Monday, August 3, 2020

"The Intrepid Kashmiri in the Flying Machine" by Rekha Wazir

Guest post by Rekha Wazir. She recalls how her Grandfather, Tara Chand Wazir came to be the first Kashmiri to fly in an aeroplane in 1921.

The Intrepid Kashmiri in the Flying Machine
by Rekha Wazir

According to Wazir family folklore, my grandfather, Tara Chand Wazir (1893-1979) was the first Kashmiri to fly in an aeroplane. I don’t know if this is factually correct, but this is what I will happily believe till somebody tells me otherwise! Of course, I am only talking about the residents of the Valley –even Kashmiris who migrated to India generations ago were not included in this record-making event. This is the story we were told:
Tara Chand Wazir in Plane, 1921
Tara Chand Wazir, 2nd from left, and Capt. Jackellis to his right, are the two passengers in the plane; in the foreground are members of his family or his fellow performers of the Brazilian Trio. Great Yarmouth Airport, August 1921, photographer unknown.
Photograph of the first ever plane that landed in Kashmir at Tattoo Ground - Chandmari, Batmaloo, Srinagar, 1922
Photograph of the first ever plane that landed in Kashmir at Tattoo Ground - Chandmari, Batmaloo, Srinagar, 1922; in all likelihood the same aircraft in which this historic flight was made. Showkat Rasheid Wani has kindly shared this photograph from his extensive archive of vintage Kashmir photographs and given me permission for its use.

A bi-plane came to Srinagar in 1922, to provide a demonstration for the people of Kashmir. Judging from their reactions, this must have been the first time many of them saw an aeroplane; most regarded it as a monster and were afraid to fly in it. The details would get a bit sketchy in the recounting of the story at this point, but it would appear that my grandfather, and his friend and colleague Sham Sundar Lal Dhar, were daring enough to volunteer for a ride.¹ (If I may insert an interesting aside here, Sham Sundar Lal Dhar was an older brother of my maternal grandfather, Tika Lal Zutshi. He had been adopted at birth in the Dhar family, hence the different surname.) There is a charming story around this flight that I loved to hear from my grandmother, the main teller of stories in my childhood.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Portrait of Mahrattas, KP family, Brariangan, 1950s

Back in 2012, I had posted this photograph from a collection given in "The Hindu Householder Family and Kinship: A Study of the Pandits of Rural Kashmir"(1957-58), an anthropological study of Kashmiri Pandits living is "Utrassu-Umanagri"  (Votaros-Brariangan, as known to Pandits)) twin villages 12 miles east of Anantnag. Even then I wondered who exactly were the subjects of the study and what became of them. I was not married back then. After getting married a few years back, I have now new relations. The image meanwhile the image was often shared around online all these years, even making it to some random articles on Kashmiri Pandits.

used in Quint


This is the story of the photograph and the people in it.

A few days back, my brother-in-law from wife's side Rajesh Pandita wrote in to say that the little girl in the front centre is his mother. 
 



Rajesh Pandita provides the details:

This photograph is of my maternal side family who used to live in Brariangan (Umanagri). At the back is in turban is my Nana Ji:  Mahishwarnath Mahratta. On right is my Nani: Mugaljigri. Left side is my Mamaji, O.N. Mahratta. In front of them is my mother Jaya Mahratta along with her bother Vasudev Mahratta. Two ladies on right are part of extended family.

Prior to 1947, Mahishwarnath Mahratta was living in Delhi at Connaught Place and working with Birla group at the time of construction of Birla Mandir. His name is engraved in a stone there.  He was manager at Birla House Manager which at the time was a new structure. Primarily he work involved taking care of  guests like Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahamta Gandhi and freedom fighters who used to frequently visit and stay in the Birla House. My Nana was close to both Gandhi and Nehru but had a special Kashmiri bond with Nehru. In early 1950s, when Nehru visited Kashmir after independence, he visited Pahalgam and invited my Nana to Pahalgam. After the 1948 War, my Nana he moved back to Kashmir due to health reasons and built a house in Umanagri, Anantnag. The house seen at the back of the photograph. 

