Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kashmiriyat at cross roads... by P.Parimoo

The thing about crossroads is that hardly anybody gets fantastically airdropped at a crossroad. One arrives at a crossroad by following a certain path. A person stuck at cross road is likely to benefit a lot by contemplating on the path taken, perhaps give a thought to the journey so far.

For the journey back to Srinagar from Leh, taking the path from Zoji La Pass down to Baltal, on the top of a glacier, blind-folded, he found himself wrapped in namdas and buffallo hide, stuffed  alongside him were his sturdy mountain guides, the racepahs. This most arduous part of the journey commenced with Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim and a gentle push down the vast ice sheet. This journey was over 40 minutes or an hour later, he survived.

The year was 1935 and D.N Parimoo was 24. In 1996, while living miles away from Kashmir, in a diary he started writing about his journeys and experiences in Kashmir. His work as an educationist offered lot of travel and an opportunity to intimately know some of the major mover and shakers of Kashmir. In 2000, his son P.Parimoo compiled these writing into fine a book, 'Kashmiriyat at cross roads; the search for a destiny'.

Till now I had only read a bunch of travel account of westerners in Kashmir. In most of these accounts, by 1930s, Kashmir comes across as the land of  great retreat for the western man (and it must be said, western women), the land of idyllic beauty and its poor haunted natives. In these accounts, all that was to be discovered in Kashmir, had been discovered, all the beauty spots, had been found and marked, all the activities that could be done in Kashmir, had been listed, all accounted. There account would often tell you something like - you must experience the thrill of rowing down Jhelum, hire a dozen boat people from one of the city bridges, the boats are quite comfortable and now designed for your comfort, you could cover the entire city in a couple of hours. As a child D.N Parimoo recalls often waving at western tourists rowing down Jhelum, inexplicably to him, always in a hurry. His own boat journeys on Jhelum, often lasted for days, but days filled with singing and music, stories and extended families. In his later years, he came to associate 'Power Show' with white-man's violent rowing exercises on the river.

This is the first time I got to read the travel accounts of a Kasmiri traveling in Kashmir back in 1930s. And its a simple yet graphic account of what must have been truly exhilarating journeys. Best of these is the one undertaken by D.N Parimoo to Leh at the age of 22, already married. There is thrill and excitement experienced by a young man, there is also the shrillness, fear, madness, ghosts, wav-jins offered by barren, lonely but beautiful land. And the destination of this journey, Ladakh  or Little Tibet as it was often called back then, a place that came under the state of Jammu and Kashmir after its conquest by the Dogra General Zorawar Singh in 1834, comes across as a place seeped in eastern-eastern mysticism, and surprisingly a place offering lots of easy bohemian sex, lots of Chaang and Araq - the local booze.

This book offers all kinds of information: sanitary habits of Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims, use of yender or needle of spinning wheel for aborting babies. And it offers surprises: 'tantrics at Bharav Temple of Maisuma, students of Sheikh Abdullah tauting him with the name 'Gada Kala' or Fish Head.

One of the most incredible accounts in this book is also about a journey, but a journey of another kind.  It is the account of how old Pandit orthodoxy breeding, surviving, opposing new waves of change, new thoughts, trying to strike big time, under the command of  AN Kak and his Dharam Sabha was dealt the death blow by few emancipated young men of Yuvak Sabha of Pt Prem Nath Bazaz. It was a coup. The young men actually caught the old men by their beard and told them to shut their trap. The story of Bazaz, a man inspired by writings of Marxist thinker M N Roy, is in itself symbolic as he was sentenced to exile by Pandit community for endorsing Glancy Commission Report about incidents of year 1931. Bazaz returned and went on to play a critical part in the birth of media in Kashmir (a story well documented in this book).

My only problem with the book is references to 'Jews and Kashmiris'. I find these allusions quite distracting, and a big magnet for kind of social theorists. But mercifully the book only mentions is fleetingly and given the time when this book was originally written, mid-90s, just when certain Jewish-Joo stories first started doing rounds, it is an understandable interest. Also one has to consider the fact that western audience might find these stories equally interesting. Another mercy is that even though the title (which could have been shorter) may give you certain ideas, there is hardly any politics in this book.  (Aren't emails that nice Kashmiris good heartedly send each other a reason enough to give one a bad case of 'nahi-nahi-aur-nahi-mainay-wyun-bahut-sara-politics-khaya-hai-be-chus-full.'? )



The best thing about this book is that it offers some intimate and brief sketches of various famous personalities, like the Bakshi family who get a somewhat sympathetic or humanistic treatment. I will ignore the rest and just say that the sketches about Mahjoor and Abdul Ahd Dar stand out for the fact that they talk about these famous poets as a person as seen by a friend. There is mention of Abdul Ahd Dar (whose poems I believe are about inverted Kashmiri Motiffs and just too brilliant at that) and his little tiff with his master Mahjoor. There is Mahjoor and his poem 'India' with the lines "zuv jaan wandh ha hindustanus - Dil chhum Pakistanus seeth". (Note to self : so he did pen those lines about 'Pulses beat for Paksitan. Green. Green'. But quoting just a part of those lines disports its poetic quality. More of that sometime later). D.N Parimoo recalls organizing picnic at Nishat Bagh in honour of his friend Mahjoor. Mahjoor was to jokingly tell him that he stopped writing in Urdu after some Urdu purist asked him to work on his Urdu talafuz.

In exile, living in Ahmedabad, D.N Parimoo was to often organise Urdu mushairas


At one elementary level, the story of Kashmir is about people trying to retrace the old paths, hoping to find that one perfect milestone with the inscription 'Paradise', a paradise free of crossroads. Young re-tracing and remetalling the old conservative roadways laid by travelers who too were once young. Broadening them. Reclaiming. Selectively. Destroying remains of the paths taken less often taken.

"Everywhere in life there are crossroads. Every human being at some time, at the beginning, stands at the crossroads - this is his perfection and not his merit. Where he stands at the end (at the end it is not possible to stand at the crossroads) is his choice and his responsibility."
~'The cares of the Pagans' from Søren Kierkegaard's Christian Discourses

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I am thankful to P.Parimoo ji for sending me a copy. Those interested in this interesting book:

Buy Kashmiriyat At Cross Roads, from Flipkart.com

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