Sunday, October 31, 2010


Ishber Spring. June, 2008.
My eyes were glued to the screen, basking in the color glow of the television set. Neelam and Govinda were doing disco in snow to the synth beats of the song Aap ke Aajanay Say. Mai say Meena say Na Saki say. Even in the hustle bustle of the function, in a wopar ghar, I had managed to find a Television set and catch Chitrahaar. And this song was ‘Super Hit’. There were other kids in the room, some of them equally glued to the screen, some dancing; it seemed that kids of all the people attending that Yagnopavit function had wound up in the room. There was a TV in the room and some expensive toys, and some old ladies, maybe misplaced there. Hit song . I wondered if the place was Kashmir. Just then my father walked into the room. ‘Do you want to go to the Naag? Hawan is almost over, for the last ceremony we are going to the spring. You would like to go, right? ’

On the way back from Nishat Bagh, I made it a point that we stop at Ishber. I knew the spring was around Nishat somewhere. The place is also called Gupt Ganga or the Hidden Ganga. Somewhere near the place is the ashram of Shavite saint-scholar ‘Lal Sahib’ Swami Laxman Joo. The hosts of Yagnopavit function that night two decades ago had lived at Nishat. We had driven to the place in a car. Driver of our mini-van said he knew the place.

 It was night by the time we had reached the spring; in the darkness I hadn’t been able to fully appreciate the spring. All I could see of the spring that night was oil lamps lit around the periphery of the spring, and then set afloat in the waters – yellow light reflecting on dark waters. I was sort of disappointed. Maybe I had expected it to be like Mattan where my Nani had taken me sometime back. A water body at night is an entirely different entity. In-different. The only thing that got my attention was that I was told there a Shivling submerged in the spring and that one could see it. Too bad it was already night.

It was evening by the time we reached the place. To my surprise the van stopped in front of a big rusty old iron gate of a Security Camp. The spring now falls inside the secured zone.
This is the place. You have to go in, Driver said.
Not everyone was excited about visiting the place, some stayed inside the van while we walked to the door of the camp. Young ones came along.

