Monday, December 12, 2011

Bhairav of Bagh-i-Sundar Balla Chattabal



'So, the temple! Is it going to fall to the left or to the right?'

We wondered. My grandfather couldn't remember the way to his house. He didn't recognize the chowk, the tang adda nor the left turn that led to the house that was once his. When we reached the house, he asked, 'Is this the place?'
His memory had probably started to disintegrate the previous summer. Memories flowing in his blood were forming a clot in his cranium. In a condition like that, pulling the directions to a neighbourhood temple from memory was perhaps too much to expect. Yet, we engaged in a play. Many a games like these we had played together. The pace at which the bus was moving, everyone had to pick a side or miss having the darshan. Everyone in the bus looked left and then right and then left. I chose right. I knew the temple was to the right. It had to be.

One the the earliest memories of Kashmir I have is of a day, not a particular day, rather sum of many such days, one of those days when my grandfather would take me to the ghat to get monthly ration. On way to the river bank he would tell me about the weir. The weir on Jhelum was built around 1906, an engineering feat performed using British help, to maintain the water level of the river, to keep the river navigational and to keep an old river going. Back then I didn't know all this. I didn't realize rivers could die. But the sound of 'Veer' excited me. Veer had been part of Kashmiri language for decades now but when I heard the word 'Veer, I asked him to explain what this Veer thing looked like. What is a Veer?

'It's a big wooden structure built across a river...'

One could simply say it's a small dam like structure but as I heard and misheard and missed my grandfather's explanation, the picture that my mind chose to draw was no simple dam. My mind took: from the pair of snakes in Medical insignia of Soura hospital, one snake and comity; from the cranky old wooden electric pole in our yard, it took a slippery and wet wooden pole and an uncertainty; from the rows of those giant taps that someone put alongside a railing of an old bridge on Jhelum and then left them all open as if by mistake, a fountainn-tap to pump oxygen (not water) into a thirsty river, it took sound and breath; and from the dying moments of a black and white television screen, it took its last slow murmur of life, a single beautiful dot of blinding whiteness in the center of a finite darkness. A picture emerged, my eyes could now see the Veer: it was an unreadable god, in the middle of a deep river a huge pole reaching for an overcast grey sky, wound around it, a giant dark serpent with inviting diamond twinkle for eyes. Can it call out to people? Can its voice be heard? Why it looked like Skeletor's 'Snake Mountain'!

'That's way to the Veer,' he pointed in a direction, '...will take you someday.' I couldn't  see anything. The vision faded. Or did it appear only later in a nightmare I had on a Sunday. This day must have been a Sunday.

'Aren't we going to go?'
'Maybe later. First we will go get ration. Don't you want to see the houseboats.'
'Yes...'

I wanted to see it all. I wanted to run to the shore as soon as the whiff of the river reached me. But before going to the houseboat-shops, grandfather stopped. He stopped in front of a structure that looked like a storeroom. A storeroom with a locked door.

'Is the shop closed? Will we have to agin come back tomorrow? What do they sell here?'

'This is our Bhairav Mandar,' my grandfather answered even as he offered a head-bent namaskar to the iron lock.

'What's inside?'

'God.'

'Why is it locked? Can we look inside?'

As he proceeded to circumvent the structure, I followed him, holding on to a corner of his kurta and on with my questions.

'Which one?'
'What?'
'Which God?'
'Bhairav'
Is Bhairav also Shankar?

He then started talking something about chappals.

In the bus, he repeated the old story: 'They threw chappals into the hawan kund. The government put a lock on the temple and we were barred from praying there. Just like that. The matter went to the court. We agitated. I too fought the police. I think the matter is still in the court.'

He ended that sentence with a snort. For a moment all his memories seemed lucid again. The dispute over the Bhokhatiashwar Bhairov Nath Mandir of Chattabal arose in around 1973 when a mob attacked the temple premise which had been a center of cultural and religious activities for Pandits of Chattabal. Later, Food Control department of the State government laid claim over the temple's ghat. Pandit fought back the claim with a surprising resolve. They were out on streets facing police lathicharge. The matter reached the court which locked down the temple structure till a verdict was reached. But the verdict never arrived. In 1990, the families of people who took part in temple agitation were doubly afraid for their lives. There were old scores to be settled. As their temple was already locked, temporarily, they locked their houses too. The locks remained until 1992 when, in the aftermath of Babri Masjid Demolition, Bhairav temple, like many a Pandit houses, lost its lock, lost its door, windows, roof, the walls and the stones and anything valuable or un-valuable or invaluable inside. Does it make sense? Any of it. Talking about a temple in Chattabal and a temple in Ayodhya. Love may not tie humanity, but the violence already does. Does violence offer greater intimacy? Is Chappal a God too?

