Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Back to Kashmir, Pandit

Back to Kashmir, Pandit
A Scene from David Lean's film A Passage to India
based on E.M. Forster's novel of the same name
“I extend a formal invitation to all our brethren migrant Kashmiri Pandits to return Valley. However, they should prefer to live like rest of the Kashmiris than living in security zones,”[…] “We would in no way like to keep our brethren Pandits away from us. So they need not live under security of India army”
On Feb 22, so said Syed Ali Shah Geelani , chairman of Hurriyat Conference (G), where G stands for ‘going on and on’ as the conflict has gone on long enough to require the freedom party to branch out, mutate and specialize.

In the same media briefing he said:
[…] it was intolerable that any outsider, whether a laborer or any other person, should stay in the state permanently. “For this will have a negative impact on our demography”
Now where have we heard this before?

These could well have been words of the aging Lord of Maratha Manus, Bal Thackray or of any of his male blood relative, and with their common shared pool of cronies lending in a shrilling chorus of “Jai Maharastra”. “Jai Kashmir” anyone! Who wants to get shot?

In an uncanny providence, Maharashtra, the only rashtra inside Indian Rashtra, under the rule of Bal Thackray was first to open the door of its Universities and colleges to Kashmiri Pandits like me and giving an entrĂ©e to gaining decent technical degrees at very low subsidized rates. In some universities the rate still is as par with that applicable to the Dalit subjects of the state. Later many other States later lined up to take in the desolate Pandits, these included States like Gujarat, a state having saurashtra or 100 nations in its womb) and Madhya Pradesh, the Middle State, of course it must have been worried that its ‘middle’ status would be in jeopardy if Kashmir goes the other way.

What if these people come across the ancient Persian saying dug up by Mr. Richard Burton in his Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night:
If folk be scarce as food in dearth ne'er let three lots come near ye:
First Sindi, second Jat, and third a rascally Kashmeeree.
How many more years will it take these gentle folks of the plains to realize that Pandits are essentially Kashmiris and that Kashmiris are essentially rascally. Just let the food get scarce and like the 'Ek Bihari, Sau Bimari' editorials, we too would have our Saamna with these lines.

It certainly won’t take long. Kashmiris would have to return to Kashmir. But, Where would the Pandit go? Certainly not to Jammu - in early 90s, they certainly didn’t welcome the Pandits with open arms, the folks there know the Kashmiri nature even better.

Haath may kangri,
Mu may cholay,
Kaha say aaye Kashmiri lolay
Kangri in hand
and a mouthful of Cholay
Where from came - Kashmiri lolay

In 90s, these lines welcomed pandits in Jammu. An ingenious poetic slur that managed to rhyme the native words for Kashmiri firepot, Curried Chickpeas - a dish popular mostly in Northern India and the pejorative term created just for Kashmiri Pandits: ‘lola’. The Dogras never understood how and why pandits left the valley without giving Muslims a fight.

Fight What?

On 1 March, another delegation of All Parties Hurriyet Conference (i.e. APH C this time) made an appeal while interacting with Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu, the place of great retreat of pandits. It appealed

[…] to all the Kashmiri migrants, particularly Pandits, who have left the held valley since 1947, to return to occupied Kashmir.
Don’t be alarmed by the word “occupied”. That’s how it was quoted in a secessionist Media agency in Service of Kashmir. Don’t be alarmed by the fact that such a secessionist media agency exists, everyone can use a bit of media service, be content that it has a message for Pandits:
return to occupied Kashmir”.

Don’t be disappointed by the word “migrants”, that’s who we are. According to The Oxford Pocket Thesaurus of Current English, we are: nomadic, itinerant, peripatetic, vagrant, gypsy, transient, unsettled, on the move.

