, and placed the boys in position on the rope for the photographer to snap.

So henceforward if ever we find a citizen disbelieving Srinagar yarns, especially those spun against the schools, we can produce this photograph to show that one at least of their stories is true. Papers may err, but cameras never (?).

 
Helter-skelter: School Cleaned in Twenty-five Seconds

They still play these "cleaning" games in schools across the J&K state, but I doubt anyone can beat that number, they can barely manage the students to take these exercises seriously.

In the above  photograph you can actually see the famous "Monkey-Poles" of Biscoe School.  I was admitted to the school in the later 1980s as a young boy, only six or seven years old. Perhaps LKG, and stayed till 3rd standard. I distinctly remember relatives asking me if I had seen the famous  "Money-pole". I had no idea what they were talking about. From their talks, I could infer that in Biscoe school bad boys were made to climb up the "Monkey Pole". I didn't know what the big deal was with that. Sounds fun. Unless. Unless, the pole had nails. So I always imagined that the pole had nails.

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Biscoe School Images from "Beyond The Pir Panjal: Life and Missionary Enterprise in Kashmir" (1912 ) by Ernest F. Neve -

 
Fleet Paddling Past The High School

 
School Sports. A Splash Dash.
[Update: Photographer Randolph B. Holmes, (‘Holmes of Peshawar”)]. Year 1915.
I love this photograph. [A story for later]

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"In all things be men". Missionary exercises for Character building in Kashmir.

In response to a comment by Dipen, who I know is still a "Biscoe Boy".

Dipen pointed out Mr. Biscoe's campaign of making "man" out of  meek Kashmir. In fact, making a "Man" out of Kashmiris was one of the main objectives of the Biscoe (in particular) and early Missionaries sent to Kashmir (in general). And Kashmiris had to be forced into this new mold. So they came up with many methods and exercises and exercises.

[Image: The motto and crest of Biscoe School engarved on its main gate. Taken in June 2008 while I walked past my old school]

Here's an extract from "Beyond The Pir Panjal: Life and Missionary Enterprise in Kashmir" (1912 ) by Ernest F. Neve that shed light on how this 'man-making' exercise was carried out:
The character of the Kashmiri boy is not good. He is often studious, but is usually untruthful, conceited, superstitious,cowardly, selfish and extremely dirty. The motto of this school is " In all things be men." "The crest is a pair of paddles crossed. The paddles represent hard work or strength, the blade of the paddles being in the shape of a heart reminds them of kindness (the true man is a combination of strength and kindness). The crossed paddles represent self-sacrifice, reminding them from Whom we get the greatest example and from Whom we learn to be true men."

All over the city, boys may be met who wear this badge and they may be appealed to by any one in difficulty, distress or danger, as they have been taught to be ready to render service at all times to those who are in need.

The object of the principal of the school, the Rev. Cecil Tyndale-Biscoe, is to train all his boys and not only those who are clever or strong. In a little book entitled Training in Kashmir, he explains his methods. " We give fewer marks to mind than body because Kashmiri boys prefer their books to their bodily exercise. Marks in sports are not given necessarily to the best cricketer or swimmer but to the boy who tries most. If we always reward the strong, as is the custom of the world, we discourage the weak and often they give up trying. The energy of the staff is not concentrated on turning out a great cricket eleven, or great anything, for all those boys who are good at any particular sport are naturally keen and do not need spurring on ; where the stress comes, is hi the case of the weak, feeble, timid boys; it is they who require attention; it is they who specially need physical training and careful watching. Of course this system does not make a brave show, for the strength is given to the bulk and not to make brilliancy more brilliant. We are working for the future, the race of life, and must therefore fit all the boys for it, not a few special ones in order to make a show. Then again sports are not entered into for sport's sake, but for the results. Boys should have strong bodies so that they may help others who have weak ones. Again boys are not rewarded by prizes for sports, as we feel that true sport in the West is being killed by * pot-hunting.' We pit one school against another, giving marks to the school and not to the boys, and the school that wins the greatest number of marks in regattas and sports wins the challenge cup. In this way we hope to take the selfishness out of games and create a true desire for honour for the school and community, as opposed to the individual."