T.N Madan knew Mahishwarnath Mahratta back from his time in Delhi. When Madan moved to Kashmir for his study, he sought him out, moved to his village, stayed with them for weeks and thus the famous anthropological study of Kashmiri Pandits was born. 

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Devi Angan Conundrum

 Hari Parbat Hill Map, Drawn on a Shawl, 1850s.
Information that is easily available online: 


In 1930s post-communal violence, Kashmiri Pandits laid claim on whole Hari Parbat (land around it was called "Devi Angan") as their religious site. The claim was rejected by Glancy Commission even though they accepted it as Hindu land. The process was thought to be too inconvenient for majority community and prone to raise communal tension.


Info. not often mentioned (however recalled by poet Zareef Ahmed Zareef):

Decades later (in 60s-70s, exact date not known) Jia Lal Nagri associated with the temple came up with a plan to distribute (retained trunctated) empty "Devi Angan" land around the temple among needy people. According to the plan if 10 plots were carved out of the land, the distribution was to be in this proportion: 2 were to be given to a Muslim, 1 to a Pandit, every 6th to a Sikh.

Hari Parbat Temple (left). 1958
via personal collection: ‎Satinder Singh Sandhu‎


Info. not easily available ( told in "Crisis in Kashmir" (1991) by Pyarelal Kaul) and not often mentioned: What still happened in Kashmir:

In May 1972, Pujaris of the temple were attacked by "unknown assailants". One of the Pujari died. The temple committee wanted to build a wall around its land to keep it safe. There were forces at work who would not allow it. Even official permission was not given. Meanwhile the temple committee setup a fence around the land. The land was still not safe. The chowkidar of the land was harassed by people till he left the job. A Sikh guard, a former policeman was hired to keep watch. This man also left the job under pressure. Then a Muslim man was hired, he too was harassed till he also excused himself. To keep the land safe, the temple committee planted vegetables on the land. One night, someone let loose cattle on the land. Then the committee landed fruit trees on the land, one night someone uprooted all the trees. In all this, the pilgrims still arrived everyday to Parbat like they had for centuries, circumambulating the hill, they worried a bit, but went about their prayer rituals as usual. When on action was taken by goverment, only then the actual land grab around the temple started. Bagh-e-Ram Singh which fell on the traditional Parikrama route around the temple was also grabbed. Now the pilgrims couldn't even circle the hill using the old routes. They kept their heads down, took other routes, prayed, returned to their homes. This went on till 1983 and later.

Chakreshwari Temple on Pradyumna hill/Hari Parbat.
Other Shrines also visible
 Drawn on a Shawl, 1850s. 


Post 90, the land was still getting grabbed. This was happening with other temples of Kashmir too. Pujaris (often non-Kashmiris) were bribed, temple committees subverted, deals done, "land leased", land sold and money made. 

Dome of Chakreshwari Temple getting constructed.
inaugurated by Laxman Joo 
1961-62
via: Anil Bhat
[Bharat Wakhlu adds: My father Mr. O.N. Wakhlu designed the shell structure. Supervision of the contractor’s work was done by Mr. A.N. Thussu, who became Chief Engineer a few years later.
 He was an ardent devotee of Swami Lakshman Joo. The year should be 1963-64]


Post 2000, when new Pandits tourists started arriving "home", cut-off from the land, its bloody history, most not even aware what the place waslike a few decades ago, the tourist Pandits quietly arrived at the temple, claimed the stairs, deliberately avoiding Muslim majority lanes of Parikrama route, said their prayers and marvelled at the beautiful view of the sad city from the hill.


The iconic gate of the temple.
Post construction.
1961-62
[Bharat Wakhlu adds: The gate was already there. Used to be wooden earlier. ]


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