Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kashmir by Pierre du Jarric, 1597

 "The kingdom of Caximir is one of the pleasantest and most beautiful countries to be found in the whole of India, we may even say in the East. It is completely surrounded by very high mountains which for the greater part of the year are covered with snow, and all the rest of the kingdom is a beautiful plain clothed in verdure, and well watered by springs and rivers: a very pleasant land for those who dwell therein. Owing to the mountains, the climate of the country is somewhat cold, though it is more temperate than that of the kingdom of Rebat, which joins Caximir on the east. In the month of May, great numbers of wild-duck come from the mountains of Rebat and settle in huge flocks on the streams which flow near to the town of Caximir, the capital of the kingdom, because of the warmer climate. About three leagues from town there is a lake of sweet water which, though not more than two leagues in circuit and half a league broad, is so deep that large vessels can float upon it. In the middle there is an artificial island on which the king has a palace, where he refreshes himself when he goes to shoot the duck which abound on this lake. On the banks of a river, the waters of which flow through the lake, there is a species of very large tree, the trunk and leaves of which resemble those of the chestnut, though it is quite a different tree. The wood is very dry, and has a grain like rippling water; it is much used for making small caskets and similar articles. the country abounds in wheat, rice and other food grains. They plant vines at the roots of the mulberry trees, so that grapes and mulberries are seen hanging from the same branches. People say that this kingdom was one of the most formidable in these parts, and that the Great Mogor[L] would never have been able to subdue it but for the factions which existed amongst the inhabitants. Knowing that it was a kingdom divided against itself, he invaded it with a large army, and easily made himsef master of it. Formerly all the people of this country were Gentiles; but about three hundred years ago they joined the sect of Mahomet, and the majority of them are now Saracens."

Pierre du Jarric.  (Akbar and the Jesuits, Page 75).

Pierre du Jarric, a 16th-17th centuries French priest of the Jesuit order and a professor of philosophy and theology at Bordeaux, travelled to Kashmir in 1596- 1597 as part of Mughal encampment and was first to introduce the western world to Kashmir when his travel letters were published in Antwerp in 1605. 

I looked for this description for a long time and finally found it in a footnote to Kalahana's Rajatarangini by Ranjit Pandit. Interestingly the above passage also alludes to the Chinar trees of Kashmir.

Image: Found it in 'Letters from India and Kashmir' by J. Duguid, 1870. [The illustration is by MR. H. R. ROBERTSON, and engraved by MR. W. J. PALM KB, principally from the writer's Sketches.]

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A house in Kralkhod

Contributed by my Mamaji Roshan Lal Das. Lots of personal history and great insight on how a house was built in Kashmir. The photographs of the house were taken by me when I visited the place with my mother in June 2008 .

In the hoary past, most of the Kashmiri Pandits used to live in and around the dulcet and fertile area of Rajvatika, the present Rainawari. The Brahmins of Rajvatika exercised considerable influence during the period of late Hindu kings. During forties of 19th century, a family bearing surname 'Choudhry' lived in chodury bhag area of Rainawari.

It was the period of Sikh rule in Kashmir. One Hemant Choudhry of this clan left for greener pastures of Lahore. He worked as an accounts assistant to the father of a future prime minister of Kashmir. As years went by, Hemant became an ascetic and as his name spread, he was re-named Hemant Sadh by his Kashmiri neighbors who all lived in Kashmiri mohalla of Lahore, Sadh being the Kashmiri equivalent of Sadhoo.

Later on, with the initiation of Dogra rule, Hemant Choudhry, now Hemant Sadh relocated to Srinagar buying a House at Aga hamam in Habba Kadal. Hemant Choudhry had grown old. He went to his old boss whose son had now become Prime Minister - Dewan Badrinath, and asked for a job for his son Narayan Sadh. Narayan Sadh was offered a job as estate officer for prime minister's landed estates. (Dewan Badrinath built a mansion in Kralkhod which was in ruins during my time and grabbed by one Wahab Makaya.)

Dewan Badrinath was not a Kashmiri and hence faced lot of difficulty in pronouncing the surname of Narayan Sadh. He suggested him to change his surname to Das. It was done and all the office records were changed accordingly. That is how my clan changed from Sadh to Das.

Narayan Das got married and had a son and a daughter but his wife died while delivering a third child. Days rolled by and Narayan Das was always on the move inspecting landed estates of his employer. He was now getting old. During those days fifty was considered old.

Harmiain is a sylvanic village in tehsil Shopian. It is lying at the plain of mountains leading to Aharbal and Kosernag Lake. The village is surrounded on all sides by a brook with icy waters.

