Monday, July 27, 2009

Aldous Huxley in Kashmir.

"My uncle's house is on a hill, but I cannot eat this rotten cabbage"
A couple of years ago a cousin on mine told me a  funny anecdote about Aldous Huxley's visit to Kashmir. According to the story: Aldous Huxley was riding slow in a motor car down some road in the state of Jammu &  Kashmir  when suddenly, much to his amusement, a cow thrust its head through the side window and right into the car. Mooooo.
And till then I didn't even know that great Aldous Huxley had been to Kashmir. Later I learn't that not only had he been to Kashmir but had also written at some length about his Kashmir visit.

Between 1925 and 1926 traveled extensively in India and Burma. The account this journey can be found in his book 'Jesting Pilate: The Diary of a Journey (1948)'.

His account of Kashmir make quite a fascinating read with the the book offering Huxley's curious, bizarre, outrageous but never boring, observations on people, cultures and customs of the places he visited. Much to my surprise Aldous Huxley does mention cows in his account of visit to Kashmir, in fact he mentions lots of cows. But sadly, I couldn't find reference to that particular anecdote.

Besides cows of Kashmir, Huxley also wrote about proud educated Kashmiri Pandits and their love for 'wielding only the pen'. He writes about Indian fascination for starting passages with 'apophthegms, quotations' and ending it with 'cracker mottoes', and for saying things like ' As the Persian poet so beautifully puts it '. Aldous Huxley must have lost his mind to say something like this. Nonsense. Hmmm....come to think about it I still know people who write like that. No I never do it. It's funny once you realize how true it is.

He also wrote about pathetic Indian education system and about the great 'vacuum' that the Indian youth steps out to. Reading this part, one actually wonders how little the things have changed.

And then Aldous Huxley also writes about the proverbial filthiness of Kashmiris. (I have already come across a couple of footnotes from history on this subject - here and here).

One realizes, Huxley wasn't always looking for beauty. Among the great and famous Mughal gardens of Kashmir, he only thought Chasma Shahi to be 'architecturally the most charming' and he implies that Italians could had done a better job given them. I believe he wasn't looking for beauty because just about a decade and a half before his visit to these gardens, a woman named Constance Mary Villiers Stuart,  was so enamored by these Mughal gardens that with her great book 'Gardens of the Great Mughals' (1913), she initiated the historical study of Mughal Gardens and Indian gardening.

Must not end this with a  cracker motto...must not. Caaan't resist it. Control. The temptation is just too great. O'-what-the-hell! I can't help myself. So here it goes - As it it often said, 'Beauty lies in the eye of the Beholder'.

Here's Aldous Huxley's account of his visit to Jammu & Kashmir

Jesting Pilate: The Diary of a Journey (1948)
Chatto &Windus, London

[from: The collected works of Aldous Huxley]

Page (20 to 39)


IT is cheaper in this country to have a waggon pulled by half a dozen men than by a pair of oxen or horses.All day, on the road below our house, the heavyladen carts go creaking slowly along behind their team of human draft animals. The coolies sing as they pull, partly out of sheer lightness of heart (for these Kashmiris are wonderfully cheerful, in spite of everything), and partly, no doubt, because they have discovered the psychological fact that to sing in chorus creates a strengthening sense of solidarity within the singing group, and seems to lighten the work in hand by making the muscular effort respond almost automatically to a regular rhythmic stimulus. I noticed two main types of labourer's chantey. One of these is melodically quite ambitious; for it ranges over no less than three notes of the minor scale. It is sung in unison, and there is no separate chorus leader. The commonest form of the melody is more or less as follows:
[image of notes]
Da capo ad infinitum. They sing it all day at their work and half the night as well, for fun, when there happens to be a wedding or some similar festival. The other chantey takes the form of a kind of dialogue between the chorus and a chorus leader, who responds to the two strong beats of the choral song by a single monosyllable, always the same, sustained for two beats, and sung emphatically on a lower note. The words were incomprehensible to me; but translated into terms of gibberish, they sounded something like this: Chorus, Dum-dum. Leader, BONG. Chorus, Tweedle-dum. Leader,BONG; Tum-diddy, BONG; Tweedle-weedle, BONG. And so on, hour after hour.