The man behind the check-post greated us with a matter of fact question, ‘What business?’
We are Kashmiri Pandits. We are here to see the spring. The Talaab.
You are here to see the temple. Any Identify proof? Id?
The spring is here.
Do you have any id proof?
I was about to take out my pan card but my uncle intervened.
He is just a kid. Here take my driving license. Okay hai?
My uncle had got a driving license in Jammu. I remember Nanu driving a green Atlas cycle in Kashmir (which didn’t make to Jammu) , I remember him learning scooter, a creamy blue colored Chetek left every winter at our house by Badi Bua’s husband. The scooter reached Jammu, even though it was for a time being in the early 90s held captive by a gent named Mustaq Latram, one of the three released in exchange for passengers of the Indian Airlines plane IC 814 in 1999. I remember Nanu learning to drive Maruti 800 of his cousin brother who wasn’t actually his cousin but the youngest son of his step-brother. That night two decades ago it had been the Yognopavit ceremony of this cousin.
Standing in front of the gate, I must have been just as old as my Uncle must have been in 1990.
The man finally gave a smile and welcomed us in. The door opened. Maybe it was a bad idea. There were trucks parked to the left of the road, the end periphery of the camp and some Khaki colored tents up-ahead. Men in white undershirts, Khaki uniforms and hard black boots. Then I saw it, towards the right, in a depression, the spring identifiably by the classic two-tank structure for the Kashmiri spring temple. The source of the water along with the deity is enclosed in the higher smaller tank, and from this smaller tank, through little doors, the water flows out into the outer larger tank.
The state of the tank was sad. Green with live algae and brown with dead water. There was already something unsettling about the fact that it now falls within the camp area. It seemed that the Spring, with its painted canopy for the smaller tank, was almost encroaching upon the camp land. It looked out of place. Or may be it was the other way around. It was disappointing. Then I remembered the story about the Shivling. I told others about it too. I had to see it. We walked to the boundary wall of the small high tank and looked in. There must have been about 5 feet of water inside the tank. With the waning light of evening, the view inside the tank wasn’t very clear. The Shiving had to be here. Then I saw it. Just below us in the top left corner of the tank we could see the Shivling. I pointed it out to the others. Everyone was surprised to see it. So it was true. But then doubt crept in. The shape we were looking at looked suspiciously unlike a Shivling. It looked more like a fountain from Shalimar, but it was stone grey or an inverted flower vase or an ancient stand for a flagpole. It sure wasn’t a Shivling. The light was fast waning, soon it was going to be too dark to see anything. My camera battery had already died which meant I had managed to take only one shot of this place. Others were getting anxious. Soon the sun will set, we have to get out of here, there are people outside in the Van waiting for us. It was all becoming one big disappointment. If only I could see that Shivling. Just them a security man walked up to us, smiling.
Baba kay Darshan karnay hai? Wo yahaan hai.
He pointed the direction, a bit off to the left and top of the center of the tank. A definite shape emerged from the dark still water. There it was right in front of us. The Shivling. Pandits of yore certainly gave a thought to the theatrics involved in worship. And they liked to build the most interesting theaters using the simplest of props. All they need was the right location. A lot of western visitors had noticed how the best of the locations in Kashmir, and the best of the springs were the site of a Pandit holy spot.
The security man asked if we were not going to visit the new temple.
There was a Mata temple in site the camp. People moved inside the camp to have the darshan, I loitered around the spring, the camp and then walked out. I turned indifferent around 10 years ago. Indifferent to Ishwar.
As I walked out of that iron gate and towards the van, I witnessed a strange scene. A big curious crowd had gathered around the van. Mostly middle aged men and young children. Faces alive. Everyone from the visiting party was sitting tight inside the van, a bit jittery and trying not to look outside the window. Night was approaching.
Where are others? We need to get out of here. Are the kids with them?
I didn’t asking any questions. Soon we were out of there.
On the way back I was told that a man from the crowd had got talking and started recounting the two decades of pains and suffering. He wanted to know if anyone knew his neighbors: Bhats and Panditas. How he missed them, his brothers? How everyone suffered. The Pandits and the Muslims too. And then in the end of his didactic polemics he declared, ‘You know some of the Muslims are in fact Khanzeer.’
I have released that the old guard of pundits does not melt at these testimonies of brotherhood. It is true. Hearts don’t melt. Doves don’t fly. Tears don’t roll down the cheeks in-sync. And even when they do, even if you retort with, 'Some of the Hindus are Pigs too', it don’t matter. But the use of word Khanzeer by a Kashmiri Muslim certainly got their ear, even if for a brief moment.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Way back from Gulmarg. June, 2008

'I haven't seen such forests. The air of creation moves inside them. Something religious and primordial comes to memory and blurs it melodiously.'

Petros Vlastos (1879-1941), India born Greek writer who spent most of his time in India and England, wrote this about the forests of Kashmir in his book Critical Journeys (1912). West came to Kashmir for all kind of reasons, this one was apparently seeking to understand through nature the history of race.*


*Greek diaspora and migration since 1700: society, politics and culture by Dimítris Tzióvas, Dēmētrēs Tziovas