The standard response of Kashmiri Pandits to the appeal of Hurray Independence Party:
“We are indigenous Kashmiris. Kashmir belongs to us and we do not need any invitation from anybody,’ [...]’
Nineteen years is certainly a long time. Some years ago there was a split in Panun Kashmir and we got : Panun Kashmir (A) and Panun Kashmir (C)
In (A) corner we had Dr Ajay Chrungoo and in (C) corner we had Dr Agnishekhar
It was a fight between two bright ‘Dr’. Now, I have no idea what (PKM) actually stands for, if it’s a movement – where are they moving. I wonder if they have sorted out the issue which according to me they should be pondering, no not the intricacies of creating a defacto mini Gaza Strip in Kashmir but rather the question - Who in our Panun Kashmir would:

Cut meat for him, for pandit is no puj. But, he does eat meat.
Cut his hair, for no Pandit is na’evidh. But, he does need a hair cut.
Sweep roads of his country, for no Pandit is a va’tul. But, roads of do need cleaning up.

Is it going to be a Nation, nay a State, nay a Union territory devoid of butchers, barbers and sweepers? Forgive me for my insolence for I do not know how nations are born and I know that these thoughts need to least worry the minds already worrying about a five thousand year old culture dying. We need to be positive deliriously optimistic.

Look at the Jews and look what they have achieved!

Aah Jews! The object of perennial fascination for Pandits.

The most bizarre thing I have heard recently is even graying Kashmiri pandits talk of Jewish origin of Kashmiris: “ The name of your ancestor Krishan Joo actually meant Krishan Jew

It is like one big skit with different props - Islamic Fundamentalism, Human rights, Freedom fight, Death, Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing, State Terrorism, Cross Border Terrorism, Line of Control, Government, Puppet government - thrown in between different narratives. But then, ‘skit’ is not the right word. ‘Allegory’ is more appropriate. In Kashmir, the allegory keeps interweaving with real life. On certain days, the events surrounding1989 exile of Pandits, can remind one of Alfred Hitchcock's apocalyptic movie The Birds. The Crows start attacking triggering the great retreat.

And the World Remained Silent about Auschwitz in Kashmir.

A Kashmiri Pandit filmmaker makes a twenty-minute documentary about Kashmiri Pandits and gives it the name of an eight hundred page Yiddish book And the World Remained Silent written by a Jewish gent Elie Wiesel.
The same filmmaker makes a commercial film, Sheen ( Snow) at a cost of Rs 4 crore, a film based on a script that (it’s claimed) took three years to complete, a film about suffering of Kashmiri Pandits . For all the efforts, saying that the film was pathetic would be the least generous thing that a person can say about it.

According to one account, as of 2007:
In addition to basic dry rations, Kashmiri Pandits have been given Rupees 1,000/- per head per month (subject to a maximum of Rs 4,000/- per family per month) in both the Jammu and Delhi relief camps.
These figures may seem measly to some and to some these may seem lavish.

The same report says:
[…] in Tripura, a diplaced Bru (one of the 21 Scheduled Tribes of Tripura state) adult is given Rs 87 per month and a minor Rs 43.5 per month. In addition a Bru adult is given 450 grams of rice a day. The allowance drops to 225 grams of rice for a minor.

Certainly, spending 4 Crore on a film in hope of getting International attention ( the protagonist of the film gets invited to Geneva for a Human Rights Meet ) is almost criminally rich.

A website, having rather graphic images, chronicling death of Pandits in Kashmir calls the deaths ‘Auschwitz in Kashmir’. Ironically, the real Auschwitz of Kashmir, lies within the very walls of newly built houses of Pandits living outside Kashmir.
In the living rooms, where conversation thrives in every other language except Kashmiri; the kitchen, where every other aroma is present except the sharp aroma Kashmiri dishes; that little corner, housing cheerful little ceramic gods where puja now needs to be over in exact two minutes, and the big pooza on holier days is presided over by ‘FWD-PLY- what did it say BWD’ Audio players. The countless hours spent traveling around to meet relatives and families, all the while in that railway compartment or the air plane cabin, cursing the Muslims for all they did, sweating it out in dilli and cussing Koshur Musalmans in Punjabi.
These are the gas chambers and the mass burial grounds of Kashmiri Pandit. An ideology that drove out the pandits may be beaten, but nothing can rally against modernity. This is the real Auschwitz of Kashmir.