This rhythmical dialogue is the favourite music of the waggon teams. Walking abroad, one is never for long out of hearing of that monotonous Dum-dum, BONG; diddy-dum, BONG. The singing floats down between the poplar trees of the straight flat roads of the valley, and slowly, laboriously the waggon and its human crew come following after the swift-travelling song. Passing, I feel almost ashamed to look at the creeping wain; I avert my eyes from a spectacle so painfully accusatory. That men should be reduced to the performance of a labour which, even for beasts, is cruel and humiliating, is a dreadful thing. ' Ah, but they feel things less than we do,' the owners of motor-cars, the eaters of five meals a day, the absorbers of whisky hasten to assure me; ' they feel them less, because they 're used to this sort of life. They don't mind, because they know no better. They 're really quite happy.'

And these assertions are quite true. They do not know better; they are used to this life; they are incredibly resigned. All the more shame to the men and to the system that have reduced them to such an existence and kept them from knowing anything better.

It is in relation to their opposites that things have significance for us. ' Opposite shows up opposite, as a Frank a negro.' So wrote Jalalu 'd-Din Muhammad Rumi. 'The opposite of light shows what is light.... God created grief and pain for this purpose: to wit, to manifest happiness by its opposites. Hidden things are manifested by their opposites; but as God has no opposite, He remains hidden.' These Kashmiri draft coolies, who are unaware of comfort, culture, plenty, privacy, leisure, security, freedom, do not in consequence know that they are slaves, do not repine at being herded together in filthy hovels like beasts, do not suffer from their ignorance, and are resigned to being overworked and underfed. Those who profit by the Kashmiri's ignorant acquiescence in such subhuman conditions are naturally not anxious that they should be made aware of the desirable opposites which would make their present life seem odious. The spread of education, the improvement of living conditions are causes which do not rouse them to enthusiasm. And yet, in spite of everything, the spirit of humanitarianism works even through these reluctant agents. For the spirit of humanitarianism is the spirit of the age, which it is impossible for any man, born with the usual supply of social instinct and suggestibility, completely to ignore. His reason may tell him that his own personal advantage would be best served if he kept the disinherited in their places. But a stronger force than reason is for ever trying to make' him act against reason. To be utterly ruthless towards the disinherited would be profitable; but he can never bring himself to be utterly ruthless. In spite of himself, he feels that he ought to give them justice. And he gives it-not very often, no doubt, and not very much at a time-but still, he gives it; that is the queer, significant, and modern thing. Even in Kashmir a tiny pinch of this humanitarian commodity-as yet, however, all but invisible has begun to be distributed.


THE Mogul gardens are disappointingly inferior to any of the more or less contemporary gardens of Italy. Shalimar and Nishat Bagh cannot compare with the Villa d'Este at Tivoli, or the Villa Lanti, near Viterbo. The little Chashma Shahi is architecturally the most charming of the gardens near Srinagar. And the loveliest for trees and waters is Atchibal, at the upper end of the valley; while far-off Verinag, where Jahangir enclosed the blue deep source of the Jhelum in an octagonal tank surrounded by arcades, has a strange and desolate beauty all its own. But in general it may be said that the design of all these Indian gardens is rigid, monotonous, and lacking entirely in the Italian grandiosity, the Italian fertility of invention. The architecture of the pleasure houses which they contain is petty and almost rustic. The decorative details, such of them, at any rate, as remain-for the ornamentation was mostly of a rather gimcrack and temporary character-are without much originality. How greatly the Mogul architects were handicapped by the profession of a religion which forbade the introduction of the human form into their decorative schemes is manifested especially in their fountains. A fountain in one of these gardens is just a nozzle sticking out of the ground, the end of a hose-pipe turned vertically upwards. Miserable object, and unworthy of the name of fountain! I shut my eyes and think of those Bolognese mermaids with their spouting breasts; those boys and tortoises at Rome, all black and shining with wetness; those naiads and river-gods and gesticulating allegories among the rainbows and the falling crystals of the Piazza Navons; those Tritons at the Villa Lanti with their prancing sea-horses-all the fantastic world of tutelary deities that stand guard over Italian springs. The Moguls were good Mohammedans and content with unadorned nozzles.