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wine of Kashmir

The couple at Shalimar drinking wine.
In that old video from 1930s watching the angrez couple drink wine at Shalimar Bagh reminded me of an innocuous entry in the journal of an angrez traveler.
Englishman Godfrey Thomas Vigne, who visited Kashmir in around 1835, in book 'Travels in Kashmir, Ladak, Iskardo, the Countries Adjoining the Mountain-Course of the Indus, and the Himalaya, north of the Panjab with Map'  (1842) describes how he saw Mihan "the Colonel" Singh, the Sikh governor of Kashmir at the time, sitting in one of those beautiful pavilions at Shalimar Garden listening to the songs of Nautch Girls and while the girls danced, Mihan Singh and his officers took a sip of spirit. Just another day in the Kingdom. But it is the nature and the origin of the spirit as described by Vigne that really got me started. He writes:
"The colonel occasionally took a little of the strong spirit of the  country, which is distilled from crushed grapes left to  ferment, and is much preferred to the finest wine that  Europe could produce, which would not be considered  strong enough.
The orientals have no idea of drinking unless they can drink a little too much. They believe, to the letter, that " man, being reasonable, must get drunk;” and, generally speaking, are astonished at Europeans, who, being permitted by our religion even to drink wine, do not always swallow more than is good for us, and can afford to leave off before it has caused us to be excited and uproarious."
Given Indian Beer is not watered down like its western counterparts and local liquor shops are strangely called 'Wine Shop', Vignes observation about the Indian drinkers might still be true but it is the part about home grown native wine that came as a surprise. This section is in Volume two of his journal. In Volume One he mentions the ancient wine traditions of Kashmir, wines for which it was famous all over Central Asia (which according to Vigne was pretty much into drinking* ). In section titled 'Wine of Kashmir', he writes about what remained and the remains of that ancient tradition:
From Ruzlu I ascended the hill on the right, in order to obtain a view of another valley, named Brunil-Lanur. It occupies the remainder of the space between Kol Naruwa and Chaugam, and contains the two villages from which it takes its name. In the jungle under the Panjal, which bounds it on the south, and, I believe, in many of the wooded eminences around it, the vine is to be seen hanging in festoons about the trees, — originally, perhaps, a wild plant, but afterwards nurtured and cultivated by the natives of the district, who formerly made wine there in great quantities.
A new 'seh-aatisha' or Still in show window of a craft shop at Lal Chowk, Srinagar. June, 2008+
At Muskhahad, a place in the jungle lying equidistant from Deosir and the villages in the valley, a great number of very large forty-thief-power earthen jars have been dug up at different times, and are now used by the natives as receptacles for their grain ; and it is supposed that many more are buried there, they being discoverable only by a search beneath the surface of the ground ; and it is supposed that wine was buried preserved in them, as in Gilghit and the neighbouring countries, probably at the present day. It is singular that the word mus should have the same meaning as the English must (mustum) new wine : and khahad signifies a place where wine is made and deposited.
I could never learn satisfactorily why the spot was deserted as it is at present ; but it is more than probable that it fell into disuse after the Musalman invasion, and suffered under the enthusiastic bigotry of Sikundur But-Shikan. Abu Fuzl, however, relates that wine was drank in Kashmir in his time. But I heard that its locality had been remembered only in tradition, or at least that the existence of the large wine-vessels was unknown until they were discovered by accident in the time of the Patans, about fifty years ago ; and the finder was suspected of having concealed a treasure. Wine, however, was made there in the time of the Patans, and Mihan Singh, the present governor of Kashmir, had ordered all the grapes to be brought thence to the city, where he contrived to manufacture a wretched apology for the generous liquor.
An ancient 'wine'village near Pir Panjal,  probation era, buried and forgotten wine tresure - I thought this was the end of Kashmiri Sharab, the last anyone heard about it (especially after that bad review by Vigne), or may hear about Shorab only in Kashmiri folk songs, but it seems that in next half-a-century wine culture picked up speed and flourished in Kashmir. A window into this time is offered by a woman named Marion Doughty who visited Kashmir in 1900. In her book 'Afoot through the Kashmir valleys' (1901) she wrote, "The Kashmir wines, too, are no longer to be despised, and their Medoc and Barsac are both strengthening and pleasant to the taste."

At the turn of the centery things were certainly looking up. Vine was imported from of Bordeaux district France but in 1890 after these  died of a disease were replaced by new vines imported from America, and the state vineyard was run by an Italian gent no less ( a gent named Signor Benvenuti and there were others**). Doughty, obviously having read Sir Walter Roper Lawrence's masterly book 'The valley of Kashmir' (1895) writes:
In olden times Kashmir had been famous for its grapes, but through laziness, or the exorbitant exactions of officials, they had fallen out of cultivation, and only the wild plant was seen clambering over fences or throwing graceful arms round the tall poplars. Then the late Maharajah, the good Ranbir Singh, wishing to assist his people by every means in his power, introduced vines from France, and for a time they did fairly well; but the dreaded phylloxera made its appearance, and new vines from America had to be introduced. At present the State vineyards are under the charge of some Italian gentlemen, and very well they fulfil their charge, and yearly large quantities of Barsac and Medoc, as well as apple brandy, are produced, and though the flavour is still a little rough, they are good strengthening wines, and at the rate of about one rupee for a quart bottle will create a large demand. Transport is the chief difficulty, for under present conditions of road traffic it does not pay to send them out of the valley scarcely even any distance from Srinagar.
The government of the time was actively pursuing for the idea of wine, or rather a few persons in the government indeed were. According to Lawrence, Raja Amar Singh and Diwan Amar Nath were among the small number of Vineyard owners of Kashmir. Important decisions like the kind of vine to be imported were not taken carefully. Lawrence suggests vine from Burgundy would have been better suited for Kashmir. Still wine making was slowly making progress in the state. Costly distillery plants were setup at Gupkar and Medoc and Barsac wine was made here.