The method of marking adopted in this school gives an idea of the thoroughness of the education, and will show the immense value of such an institution, both from a moral and political standpoint. One-third of the possible marks is allotted for moral proficiency, one-third for physical, and the remaining third for scholarship. The advantages of this are not only that every boy has a chance, but above all that the boys are trained to regard conduct and good citizenship as at least as important as book learning, and that sound bodies are as necessary as sound minds. With regard to conduct, it is not passive good behaviour that gains marks, but actual deeds of kindness. The activities of the Mission School are very varied. A large fire breaks out in the city and spreads with the utmost rapidity among the wooden houses, 3000 of which are burnt. The school work is stopped for the day and the principal and boys take along their fire-engine and fight the flames, sometimes at risk to their own lives, saving those of women and children in danger. The protection of women from insult, kindness to old people and invalids, the rescue of those in peril of drowning, and prevention of cruelty to animals, are some of the works of ministry, which the boys are encouraged to undertake. Although Brahmans may not touch a donkey, they may drive it or lead it with a rope. And one winter hospitality was shown by the Mission School to over a hundred starving donkeys, some of which would certainly have otherwise perished in the streets, where they are sent by their owners to pick up food as best they can. Physical training includes gymnastics, drill, boating, swimming, football and cricket, and the aim is to make the boys healthy and strong, promote esprit de corps, discipline, reverence for authority and a due sense of obedience and subordination. In scholarship there is an ordinary curriculum, including daily Bible lessons. Many of the boys are very young and their instruction elementary. Of the seniors not a few have successfully passed the matriculation examination of the Punjab University. In connection with the school there is a sanitary corps, which, armed with pick and shovel, will often give an object lesson to the people of Srinagar by visiting some specially dirty court or lane and showing the inhabitants what is required to keep it clean. Sometimes, too, at the hospital a group of Mission School boys arrives to take out convalescents for an airing on the lake, where they provide tea at their own expense and bring them safely back in the evening.
Most of these stories became part of local legends connected with this fine institution.

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The meaning of motto and crest of Biscoe school in words of Mr. Tyndale Biscoe, from his book 'Character Building in Kashmir' (1920):
As some people do not quite approve of the motto for the mission school, let me explain what it means to the staff and the boys, whatever other sinister meaning it may appear to have to others.

I will first say what it does not mean by the following incident. A certain lady, visiting the
schools many years ago, asked one of the little boys what was the meaning of his school motto, and he answered : " In all things we must not be women." This lady, knowing only too well the superior attitude taken by men towards women in this country, naturally did not think we had chosen a very gallant motto. As a matter of fact, we mean by men true men, i.e. those who combine kindness with strength. For we have all met the half-man specimen, the kind fools and the strong brutes. The perfect man is after the pattern of the Man Christ Jesus.

The paddles stand for hard work and strength.

The heart-shaped blade for kindness.

The paddles are crossed to signify self-sacrifice, and remind us of the one great Sacrifice for all on that Cross of shame which is now an emblem of salvation, sacredness, and service.

This school badge means service. The boys understand that, if they wear this badge (they may wear black and red rosettes instead if they wish), they must be ready to render service to any one who calls upon them in difficulty and danger, as the people in England look to the police to help them. And I am glad to say that of late several boys have not been called upon in vain. This idea has quite taken on and adds much to their self-respect, since it is a badge of honour which must be lived up to. This service includes animals as well as humans.
[Image: "Second fleet on the way through Srinagar" found in book Biscoe's "Character Building in Kashmir" (1920). More Old Biscoe images here]
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An incident

"Some Punjabis, probably soldiers, had come to a fair for no good intention, and soon were at their game, molesting some Hindu women, who had come to worship; but no one in the crowd came forward to protect these women. Fortunately, however, some Mission Schoolboys arrived on the scene, and they at once fell upon these hooligans and smote them hip and thigh. And when the crowd perceived which way the battle was going, it joined very wisely the winning side. As this little affair happened at the shrine of the goddess of murder, I asked the staff and boys which side the goddess took in the fight? This question was rather a poser, for some said that the goddess was on the side of those who attacked the women, and others maintained that she sided with the schoolboys. Opinions were divided on this important subject until a Solomon solved the difficulty by explaining that as Kali was the goddess of murder and blood, she would naturally side with the party which shed the most blood, and that honour certainly fell to the Mission School boys. This decision pleased and comforted us all."