My grandfather didn't take me to the weir that day. I never saw it. But I did try to find it, on my own many time. I was just starting to discover the place where I was born. I had started to walk out of the house alone, tracing the by-lanes, just to see where they led, to a bridge or a river, or a dead-end or a grocery, or a butcher's shop. Out for running home errands, buying eggs, butter, milk or zamdod, followed by crows and eagles, cats and dogs, horses and tongas, I would sometimes take a new route, take a wrong turn, just to see how far I could go before that 'lost' feeling churns in stomach. On these walks, one of the boundaries of my daring adventures, Lachman Rekha of my kingdom, my point of 'better-return-back-home', was a bridge from which I could see the houseboats on the ghat. Somewhere near this bridge, to the left, was a shop that sold mint candies that looked like Digene pills, only, white and not pink. White like those white pebbles used to emboss Gurmukhi Omkar above the door of that Sardarji in Chanpore near Massi's house.  Didn't I always want to pluck those white dots out from that wall, just to confirm they were in fact not edible? Is Chappal a God too? Did I really ask Daddy that question? How after long walks with Nani on the dry river bed of Tawi in Jammu, on a river bed baked red in summer sun, I used to bring back to her those beautiful stones. She would ask us kids to look for a Kajwot, a perfect grinding stone, and we would run back to her carrying a stone with white stripes around it, a mark like a Brahmin's yoni, a janau. 'Ye ti Shivji', she would exclaim and send a little prayer. We would pocket the god. Few minutes later we would again run back to her to confirm if we had again found another god. The river bank only had too many gods and too few Kajwots to offer.  She would again say a prayer. Our pockets were too small and the world had too many stones. We would throw the stones in the river. While we looked for a perfect Kajwot, she would often talk about Doodhganga. We used to have these walks in Kashmir too, in Chanpore, on the dry bed of a river called 'Milk Ganga'. They say in the old days a single stream of milky whiteness used to flow in the center of that muddy river. Hence the name.

'Where could that shop selling white mint candies be? That was to the left of the bridge.' I wondered and turned my head left to look for the shop.


'There. To the right. There somewhere should be the temple. Yes, there it is. The ruins. All burnt.'

'Where? Where?'

I had missed it. In the mad dash, I couldn't see a thing. Facing right, staring as a fast passing train of trees, shacks, a muddy river, a dry river bed, a rolling polythene bag, empty crushed plastic bottles, metal of electric poles and wires, I could see. I couldn't see the temple. I kept shooting the camera blindly, hoping to capture something, anything. The moment passed just as it came. Did I miss it? I believed I did. I wanted to see the place where my father used to accompany his father to buy cheap American IR-8 rice in 1906s. I wanted to see the temple. The boats. I wanted to see the veer.

'I think it is settled.'

Grandfather exclaimed solemnly. After a brief pause he added, 'This is how things are settled...conflicts resolved.'

A sad laughter escaped deep from his throat and turning away from the car window, he went back to reading a local Urdu newspaper from Kashmir.

-0-

3 comments:

  1. Sir, i have said it earlier, you do put a man down his memory lane. Though i have no idea about the temple (i used to lew some 2-3 km up river), but Weiyr !!!! We used to call it veer. It used to be a test of manhood to cross the river over the foot wide wooden pier on top of the Dam/barrage. It also came handy for crossing the river during curfew days with all bridges shut down by para military to go and watch a hindi movie in Shah Cinema. I smoked my first cigarette there, another test of "manhood" in those days among us few pundit boys left in the lower down town. You may not have noticed it, it was (is ?) breath taking sun set spot. With Sun setting behind the hills of Gulmarg/Khilanmarg and the Cement Kadal. The last bridge in the city over The River. Whew.... Dinesh

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  2. Thanks to you now I have some idea why my father once made me cross Vadi Nehar of Jammu by walking over a big water pipe. I wasn't of the right age when I was in Kashmir. Never did I witness any sunset at Veer, nor do I know or recall how those mountains looked from the spot. For this post I actually had a tough time recalling the peculiar manner in which weir was pronounced back home.

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  3. Hi Vinayak could you please tell me where exactly the temple located in kashmir. How far it is from Srinagar

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