Dewan Badrinath had huge landed estate in Harmain also and it was being looked after by a Rajput family (that grabbed it after his death). Once while touring this village, Narayan Das was bedazzled by the sight of a beautiful girl taking bath in a brook. She had perfect olive oil skin and a perfect complexion devoid of any swarthiness, which otherwise was believed to be the most common tone for villager people. The girl was seventeen and  known as Haer - a bird which would mean Finch in English. The girls had been so named because of her impressive brown eyes. Proposals were sent to the girl's parents through the emissaries. The girls parents were initially reluctant but in the end, being overwhelmed by the man’s status, gave in.

Marriage was solemnized with great pomp and show at Srinagar. Within couple of years Narayan was sent to Ladakh for survey of prime minister's estates over there. It was not an easy task back then to travel all the way to Ladakh. Those days one had to travel on horses and the journey could turn dangerous. While returning from Ladakh, Narayan fell from his horse on the slopes of Zojilla Mountain. Hooves of horses broke his slide down the slopes but the fall caused him some severe injuries and by the time Narayan reached Srinagar, he had developed gangrene. He died and Haer became a widow by the age of nineteen. She was pregnant at the time.

Soon she delivered a male child who was named Shivji. This child was brought up with great care and love. He grew up, did his matriculation - which was a rarity and a feat those days. He became a Babu in the office of chief engineer Appleford. Shivji typed with great dexterity and a Remington typewriter could always be found by his side – his great personal possession.

In 1917, there was a great fire in and around Agahamam area of Habba Kadal. Shivji’s house too was engulfed in flames. Luckily the family had a chunk of land in Kralkhod .The mother and son started building a new house, this time on a much bigger scale. But when the work started Shivji was transferred to Ladakh. The widow had to build that house on her own. She put in all her savings into building that house. The house was complete at the end of year 1918 and it cost my great-grandmother all the savings of her life, around Rs.4000, a princely sum those days.

The house was nearly two thousand two hundred square feet in area and four storeys high - a massive building by modern standards. The foundation was laid in tonnes of broken stones. Those days Portland cement was a luxury that only a Maharaja could afford. The damp proof coating over the plinth was laid in form of wooden beams. In this case, the beams were nearly one foot by one foot thick and that too without hinges or knots. The pillars were raised in uneven stones joined in mud which with time turned out to be a major defect.

The upper storeys were built in thin square bricks which were known as 'maharaji' bricks which were supported by wooden beams. One room on the second floor was plastered with polished mud splattered with straw (I still wonder how they did it). And one room on third storey was polished in mud and somehow painted green, on completion this room offered a strange shine that exists even now. I still don't know what sort of paint they used those days. This particular room was used as 'Dewan Khan' - or the drawing room. The second and third storey had a retiring room which remained warm even in cold winters. These were called as 'shainsheen' in Kashmiri.

The uppermost storey, as in most of Kashmiri houses, acted as summer retreat (Kay’nee in Kashmiri). The house had two balconies (zoon dab) which offered a panoramic views of Eastern Mountains and Northern mountains viz Mahadev peak, Zabarwan range and Shankracharya Hill in the east and Harmokh range and Hari Parbat hill in the north.

In 1954, the zoon dabs were dismantled and a single elongated one was rebuilt instead. I had a narrow escape at the time of this renovation; a couple of bricks nearly fell on me.

Those days the roofs were thatched and waterproofed by birch leaves (known in Kashmiri as burza). As the clay turf turned heavy during rains and snow, tresses had to be very strong and weight bearing. To achieve this strength thick wooden plank transected by huge logs were used. These logs used to be almost a foot in diameter.

Those days when Deodar wood was cheap, the outer latticed windows, known as panjra in the local lingo, were built. The panjra work was an indigenous one. Laths were fixed into one another. No nails or glue was used as the laths supported each by exerting pressure on the wooden frame. A few wooden nails were used in some cases of thick laths. Years ago, I was surprised one day on seeing a small piece of paper 'Times of India ' dated 1916,  stuck to a panjra. The paper must have been glued there as insulation during severe winter of 1931, the year Jehlum completely froze. A few panjras still remained when we sold the house in 1975.

Years passed by and next generation viz my father and two paternal uncles shared the house. As often happens, there were frequent quarrels amongst them. The fights continued into my generation as well. Due to inherent defect in the founding pillars built up of uneven stones joined by mud, during Sixties, the house started bending from western side.