If the Kashmiri gardens are beautiful, that is the work, not so much of man as of nature. The formal beds are full of xinnias and scarlet cannas. The turf is fresh and green. The huge chenar trees go up into the pale bright sky; their white trunks shine between the leaves, which the autumn has turned to a rusty vermilion. Behind them are the steep bare hills, crested already with snow. Their colour, where the sun strikes them, is a kind of silvery-glaucous gold and, in the shadows, a deep intense indigo. Below, on the other side, stretches the Dal Lake, with the isolated fortcrowned hill of Hari-Parbat on the further shore. The sun shines out of a flawless sky, but the air is cool against the face. ' It is a nipping and an eager air'; for we are at more than five thousand feet above the sea. The Great Moguls regarded Kashmir as the earthly paradise. And a paradise to one coming fresh from the earthly hell of the Panjab in summer it must indeed have seemed. The visitor from temperate lands finds it less paradisiacal because more familiar. The lakes and mountains remind us of Switzerland and Italy, and in the level valley, with its interminable poplar avenues, its waterways, and soggy fields, we find ourselves thinking of France, of Holland even. Our ecstasies of admiration are reserved for the unfamiliar tropics.


IN the autumn great flocks of teal and mallard come through Kashmir, on their way from the breedinggrounds to their winter home in Northern India. Some breed in the recesses of Ladakh, a few hundred miles only from the Kashmir valley; but the majority, it is said, go further afield into Central Asia, possibly even into Siberia, where so many migrants pass the brief but generous summer. In the autumn they fly southwards, over the Himalayas, into India. Some varieties of these water-fowl cross the range at the eastern end, some to the west. Thus the cotton-tail, I am assured by sportsmen, is found in Assam and Bengal, but not in the Panjab; while the mallard is seen only in the west. How these birds, which normally spend their lives in the plain, contrive to pass the Himalayas without dying of mountain-sickness or asphyxiation on the way, is something of a mystery. Most small animals, when taken up suddenly to a height of fifteen or twenty thousand feet-and many of the Himalayan passes touch these heights-simply die. The migrating duck, if it really does come down from Central Asia, must be flying at these altitudes for miles at a stretch. Physiologically, the feat seems almost as extraordinary as that of the eel, which leaves its native pond or river to breed, two or three thousand miles away, in the deep water of the ocean.

It would be interesting to know the feelings of a migrant animal, when the moment has arrived for it to perform its journey. The swallow at the end of the summer, the salmon when, having attained its maximum weight, it feels that the time has come, for it to go up into the rivers, the fresh-water eel at the approach of its first and final breeding season, must feel, I imagine, much as a man might feel when suddenly converted, or who finds himself compelled by an irresistible sense of duty to perform some hazardous and disagreeable enterprise. Some power within them-an immanent godcommands them to change their comfortable way of life for a new and arduous existence. There is no disobeying the command; the god compels. If eels could formulate their theories of ethics, they would be eloquent, I am sure, about the categorical imperative and the compulsive character of the sense of duty.

Our categorical imperatives, like those of eels and swallows, are generally backed by the forces of an instinct. Our social instinct deters us from doing what we think would be condemned, and encourages us to do what we think would be commended by our equals, by our moral superiors, by our 'better selves,' by ' God.' But there are occasions, curiously enough, when the categorical imperative to do or refrain from doing seems to have no connection with a compulsive instinct. For example, a man writes two letters, addresses two envelopes, puts the letters into the envelopes, and seals them up. lHe is extremely careful when inserting the letters, to see that each goes into its proper envelope. Nevertheless, a few minutes later, he is seized by an irresistible desire to reopen the envelopes so as to make sure that the letter to his mistress is not in the envelope addressed to his maiden aunt, and vice versa. He knows that each letter is where it should be. But despite his conviction, despite the derisive comments of the rational part of his mind, he does reopen the envelopes. The categorical imperative is stronger than reason. It may be so strong that after five more minutes, he will open the envelopes a second time.

