Thursday, June 23, 2011

Zethan, north by northwest




Travellers in Kashmir (~1920) by Miss G. Hadenfeldt [more]
Sent in by my Uncle R.L Das.
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Zethan is an obscure village lying north by northwest on the outer fringes of Handwara tehsil. In the year 1998, I was promoted and transferred to Kashmir valley as provincial deputy drugs controller.Even though the militancy had ebbed down it had not been wiped out.Kashmiri pandits still felt insecure over there.I filed a civil miscellaneous petition against my posting,which was dismissed ab intio. I had but to join my new posting. Luckily, no mishap took place during my five years tenure.

During the winter of year 2000, our office received a stream of complaints against one Sarah of Dangiwachi and one Surinder Singh of village Zethan. The complaints indicated that both of them sold drugs without any drug licenses and they indulged in quackery. During the last twenty years, the people of Kashmir have developed a favorite pastime of filing frivolous complaints against one another. I would have taken these complaints lightly, but this time, action on complaints was endorsed by Dy. Chief Minister.

I proceeded towards Zethan with my inspectorate staff taking a route via Sopore, then crossing the Baramulla –Handwara road. We reached a populous village known as Rafiabad. I had visited this village earlier in 1976 when it was still known as Dangiwacha (Kashmiri word for 'animal's calf'). At that time it was a sleepy village with kuchha houses with thatched roofs. This time around these had been replaced by pucca houses with corrugated tin roofs.An expansive Higher secondary school had replaced the old primary school of 1976.

Upon inquiring about Sarah, we realized she was a rather well known in the area. We were directed towards another village a couple of miles up ahead, near a rather new and large military camp . Looking for Sarah
we were led to a big shop that stood out as it looked more or less like a government dispensary. Inside, a plump lady with handsome features was examining female patients, a stethoscope in hand, plugged to her ears. A bearded man, most probably her husband was dispensing medicines. So, the complaint
was right. Sarah was not only a quack but performed  D&C (douche and cleaning) as well.

We asked for her qualification. She said that she was an unemployed auxiliary nurse and that her husband was a plain matriculate. Procedure to be followed in such case was clear and well defined. The shop had to be shut. But as we were about to sieze the medicines and stethoscope, two army-men entered the shop and asked us to accompany them as some Colonel Sahib wanted to talk to us. We went to Colonel Sahib's
camp. After introductions he offered us cardamom flavored Kahwa. He got talking.

'Mr.Das, I am happy you people are doing a good job, preventing misuse of medicines and malpractices but at the same time you must be aware that Kashmir is also covered under AFSP act. This means that we have to see that peace is maintained in the area. I am responsible for effective maintainance of the act in this area.'

Then he got to the point.

'This lady, Sarah, is doing a good job of maintaining peace in the area by looking after sick people and she is doing it on a charitable basis.'

And then in a clear high tone, he ordered.

'I hope you understand, she should not be penalized'.

And that was that. Sarah seemed to be well connected in her territory. It is usually risky to take cudgels with army people especially when they have unbridled powers. So we moved on. There was one more complaint to be looked into.

From here, it was an uphill journey to Surinder Singh's shop. While on way, just as we started, it started snowing. The uphill journey took us to one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. On the way we could see boulders of different shapes and sizes scattered over a vast area, right up-to the top, on the side of a hillock. Probably caused by a cloudburst, sometime long ago. Off  and on we could see forest huts with trellis and shingled roofs. The snow around their windowpanes reminded me of the scenes from the movie, Dr. Zivago.

We must have walked twenty kilometers uphill to reach our destination. Sardarji Surinder Singh’s pharmacy wasn't hard to locate. The complaint seemed frivolous as he had a very neat premises and his
records were update. He had a drug license also. All clear credentials.

A thought occurred to me, 'Why a city bred person had chosen this remote village near the border for his business?'. It was beyond my comprehension.

While conducting inspection, a curious crowd had gathered around the shop. I had a good look on them. I was surprised to see that most of the onlookers were fair complexioned and wore round frilled woolen
caps. Many of them had steel grey eyes and unlike Kashmiris did not wear Pherans, for they were draped in woolen blankets.

While on our way back, I asked the drugs inspector of the area, a local guy, a Kashmiri, as to who were those onlookers.

' Sir, your guess is as good as mine.' That's all he said

R.L DAS
JUNE 2011

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I couldn't help pointing out to my uncle that in the place high up in the mountains, in that thunderstruck place, in that pass peppered with boulders brought down by clouds and snow, everyone is an outsider.

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