This January, on a short visit to Jammu, my dear grandmother finally said to me something that no one else from the family would say, even though they must have realized it. She said that I spend too much time talking to other people, strangers and distant relatives, and yet don’t talk much to my own folks at home. I just laughed and gave her a big hug. I wanted to tell her these lines of Aharon Appelfeld that I had only recently read in Philip Roth’s Shop Talk:

It took me years to draw close to the Jew within me. I had to get rid of many prejudices within me and to meet many Jews in order to find myself in them. Anti-Semitism directed at oneself was an original Jewish creation. I don’t know of any other nation so flooded with self-criticism. Even after the Holocaust, Jews did not seem blameless in their own eyes. On the contrary, harsh comments were made by prominent Jews against victims, for not protecting themselves and fighting back. The ability of Jews to internalize any critical and condemnatory remark and castigate themselves is one of the marvels of human nature.
The feeling of guilt has settled and taken refuge among all the Jews who want to reform the world, the various kinds of socialists, anarchists, but mainly among Jewish artists. Day and night the flame of that feeling produces dread, sensitivity, self-criticism, and sometimes self-destruction. In short, it isn’t a particularly glorious feeling. Only one thing may be said in its favor: it harms no one except those afflicted with it.
Aharon Appelfeld, a Hebrew-language author, who did not learn the language until he was a teenager. Yes, I wanted to quote lines of a Jewish writer. Curse the Jews.

Then on 5th March 2008, the date on which year’s Heyrath fell, I read the news of 31 Kashmiri Pandit families moving into flats built by State government at Sheikh Pora village.
I remembered the Kashmiri saying:

Keshi’rih Kahai garah
Only eleven houses in Kashmir

The saying that finds in the origin in a folklore according to which there was a time in Kashmir, when due the fanatical rule of one of its Muslim ruler, the pandits were killed off, converted, driven into Indian plains till only eleven families of Kashmiri Pandits remained.
I wonder now if the new saying is going to be:

Keshi’rih ak’therih garah
Only thirty-one houses in Kashmir

But, I know this is not true. These families had already moved back to Kashmir, and were living in rented accommodation around the place, anticipating the completion of the construction work of the flats. And I know that these are not the only Kashmiri Pandits living in Kashmir, there are more who never moved out in the first place and they are seldom talked about.

I know about a young Pandit in Kashmir who is spreading message of peace in kashmir through some good'ol rock music. Personally, I know one guy, a childhood friend of an elder cousin bother of mine, who never felt Kashmir. During his visit to Delhi a few years ago, he told me always vists pallika bazaar to buy mp3s. He is still in Kashmir working as an insurance agent; I keep thinking that he is Kashmir listening to Pink Floyd at full volume – something for which, my cousin told me once, he was notorious in the entire mohalla. I asked my cousin why was the guy still in Kashmir. And, my cousin’s reply can be summed up in these lines: “He is not a Pandit anymore! He had to parrot the same words which the rest of the valley was singing, Azaadi. How else do you think they survived?

I remember the old Kashmiri tale of eras gone by, tales of Kashmiri pandits being subjected to persecution and their retreats from valley, of misfortune left behind and journeying to distant and difficult lands looking seeking new fortunes, journeys that took them even to the extreme southern tips of the subcontinent, and they journeyed never to return to Kashmir. But, some always went back to Kashmir and some never left it. This moving back and forth all the while created a strange social division among kashmiri pandits: Malmas and Banamas, respective term terms for those who remained in Kashmir and those who felt and later returned.