- from "Beyond The Pir Panjal: Life and Missionary Enterprise in Kashmir" (1912 ) By Ernest F. Neve. The boys were from the newly opened Christian Missionary School (CMS) now simply known as Tyndale Biscoe School after the name of its legendary principal - Rev. Cecil Tyndale-Biscoe. Neve actually quotes words of Biscoe describing the incident.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pandit Women, 19th century group photograph


They had names like:
Arandati, Soomawati, Kud'maal, Yembarzal, Umbrawati, Maat'kuj, Indrawati, Janki'maal, Ri'tch'maal, Kong'maal, Durgawai, Battin'ded, mather'ded, Raaj'ryen, Sang'maal, Tarawati - (Tara, Tarawati, Taeer) and Savidaan'ded (she was always alert, hence the name. Once she even caught a thief who had cat crawled up the walls and into the house through a window. When alert Savidaan'ded saw the thief, she offered him food, fed him, pointed the spots where to find the gold and other precious things. He thanked her, told her she was a great and pious lady who fed a poor man like him. She said it was nothing, all God's will. Then just as he thanked her once more, turned and started to climb down the window, she pushed him, sending him into a free fall, he fell down - Second floor, first floor and hit the ground, it broke his legs. Then she raised an alarm.)

Next generation, their daughter and daughter-in-laws had names like Lata'showri, Janki'showri and so on.

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Came across this rare vintage  group photo of Kashmiri Pandit woman at columbia.edu . Probably late 19th century. A line at the bottom of the photograph written in French read: Femmes Cachemiriermes. Caste des Pundites.
The line helped identify that the women in this photograph are Pandit but I had my doubts, for one, there are too many ear ring, and all important dejhoor does not seem to be one of the ear rings, no bindi on forehead (only one, standing second from right, appears to sport one ), dress is too designer. A cursory look and they seem Muslim.

I showed this photograph to my mother and 'Muslim' was her verdict. I pointed out the french caption. My mother looked at the picture more carefully and changed her verdict. They are definitely Pandit woman, the definitive proof, their Pheran has Laad, a fold down towards the bottom of their dress.

Then I asked my mother to give me some names.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sheer joy of Sheer Chai or Noon Chai

 
Sheer Chai and Kulch'e. Noon Chai, salt tea for afternoons. Pandits are more likely to call it Sheer Chai.
 
Sheer Chai gets its pinkish hue from baking soda.

When I was a kid, I used to love Kehwa. I would look forward to it any given morning and Sheer Chai, it was that strange looking tea that old women drank, with much delight, in late afternoons. Sitting in group, chatting, at ease holding steaming brass khos with the edge of their sari, they would sip Sheer Chai after their long chores and toils in kitchen were over. They ask me. No, this not for me, why don't you make Kehwa, now that I will have anydayanytime. That was then. Now, I keep looking forward to a cup of salty Sheer Chai, with malai. They hold stainless steel cup now, but still like that. Now too, it's a special brew for rare little get-togethers or it's just something you may say yes to one lazy one afternoon and it will come to you. I like to think that I have developed a taste for it. At first they, the makers, the women, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, were surprised, now its okay. But still, I don't think Sheer Chai is okay for mornings. Not in the morning. Sweet Kehwa is still fine for mornings.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

funny, pandit, wit

One day, while hearing a petition, I noticed an elderly Hindu villager standing on his head. He remained in that position for nearly half an hour, when I asked him his business. He then explained that his affairs were in so confused a state that he did not know whether he was standing on his head or his heels.
Walter Roper Lawrence mentions this incident in his The Valley of Kashmir (1895). And in another incident recounted by Lawrence:
A Pandit, whose petition had been three times rejected, appeared a fourth time, and I told him that if he presented another petition I should have to report him to the local official. The next day the Pandit appeared with a paper in his hand ; he was at once ordered to be removed, but explained that it was not a petition but a poem which he wished to present. The poem recited his grievances.
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