What gives the imperative its strength in cases such as this, I am at a loss to imagine. The August cuckoo takes wing for Africa at the command of a special migratory instinct. A desire born of his social instinct, to win the approval of his fellows, of some hypostasised ' better self' or ' personal god,' makes a man act honourably in circumstances where it would be more profitable and more convenient to act dishonourably. But when a man reopens an envelope to see if it contains the letter he knows it does contain, when he gets out of bed on a cold night to make sure that he has switched off the light and bolted the doors which he clearly remembers turning out and bolting ten minutes before, no primary instinct can be invoked to account for the compulsive nature of the desire to do these irrational things. In such cases the categorical imperative seems to be morally senseless and psychologically unaccountable. It is as though a god were playing practical jokes.


THE Kashmiris are proverbial throughout India for the filthiness of their habits. Wherever a choice is offered them between cleanliness and dirt,they will infallibly choose the latter. They have a genius for filthiness. We had daily opportunities of observing the manifestations of this peculiar genius. Our compound was provided with water from the city supply. From a tap at the end of the garden we could draw the pure filtered water of the reservoir among the mountains. The water from this tap, which was left running for hours at a time, was collected in a small brick-lined tank, on which the gardener drew for the watering of his flowers. And not the gardener only. We found that our servants had an almost irresistible desire to fetch our washing and drinking water from the same source. The fresh water ran sparkling from the tap; but their instinct was to take only the standing fluid in the uncovered tank. And to what uses the tank was put I Looking out in the morning, we could see our sweeper crouching on the brink to perform his ablutions. First he washed his hands, then his feet, then his face; after that he thoroughly rinsed his mouth, gargled and spat into the tank. Then he douched his nose. And when that was finished, he scooped some water in his hands and took a drink. A yard away was the tap. He preferred the tastier water of the tank.

The astonishing thing is that epidemics are not more frequent and severe than is actually the case. That they are not is due, I suppose, to the powerful disinfectant action of the sunlight. Perhaps also an almost daily and domestic familiarity with the germs of typhoid and cholera has bred among Kashmiri phagocytes a healthy contempt for their attacks, together with increased powers of resistance.

THE Kashmiri pandit has a more than Spanish objection to manual labour. But, unlike the hidalgo who thought himself dishonoured by the exercise of any profession save that of arms, the pandit is ambitious of wielding only the pen. He may be abjectly poor (most people are abjectly poor in Kashmir); but he will do only a pandit's work. Chauffeurs may get good wages, servants are clothed and fed; but the proud pandit had rather walk the streets begging than accept employments so derogatory to his Brahmin dignity.
There are many pandits in Kashmir. They are all educated, more or less, and all equally proud. The consequence is that, in Kashmir, you can hire a clerk for about half as much as you would have to pay your cook. And not in Kashmir only. It is the same throughout the whole of India. A circus recently visited Lahore. The management advertised for gate-keepers at fifteen rupees a month. Among the applicants, I was told, were upwards of forty graduates. Mysore, the best-governed of the Indian States, finds the same difficulty in disposing of the finished products of its higher education. After having gone to the trouble of taking their degrees, the graduates of its colleges demand, almost as a right (it is only natural), the work for which their educational attainments fit them. But the work does not exist.
That is the farcical tragedy of Indian education. The Universities produce a swarm of graduates, for whom there is nothing to do. The State can employ only a limited number of them, and, outside the government service, there is almost no opening for a man with the ordinary general education of the West. The industrial and commercial activities, to which most of our young educated men devote themselves, hardly exist in India. There is no available liquid capital to start such industries on a large scale, and the average educated Indian lacks the enterprise and energy to begin in a small way on his own. His ambition is to step into some safe clerical job with no responsibilities, and a pension at the end of it. A ' crammed ' education in the humanities or in pure science hardly fits him for anything else. Unhappily, the number of safe clerkships with pensions attached is strictly limited. The Indian youth steps out of the University examination hall into a vacuum. The class of educated unemployed-the class most dangerous to an established government-steadily grows.


EDUCATED Indians of the older generation have a great weakness for apophthegms, quotations, and cracker mottoes. They punctuate their conversation with an occasional ' As the Persian poet so beautifully puts it ': then follows a string of incomprehensible syllables, with their appended translation, which generally embodies some such gem of human wisdom as 'Honesty is the best policy,' or 'The higher the art, the lower the morals,' or ' My uncle's house is on a hill, but I cannot eat this rotten cabbage.' Those whose education has been of a more occidental cast have Gray's Elegy, the works of Sir Edwin Arnold, and the more sententious parts of Shakespeare at their finger-tips. But among the younger Indians the quotation habit seems to be dying out. Their wisdom is diffuse and unquotable. Their minds are stored with the nebulous debris of newspaper articles, pamphlets, and popular science booklets, not with heroic couplets.