But, why do I digress?
In the meanwhile, the government has allotted 276 newly constructed flats at Muthi ( Jammu ) here to Kashmiri Pandit migrant families who have moved in a few days back and were celebrating Shivratri today in new accommodation
This report did not surprise me. When, I read that news about 31 Kashmir Pandits families in Kashmir, I was surprised. But, I should have been more surprised when at the beginning of this year when an Uncle of mine asked me to read an article written by him for Aalav, a magazine published by Kashmiri Pandits of Karnataka, a state having about 450 Pandit families, 400 of whom live in Bangalore. During Migration my Uncle had to move to Tumkur, a town not far from Bengaluru, he lived there for about ten years and having moved back to Jammu some 7-8 years ago, he still retains some ties to the pandits community there to have written the artice for them. The article was a first hand reportage of the progress of efforts going into building the flats in Jammu for Kashmiri migrants. According, to the report, a young (in this case meaning middle ages) Kashmiri Pandit KAS (Kashmir Administrative Service) officer who comes from a reputed Pandit family (with his father also being an ex-KAS officer), was looking after the whole project.

I didn’t know what to make of the news of 31 families of Pandits in Kashmir but I certainly wasn’t feeling surprised. I felt something else. I tried to understand what was it that I was feeling about the issue, but I just could not decipher it. I again left pangs of hunger, I looked around and saw my mother talking on the phone in a gleeful tone. It was a call from Jammu and this meant that the Vatak pooja on the night of Heyrath was complete and like always the rest of the family in Jammu had called in to inform this. This meant we could have the special dinner now.


  1. Wow, great article man.
    I love to read about my mauj kashmir and hear about the past struggles and present, I'm a british born muslim kashmiri, I know not much about the history and problems in kashmir, all I know is that we originated from srinagar and baramullah.

    There's two sides to every story and I like to hear both concerning kashmir, muslim and hindu perspectives.


  2. Somehow Google ranks this page well for "Kashmiri Jews" that sense the article must have been disappointing since that's how you got here.
    Hope you keep looking for perspectives.

  3. No it wasn't disappointing at all, i know our background is more hindu than anything else, i just find the jewish ancestral theory interesting too.

  4. Dear vinayak ji
    Today i visited ur blog. good original work . keep it up.Chhupe Rustam

  5. Samran, 'Jewish ancestral theory' started long also when Europeans first saw Kashmiris (Gujjars particularly) and got fascinated by his 'Jewish' look. 'Jewish ancestral theory' and stuff like that are a convenient way ( I saw this because some Kashmiris have developed an unhealthy appetite for this theory) of keeping away from taking up real labored study of History and Culture.
    Autarmota Ji,
    thanks for the nice comment(s). I just try. And I must say again, you have a unique blog on Kashmir and I am now a regular reader.

  6. An interesting comment that got lost while moving this post here:

    "everything is all right, but how to
    expose the wolves in sheeps clothing
    within our own community.
    Mohan Lal Ash, sold our ancestral property in Bijbehara and is holding a respectable place in the cultural
    fourms of Kashmir. A shame

    - Neha Tickoo "

  7. I just read a news regarding "habbakadal's old Sheetaleshawar Bhairav Mandir".Also read there was a big crowd occured on the occassion of "Basant Panchmi".But now.....Kapat was opened after 20yrs.(on this B'panchmi i.e. 20/01/2010).I was totally shocked ki This place belogs to Indian Republic or its a Taliban ruled area.A strong desire came in mind to know about this place/Mandir.then searching in google,i came to know abt. ur blog and liked it.Its original work.I m very thankful to you if u could breif me about this Mandir and exact location of that.

    Kashmiri Pandits suffered a lot.The wrose thing is that our so called democratic govt. r keeping mum on that.our leaders have a pain for Palestines and Iqrakis.but rarly we have seen anything for Pandits.really disgusting!!!!

  8. News links about the opening of the old temple:

  9. Thanks a lot Vinayak.If I want to visit that palce for the "Darshan" of Baba..

    What's the right way??How far it is from Delhi.

  10. Sensitively written. I really like your blog.

  11. Dear Vinayak,
    I have been visiting your blog very often.. It has become the encyclopedia of kashmir for my kids. This article was another outstanding piece from you.. Could not leave without commenting.Keep uo the good work... All your mails i have preserved for my kids to read.
    God Bless


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