Doughty adds, "In other parts, where there is sufficient open ground, vines are much grown, and they climb the tall poplars and mulberries, sending long, swinging trails from side to side, forming exquisite screens of greenery. Hops, too, grow here, and the factories are close by in which the raw produce is transferred into excellent liquids, beer, wines, and liqueurs (cherry and apple brandy)."

But the idea was not taken up by the locals, and Lawrence thought, given this fact and the fact that beside Srinagar there was no market as transportation was a serious issue, there was little future for wine in Kashmir.

Still Doughty was optimistic, she wrote:
"In the near future probably the most paying concerns in Srinagar will be the vineyards and hop gardens. The French vines, originally introduced during Ranbir Singh's reign, did not prove a success, phylloxera being the chief enemy. Others were then brought from America, and, judging by the quality of the wine produced, in spite of the youth of the plantation, and the low price at which they can afford to sell, it should be a great success. Apple brandy is especially in demand, and is a very delectable beverage among the snows. It is difficult, indeed, not to regret its popularity among the natives, for if they understand moderation in such things, they certainly do not practise it. The hops have been an even greater success than the vines, and are largely grown round Soper, and if once the country people take up their cultivation it will become a very important and money-making concern."
So when exactly did this future cease to exisit? And in that video from 1930 was that American couple sitting in Shalimar Garden tasting Kashmiri wine?


* Other old time Drinkers based on G.T. Vigne's writings and travels:
The Gilghitis, as also the Siah Posh Kaffirs, are great wine-bibbers. They make their own wine,
and place it in large earthen jars, which are then buried for a time ; but they do not understand the clarifying process. Some that I tasted was very-palatable, but looked more like mutton broth than wine.
In Chulas, and other countries below Iskardo, the dance is not commonly performed until
the parties have drunk deeply of wine, and they are then excited to such a pitch of frenzy, that the effect is almost that of real madness, and it is a service of some danger to approach them.
The Yarkundis drink wine in abundance, but more particularly in secret. A spirit is distilled from the fruit of the Sunjit.
The wine of Shiraz is made, I believe, about fifty miles west of the city. The best that I tasted was a fine, powerful, and dry wine, not quite so dark as brown sherry.
**Francis Younghusband, who was Regent of Kashmir for some time, in around 1906 wrote about a Vineyard near Dal Lake that was run by a Frenchman.
+ 'seh-aatisha' identified by a kind reader.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Origin of Kashmiri House Boat and some other origins

House Boat and 'doonga' cook boat on Jhelum river, from around year 1904
A House Boat on Dal Lake, year 2008
I first came to know the interesting story a couple of years back, the story of how Kashmir got its famous houseboats. The interest however was triggered about the stories that I have heard about families in old times travelling to Tulamulla in doonga via the river route, taking days, sometimes braving waves.

 Here's a pieced together narrative, an attempt at putting dates to the events


Close to the end of 19th century, Kashmir was opening up to outsiders again. And the outsiders, mostly European, were pouring into the valley. And they needed a place to stay for their long holidays, buying a piece of land and building a house was out of question, Maharaja Ranbir Singh would have none of it. No outsider could buy land in Kashmir, no outsider still can. A couple of years later, even Vivekananda had to return empty handed when he came looking for a place to set up his ashram. With a restriction like this, the tourist business wasn't going to take-off.