In 1973, a decision was taken to repair the house. It was a hard and a risky decision. The house could tumble down during repairs. An old carpenter, one of the carpenters who had built the Budshah Bridge, along with his brash young son took the responsibility of repairing the old house. Wooden poles nearly 30 feet in length were used as props (known as 'pandas' in the local lingo). The ground floor was completely dismantled and the rest of the floors were now resting fully on these props. There was an earthquake once but the house managed to survive it. Four feet by two feet pillars were re-built in lime and brick powder. This combination of Lime and brick powder had been in use right from medieval period and I feel it was stronger than expensive cements of today. The lentils on the pillars were supported by wooden planks of hardwood known locally as Kikar.

It took nearly 6 months to repair the house. When the last prop was being removed the mason took to his heels. Later when we asked the reason, he said that he was not sure that the pillars will withstand the weight of the old building. The house was finally sold out to a rich boatman in year 1975.

In April 1993, I saw a photograph of our house on fire in the newspaper 'Times Of India'. A timber seller in neighborhood had become a police informer (Mukhbir) Militants lit his store on fire which soon engulfed the whole neighborhood including our house. Luckily only the upper storey was burnt down.

The house was still standing tall when I last saw it in 2005 – a good eighty seven years after it had first been built by my great-grandmother.

Roshon, the great-grandson of 'Haer'
June, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Zoon is buried in Bihar

A place near Khilanmarg,
After being buried in his ancestral village Mitrigam, Mahjoor was later to be buried one more time. His body was exhumed and with full State honours reburied by the side of Habba Khaton's grave in Athwajan on the outskirts of Srinagar, or by the side of what was believed to be the grave of Habba Khatoon.

Later research was to prove that the 16th century famous commoner-poet-queen Habba Khatoon, Zoon, was in fact buried at Biswak village in Nalanda, Bihar alongside the grave of her husband, Yusuf Shah Chak.*
*Came across the info. in T.N . Kaul's Poems of Mahjoor.

View from Kongdoor

Kongdoor. Altitude 10050. The place was named as Kongdoor by the famous Kashimri Poetess and wife of King Yoush Shah - Habba Khatoon.
At this place they tell you to drop a coin and they say it will surface miles away from here in a stream downhill. They say it about a lot of places.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

Indo-Pakistan football, 1951

Dr, Frank Graham of U.N.O knew how to score in baseball. He did not know the Indo-Pakistan football game with its peculiar rules. The learned doctor returned with a swollen bottom.  Delhi, Sept. 12, 1951
For this cartoon by an unnamed  artist in FilmIndia dated October 1951. (Thanks to Memsaab Greta!)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Identify interesting things from Pir Panjal Range

(Updated with info. sent in by Man Mohan Ji) Man Mohan Ji has sent in this little quiz. Can anyone identify these items?

I am putting in my wild guess.
The first one looks like some sort of territorial insignia and the second one looks like fossilized remains of some animal ( perhaps an elephant, I read that their remains have in fact found in the region)

An archaeological  engraving  about 1 foot in diameter on a Schist rock  at Anjan, Nanga Pahar at an altitude of 9.000 ft of a southerly spur of Pir Panjal Range radiating from Muni Mal Peak
Fossil of tusks and mandible of  Stegodon Ganesha - an elephant with huge tusks  which along with other vertebrate animals roamed the Himalayan  foothills during Siwalik times.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

While you were standing in a queue at Gulmarg

Building. Building.
Tourists and their incredible capacity for standing in queues. Just for a ride.
Tourist department and their incredible taste for art. 


Vichar Nag, 1895

It is called Vichar because it is said that every year Pandits used to gather at this place, compare, debate their calculations and decide on the Calender for next year.

The NY Times photostory about re-opening of Vichar Nag Shrine

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bollywood and their Kashmir nonsense

[Updated this old rant of mine (don't even recall what triggered it, first posted here ) with the posters of a little known called 'Kashmir Hamara Hai' from FilmIndia Magazine dated October 1951. (Thanks to Hindi filmbuff Memsaab Greta !)]

Movies like Roja and Yahaan mean nothing to Kashmiris. One can say that the target audience of these movies is different. Roja must have made sense to this targeted audience and Yahaan (shot beautifully!) must have made a bit more sense. But, to me they don’t make sense. Let us look at some selected usual suspects.