It is the same with us in the West. Latin tags issue from the mouths only of the aged. The days when Virgil and Horace were bandied from one side of the House of Commons to the other are past. Latin with us, like Persian among the Indians, is a deader language than it was a century, even a generation ago. Even the English classics are rarely quoted now. Young people trot out their Shakespeare less frequently than do their elders. The reason, I suppose, is this: we read so much, that we have lost the art of remembering. Indeed, most of what we read is nonsense, and not meant to be remembered. The man who remembered the social paragraphs in his morning paper would deserve to be sent to an asylum. So it comes about that we forget even that which is not worthy of oblivion. Moreover, to young people brought up in this queer provisional patchwork age of ours, and saturated with its spirit, it seems absurd to collect the rags of thought bequeathed by other and, they feel, utterly different ages. What is the use of knowing, in I925, that 'when lovely woman stoops to folly,' the best, the only thing she can do ' is to die'? What is the good of asserting baldly that 'the quality of mercy is not strained,'that ' God 's in His heaven, all 's right with the world'? These poetical statements have no meaning for us. When lovely woman stoops to folly, we do not think of death - we think of suppressed complexes and birth-control and the rights of the unmarried mother. About the quality of mercy we have our own contemporary ideas; how we regard it depends on whether we are followers of Gandhi on the one hand, or of Sorel, Lenin, and Mussolini on the other. It falleth as the gentle dew from heaven; it is twice blest. No doubt. But what is this to us, who have our peculiar problems about the rights and wrongs of violence to decide in our own way? And what meaning for us have those airy assertions about God? God, we psychologists know, is a sensation in the pit of the stomach, hypostasised; God, the personal God of Browning and the modern theologian, is the gratuitous intellectualist interpretation of immediate psycho - physiological experiences. The experiences are indubitably true for those who feel them; but the interpretation of them in terms of Browning's personal God is illogical and unjustifiable.

No, decidedly, the cracker mottoes of the ancients are of no use to us. We need our own tags and catch-words. The preceding paragraph is full of them: complex, birth-control, violence for an idea, psychology, and the rest. Few of these words or of the ideas for which they stand have yet found their way into poetry. For example, God, the intellectually interpreted sensation in the pit of the stomach, has not yet been crystallised into couplets. His home is still the text-book, the Hibbert Journal article. Like most of the rest of our ideas He is unquotable. The ancients were able to build up their notions of the world at large round an elegant poetical skeleton. L Less fortunate, we have only a collection of scientific, or sham-scientific, words and phrases to serve as the framework of our philosophy of life. Our minds and our conversation are consequently less elegant than those of our fathers, whose ideas had crystallised round such pleasing phrases as ' Sunt lacrimae rerum,' ' I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honour more,' and ' A sense of something far more deeply interfused.' Some day, it may be, a poet will be found to reduce our catch-words to memorable artistic form. By that time, however, they will probably be as meaninglessly out-of-date as the cracker mottoes of the classics.


SRINAGAR owns a large population of sacred cows and bulls that wander vaguely through the streets, picking up such vegetable garbage, grass, and fallen leaves as they can find. They are small beaststhe half of good-sized English cattle-and marvellously mild. Red rags mean nothing to these little bulls, they can be trusted in china shopseven in nurseries. Liberty, underfeeding, and unlimited access to the females of their species account, no doubt, for this surprising gentleness.

But, though harmless, these Hindu totems are passively a nuisance. They will not attack you as you walk or drive along the streets, but neither will they get out of your way. They stand there, meditatively ruminating, in the middle of the road, and no shouting, no ringing of bells or hooting of horns will send them away. Not until you are right on top of them will they move. The fact is, of course, that they know their own sacredness. They have learned by long experience that they can stand in the road as much as they like and that, however furiously the klaxon sounds, nothing will ever happen to them. Nothing; for Kashmir, though its inhabitants are mostly Mohammedans, is ruled by a pious Hindu dynasty. Up till a few years ago a man who killed a cow was sentenced to death. Under a milder dispensation he now gets only a matter of seven years' penal servitude. A salutary fear of cows is rooted in the breast of every Kashmiri chauffeur. And the totems know it. With a majestic impertinence they stroll along the middle of the roads. When one is a god, one does not disturb oneself for the convenience of mere man, however importunate.