Around year 1881, Rev. John Smith Doxey against much odds opened a missionary school in Kashmir. Pandit Nariandas, a Kashmiri Pandit trader became one of the first few Kashmiris to have taken up English language at this school. One of the other students of what was to become the nucleus of future great institution of Christen Missionary School in Kashmir was 14-year old Pandit Anand Koul, a cousin of Nariandas.*  In around 1883, the working of the school was taken over by Rev. J. Hinton Knowles. Knowles in around 1885 went on famously to document the folk literature of Kashmir, a task in which he was assisted by young Pandit Anand Koul. Pandit Anand Koul obviously was too bright, acknowledging and honoring this fact, in around 1895 Knowles made Anand Koul Headmaster of the school: a first for a Kashmiri. In year 1897, some night of September or October, Anand held dinner in honor of Swami Vivekananda who was visiting Kashmir at the time hoping to find a suitable place for his ashram. Swami Vivekananda's travel diaries of the time documents, among many other things, his stay in a 'houseboat'.  So, we can assume that the houseboats were already popular by then.

The credit for it goes to the other less famous student of Rev. Doxey, Pandit Naraindas. That the credit should go to a Pandit is all the more strange because Pandits traditionally never were boat builders or even boat owners. The story goes that in around 1885, just when his cousin Pandit Anand was helping Knowles write a book, Pandit Naraindas had a shop that used to cater to the needs of the foreigners. Business must have been good and man must have been happy. But tragedy stuck when this shop got gutted in fire, a phenomena common at the time given the old world wooden structure of the city buildings. Not giving up, and coming up with a desperate idea, Naraindas moved his remaining goods to a doonga, a small boat used by hanjis for residential purposes, and moored it at a suitable site. And just like that shop was open again, this time doing even better than before. Soon he began to improve his shop by replacing its matted walls and roof with planks and shingles. This was the first  houseboat afloat.

Sir Francis Younghusband, later in around 1906 was to write that the idea of a  'floating house' was first floated some year between 1883-1888 by a sport loving Englishman named M.T. Kennard. And the idea was also brought into reality by this man. For a longtime, till the name 'houseboat' caught on, Kashmiris used to call these boats 'the boat of Kennath Sahib'**. Younghusband wrote that although houseboat was not indigenous to Kashmir, by the year 1906 the number of houseboats in the valley was already in hundreds.

It is said that after building his houseboat, Naraindas was approached for sale by a European who had taken fancy to his boat. Naraindas sold his boat at a profit and soon realized that this was way better deal than the deals he was making in his store business. So he became a boat-builder, and a houseboat builder at that. In a nasty old tradition of the land, people nick named him Nav Narayan or Boat Narayan. The first houseboat he built and managed was named Kashmir Princess.

Till the year 1948, his family alone had built and managed some 300 houseboats. But by 50s they were already selling-off the business because of lesser margins on account of lesser foreign tourists.

Raj era was over.


A newspaper article from year 2004 about his great-grandson, Suresh Kilam, building giant houseboats in Delhi. [Newslink]

Pandit Nariandas is more well known today as the father of mystic scholar of Kashmir Shaivism, Swami Lakshman Joo and not as the father of Kashmiri houseboat.


*Geography of the Jammu & Kashmir State  Anand Koul, Prithivi Nath Kaul Bamzai, (1978), first printed 1913). According to  S. N. Pandita's Western indologists and Sanskrit Savants of Kashmir (2002 ), a third student had the name Pandit Shivnarayan Bhan and that there were only five students in the beginning. 

** Jammu and Kashmir by Somnath Dhar (1999). 


Friday, October 15, 2010

"Say, goddess, what ensured, when Raphael,
The affable archangel...                                 Eve
The story heard attentive, and was filled
with admiration, and deep muse, to hear
Of things so high and strange."

                                            - Paradise Lost, B.vii.

from Chapter III, Middlemarch by George Eliot

from Chapter XXV

"Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in hell's despair.

Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven's despite."

- William Blake: Songs of Experience


I get notes of thanks and appreciation for this little blog from all kind of people. Thank you. I get mails offering to contribute to this blog. Be my guest. The count of readers keeps tickling. All are welcome. I see stuff uploaded by me finding way to all kind of Kashmir websites, tweets and Facebook groups and pages, and chain emails, all giving birth to all sort of discussions. A gentle reminder to the readers of this blog - everything you see here is free. Give credit if you feel like it. Take what you need, or even take what you want.