Vidhu Vinod Chopra, for all his love of Kashmir and for all his childhood spent in Kashmir (he was born in Kashmir) and as a step towards the ‘right’ direction (remember it was released in the year 2000), made MISSION KASHMIR. One fails to understand how could he make a movie like that and still feel good about himself. He could feel good because that is how the things work in India; we only make filmy blinded righteous Nationalist movies. Our movies just like our mythologies are supposed to have a moral. A conflict has to become a myth. The Hero has to save the nation. Heroine has to sing and dance deep in side dingy caves in front of hundred bearded ‘extra’ men who carry plastic guns in hand and sticky grins on their faces, all this while the heroine tries to seduce Osama and make him forget about Nuking India.
On this relative scale, Vidhu Vinod Chopra must certainly be rating himself highly. But, didn’t his movie have the same elements. A Super Villain (Jackie Shroff playing Hilal Kohistani) who whispers evil words into the innocent ears of an angry and confused young boy, while the boy is carrying the injured Villain on his shoulders, asking him to wage Jihad. While the scene is very symbolic, it again presents a belief that is very common —The Pakistani Islamic Warmonger befooling the ‘innocent but angry’ Kashmiri in the name of religion and making him carryout their dirty tasks. Only this time the idea presented is in symbols in a scene that reminds one of Vikram Vetal (a radio show that at one time was very popular in Kashmir). The idea itself is not new. This idea is the accepted average limit to which a common Indian is willing to naturalize the Kashmir conflict. Besides this, the movie has The Super Army man, the Super Mother, the Super villainous plot (I must say that Kargil conflict was also a super villainous plot. At times Kahsmir does go into Super mode) and everything else that could be Super.

Isn’t he the maker of the film An Encounter with Faces that was nominated for an Oscar in the short, non-fiction film category in 1979. Couldn’t he make a different movie about Kashmir? Why is Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi doing a film about Kashmiri Children called Kashmir Afloat, while the Indian filmmakers are sitting on their golden ass, brooding over what all-great Intellectual filmmakers brood about things like, “Is a heroine of size 36D going to help my film, about street children, get more money on the opening day or should I take a frail newcomer and show her (yet!) plum ass in a dramatic slow motion! ”

But, then things do improve with time or rather the scene does evolves.

Remember the religion less movie Jab Jab Phool Khile. How can anyone make a movie like that? Shashi Kapoor is a Boatsman who loves Nanda, a women from mainland India. Anybody making a movie about Kashmir should have known that the Boatsmen in Kashmir are Muslims of a separate tribe who claim ascendance right to the Prophet Noah, the supposed builder of the greatest boat ever built.
Is religion a problem in the movie? No, religion is one big yarn and India is a one big happy family.
Yahaan(2005) at least gave religion to its main characters. Although I must say that the character of Adaa (played by Minissha Lamba) must have grown up living in a Nutshell just like Thumbelina to have fallen in love with a Hindu Army Man. She must have walked out of her Nutshell one day and stepped straight into the movie. And just like Shakespeare’s Miranda, fallen for the first man that her eyes ever fell upon. One big yarn…the height of things…a tall tale. In Kashmir, a true film buff  would call it “Afarwat kiss'hi !” (Possible origin of word: Afarwat mountain in Kashmir), a term used for tall tales that people tell once in a while.

Mani Ratnam’s Roja at least had a screaming wife who cries that she doesn’t care about the Nation, just give her the missing husband. Of course, then the preaching starts and the happy end.
Roja was made in 1992, just years after the trouble in Kashmir started (1989). Maybe, it was too much to ask from the director. One would have had to be foolishly brave to have said something substantial at that time. Try to say something meaningful and then let it be used as propaganda by the other side. Only movies made during the conflict/war are propaganda movies, Nationalistic movies, and patriotic movies. The conflict has to end so that people can make something out of it…begin to analyze what happened… what passed. We need Distance in time and space. However, one can always cash in on the conflict and make a filmy movie about the conflict giving no thought to the actual subjects. Make it entertaining, appealing, alluring, sleek, demonizing, anglicizing, Nationalizing or downright vulgarizing the life of people caught in the conflict.

We are poor people; we do not have enough silver space for all the conflicts to compete for the screen time. While Kashmir suffers from wrongful depiction on the Screen, I guess other places like North Easter India (with its own set of problems) suffers from almost no depiction in the mainstream Bollywood Cinema. Again, the usual suspect Mani Ratnam tried his hand at it with Dilse (1998), managing to create just a great song n dance sequence atop a slow moving train and some memorable music thanks to A. R Rahman ( Bulleh Shah went pop that year and a whole new breed of people can to know of him).
Maybe, it’s too much to ask of main steam movies and their makers. However, even these movies mean something… must mean something. Someone from North East has fewer or maybe no Jab Jab Phool Khile to trash. Don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad.


Poster of a Malayalam film in Kochi, Kerala.


Also, read: Film talk about Kashmir

Nomadic, 1920s

from 'The Charm of Kashmir' (1920) by V.C. Scott O'connor (Vincent Clarence Scott, 1869-1945).
Spring in the Upland Valley
The first Flock of the Year 

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