To the eye of pure reason there is something singularly illogical about the way in which the Hindus shrink from killing cows or eating their flesh when dead, but have no scruples about making the life of the sacred beasts, by their ill-treatment, a hell on earth. So strict is the orthodoxy of Kashmir, that Bovril is confiscated at the frontier, and sportsmen are forbidden to shoot the wild nilgai, which is not bovine at all, but happens to be miscalled the ' blue cow '; the very name is sacred. And yet nothing is done to protect these god-like animals from any cruelty that does not actually result in death. They are underfed and, when used as draft animals, mercilessly overdriven. When the goad fails to make them move, their driver will seize them by the tail and, going through the motions of one who tries to start up a Ford car, violently twist. In winter, when fodder runs short, the Kashmiris pack their beasts together in a confined space until they begin to sweat, then turn them out into the snow, in the hope that they will catch pneumonia and die. To the eye of reason, I repeat it, it certainly seems strange. But then the majority of human actions are not meant to be looked at with the eye of reason.


IT takes the Tartar traders six weeks of walking to get from Kashgar to Srinagar. They start with their yaks and ponies in the early autumn, when the passes are still free from snow and the rivers, swollen in summer by its melting, have subsided to fordableness. They walk into Kashmir, and from Kashmir into India. They spend the winter in India, sell what they have brought, and in the following spring, when the passes are once more open, go back into Turkestan with a load of Indian and European fabrics, velvet and plush and ordinary cotton, which they sell for fabulous profit in their own country.

We paid a visit to the Central Asian sarai at Srinagar where the Tartars halt for a rest on their way down into India. A dozen merchants with their servants were encamped there: strange Mongolian men, high-booted, trousered, jerkined in thick cloth or sheepskin. They showed us their wares: carpets, costly and cheap, from Kashgar and the other oasis cities of the Tarim basin; coarse felt mats, on which were rudely printed in red and blue the most exquisite designs; hand-woven and hand-printed cottons from Turkestan; Chinese silks, jade and crystal; furs. We bought a rug of the poorest quality, a thing of more cotton than wool, but superbly patterned in colours that were none the less beautiful for being manifestly aniline. Also a felt mat in the design of which a Greek decorative motive played a leading part. That identity of the contemporary with the ancient and classical form-was it due to the coincidence of reinvention, to a modern importation from the West? Or was it due, as I liked to think it was, to the survival, through centuries of change and tumult and in spite of invasions and slaughters, of the art which Alexander's adventurous successors, the despots of Central Asia, implanted in that once flourishing land beyond the mountains?

I do not know why it should be so; but there is something -peculiarly romantic about caravans and the slow commerce of pedestrians. The spectacle of a hundred laden yaks or ponies is enough to fire the imagination; of a hundred laden trucks leaves us entirely cold. We take no interest in the merchant who sends his goods by train; but the pedestrian merchant seems to us an almost beautiful and heroic figure. And the aura of romance which surrounded the Tartars was brightened in our eyes when they showed us their medium of exchange. Diving down into the recesses of their greasy clothing, they pulled out for our in spection glittering handfuls of gold. We examined the coins. They were Russian ten-rouble pieces of before the Revolution, all bright and new. The head of the Tsar stood sharply out on them, as though they had but yesterday issued from the Imperial mint.


  1. These accounts really show some real facets of Kashmiris and Indians, in General. You are right, not much has changed, education wise. To the outside world, we still come across as peasant people, lazy , poor and laid back.

    Huxley's rendition of the farmers singing made me laugh so much !
    Thank you for putting up all these accounts by so many different writers, travellers . Its educating to see Kashmir through the eyes of people who lived long before our times.

  2. Huxley got that Kashmiri song right...Dum-dum, BONG; diddy-dum, BONG :) This is perhaps the funniest travelogue about Kashmir.


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