This blog started as a personal blog, a collection of notes to myself and personal it remains.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tulmul Camp

Photographs of camping pandits at Khir Bhawani, July 2010

Kashmir Photographs, 1904

Vintage Kashmir Photographs from the book A lonely summer in Kashmir (1904) by Margaret Cotter Morison.
Temple of Payech, south of Pulwama district.

A family of Hanjis

Kashmiri Boatman

Kashmiri Villagers

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Kashmir The History & Pandit Women's Struggle For Identity by Suneethi Bakhshi

Bought it from Ghalib corner of the inner circle Connaught Place. Printed price is Rs.695 (which I think is a bit too steep) but the mian let me buy it for 500.

The first thing that I noticed about the book was the profile of the author. Born in 1931 to Malayali parents in Mumbai, Suneethi Bakshi became a Kashmiri by marriage to a Kashmiri Pandit in 1957. She moved out of Kashmir in the 90s.

The Kashmir history bit, especially the period of  later Kashmiris Kings, Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs, Dogras and the British is really well handled, concise and useful.  However, it is the 'Pandit Women's Struggle for Identity' bit that really stands out. In her own words the seeds of the book go back to 1965 when she wrote a paper titled 'The Rites of Passage of Your Community' for her Sociology course at the Maharaja Sayaji Rao University of Baroda.

That rite part can certainly be seen in the sections about the traditions followed by Kashmiri Pandit women and in history tracts about the famous Kashmiri women of past. But the best part of the book is when she writes about the achievements of the early pioneering women who decided to get an education and then went on to excel in their fields. Equally enlightening is the part in which she writes about the efforts that were put in by some exceptional Kashmiri Pandit women in running various services for their migrant community. Towards the end it gives details of with various educational programs that these women are running. Her observations on post-migration have an insight of an insider and an outsider, like she noticed how Kashmiri almanacs now run messages about turning vegetarian and subtly claiming the Non-Veg was to blame for most of the wrongs that the community suffered.

The book doesn't go into what the life of Kashmiri Pandit women was like in the past or what it was like in the 90s or even now. You won't read about stuff like how these days ashrams of Kashmiri Pandit Saints in Jammu (yes, the old ashram culture in now thriving in Jammu) have colorful charts posted on walls advising women and girls visiting the ashrams to not come in Jeans or something like that. It doesn't detail the subject of how sometimes (maybe often in their history) the fear of losing their culture and identity makes the life of a common woman difficult. How the weight of culture and identity is put on their shoulders. The book is more about the ability of Kashmiri Pandit woman to come through in tough times, its almost a celebration of their lives.

Editing of the book, as often is the case with Kashmir books, could have been better, but certainly worth a read.
You can buy it from here: Buy Kashmir The History & Pandit Women's Struggle for Identity from

Building Bridges, late 19th century way

The various bridges (Kadal) under which we passed, the boatmen shouting together in chorus as they worked their hardest to keep the boat steadily in the middle of the stream, were all pf the same type; their foundation are of deaodar piles, then logs of wood about twenty-five to thirty feet long and two or three feet in girth are led two feet apart at right angles, alternately with layers of stone. So piers are built up from about twenty-five to thirty feet in height, and twenty-five feet square. These stand ninety feet apart, and are spanned by long, undressed deodar timbers. The force of the stream is broken by abutments of stones running to a point constructed on the up-stream side. These answer admirably their purpose, stemming the wild rush of waters and standing securely for hundreds of years, even when exceptional floods, like the terrible one of July, '93, have swept all away. Even on that occasion the first bridge the Amiran Kadal though submerged, stood, but all the others were swept away. This was one of the worst floods ever known in Kashmir, and terrible destruction to city property resulted from it, more than two thousand houses disappearing in it. Mercifully, comparatively few lives were lost, though, of course, the amount of discomfort and misery it caused was very great.

- from the book ‘Afoot Through the Kashmir Valleys’ (1901) by Marion Doughty.

Finally found out the exact details of how those magnificent bridges were built in old times and a photograph of the build under process.

Strange case of Mrs. Aziza

Trusting for some means of escape when the hour had approached, and with a brief command not to create any delicacy that could not be made to get comfortably on my small dish, I tried to improve my acquaintance with the female portion of my crew. My task was not easy, for Mrs. Assiza suffered from shyness and a complete ignorance of all languages save Kashmirian; but I was able, as I tried to make myself understood, to admire her clear, rose-tinted, olive skin, the straight nose and brows, and the fine, brown eyes, set off by the tiny read cap worn under the homespun head-covering folded squarely on the head. The universal frock of puttoo disguised effectively her figure, but the short sleeves turned back with white displayed her well-firmed arms, and the brevity of her “pheran” showed her splendidly-developed calves. Good-looking and strong, like most of her compatriots, the little lady was well up to taking paddle or steering the boat, and during the day worked the long, heavy wooden pestle with astonishing energy as she crushed the grain in her wooden mortar with long, regular movements. The child toddled up to say, “Salaam, Sahib,” nearly falling over its toes in its efforts to bow with reverence and elegance, while clutching tightly a bunch of great purple iris, recently gathered from a Mahomedan graveyard, covering the whole of a small mound near by.

The passage and the photograph is taken from the book ‘Afoot Through the Kashmir Valleys’ (1901) by Marion Doughty. Everything is fine with the Sahib’s description except from one minor detail that can be observed in the accompanying fine photograph of beautiful Mrs. Assiza. The pheran that Assiza is wearing has a fold at the lower end below the knee. The fold is called laad’th and is unique to the pheran of Kashmiri Pandit woman. Even though on first glance the dresses of all Kashmiris may seem same, there were always some distinct differences between the dressings of the two communities. Kashmiri Muslim woman never wear a pheran with laad’th. The actual name of the woman is not given, she is just the wife of one Mr. Aziza, boatman of the writer. In fact that name should be Aziz, Kashmiris tend to add an a at the end of the name when calling out for a person, more so if the name happens to be Aziz.

So what were you writing Memsaab and what's the story of Mrs. Aziza.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fakir Kashmir, 1904

Found the photograph in A lonely summer in Kashmir (1904) by Margaret Cotter Morison

'Is he still around?'
'Yes,' the teenage boy took he eyes off the road, one hand still on the steering, turned back and with a victorious smile added,'they tried to shoot even him. But he just swirled and the bullets passed right through his pheren. Not a single bullet touched his body. Yes, he is still around. Wandering.'
'Are you talking about the one that roamed in Ganderbal area?'
'No. There were more with that name?'
'It seems so.'


On his one shoulder he always carried around a pot of burning coal. Whether summer or winter.  As he walked past, one could see the molten flesh of his bare back.

On a bridge one day, he stopped an angrez couple and much to their shock, announced that within an year they would have a baby boy. Married or not, whether they understood what he said or not, together or not. In an year, a boy was duly born.


Anini sui, wavum sui, lajum sui panasui.
I brought the nettle, I sowed the nettle, and then the nettle stung me.

In explaining the origins of this Kashmiri proverb about "Ingratitude", James Hinton Knowles in his book 'A Dictionary of Kashmiri Proverbs and Sayings' (1885) tells the story of a Kashmiri fakir who grew soi on his palm.

In olden times there was a famous fakir in Kashmir, who punished himself in the following way. He uprooted a nettle, and fixing some mud upon the palm of his hand, planted the nettle therein. All the day and all the night for several years he held out his hand with the palm uppermost, and the nettle in it. The plant grew and was strong and by reason of this, thousands of Hindus used to visit the fakir, and give him alms. The fakir had a disciple, who eventually became very jealous of the honour which his master received ; and one day in a fit of anger, he hit the nettle, earth and all, out of his master's hand. The fakir then spoke the above saying concerning both the nettle and the disciple, whom he had brought up and nourished from his infancy. The sting-nettle is a plant sacred to Shiva, who is said to have first planted it. Hindus pluck the leaves, and throw them over the god's favourite symbol, the lingam.


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