Friday, December 31, 2010

flight of Katij

Papilio Polytes, Jammu. 2010.
 A butterfly that mimics the appearance of
 an unpalatable  butterfly so as to protect it self from predators.

'Where are you? What's going on?'

'Office. Nothing.'

'Okay. Guess what. I am right now crossing Jhelum on a boat.  The traffic on the bridge was a bit too much today. So, I thought why not. So here I am crossing it on a boat. Just like old days. I thought I should call you. '

'Do you have the camera with you?'

'No, I forgot.'

'What? How can you?'

'Is a man supposed to carry a camera on him while going to work? There is nothing here that I have't seen. Be Chusa Tourist yeti. I am not  a touristAnyway, go back to work. I will try to keep it with me next time. There is always next time.'

I pull the mobile off my ear, place it in my pocket and stair back at a computer screen that for a moment still remains illegible. Envy was soon replaced by something else, perhaps not soon enough. Perhaps a wish, a longing, a regret. In that moment, I knew it was indeed turning out to be a deliciously difficult year.

At the start of year 2010 my father, nearing retirement, found himself back in office in Srinagar. In the run up to it he spend hours on phone discussing the 'Ardar'. My mother and sister found it a worrisome prospect. 'Adar hasa drav, voyn kyah karav!' (Order is on the way, what will we do now!) I had romantic notions about it. First thing I did was to ensure that he buys himself a camera. 'At least, do not return empty handed.' All this 'Dangerous Place, Kashmir' talk is so often repeated, it all is probably half made-up ghost stories to lull the civilized people to sleep, to just close their eyes. At the end of it, I thought, his adventures in an alien Hindu plains may outshine his adventures in his native Muslim valley. Imagine getting your head smeared with vermilion while being proclaimed a 'Hindu-Brother' by a bunch of drunken louts in a seedy Beer bar in Aurangabad. 'Phikar knot, Pandit Ji! Now you are in Hindu Maharashtra. In this land, proudly sport your tilak, without fear.'

 'India Bahut Bada Hai, Becho-Becho, Yaha Shamshaan ki rakh bhi bikti hai',  is the mantra he has been chanting for last twenty years. It remains one of the few mantras on which I agree with him.

The decision of going back was sealed by him with, 'Woyn Gasav Kasheer ti.' (Now, I will go to Kashmir too). Economics always wins. So he packed his bags and reported back to duty in Kashmir after a gap of around twenty years. I must mention here that, I am in awe of my father's packing skills. Experience has made him expert. Even twenty years back, on some-days, he was packing his bags in Srinagar and reporting to duty in a place called Handwara, working on irrigation canals. Later, he packed bags in 1990 and left for Jammu. Two decades later he packed bags and left for Delhi. Always with family. A few years later moved to Hyderabad and Aurangabad, alone. Now, he was going back to Kashmir.

'I have taken to that place. Kashmir. You won't understand. You were too young when we left. You probably don't remember.'

'No I do.'

'Really! How is that possible? You must have been only...'

'No, I am just kidding. So what's going on. Howz KASHMIR?'

'Hmm...I saw a Katij Ool (a Barn Swallow's nest) a couple of days ago.'

'What's a Katij?'

'Ye cha na aasan ek bird. (It's a bird). It arrives in spring. Flies in a really peculiar way. When I was a kid I used to sit on a high window and watch it for hours while it tried to outpace and outmanoeuvre the buses plying on the road.'

'What's so special about this Ool?'

'You have to see it to believe it. The one I saw recently had built a nest under a Hanji's houseboat on Jhelum.

'What do you mean below it?'

You remember the Zero-Bridge. Well, while talking to a boatman there I asked his whatever happened to Katij. If  they still arrive. The man lead me to his boat and showed a recently built nest.'

'Did you take a picture?'

'No, I didn't have the camera with me.'

'Again! Did you buy it just to photograph yourself cooking Roganjosh in a hotel room? What am I supposed to do with fifty photographs having a bunch of Uncle Jis, who I just do not know, all holed up in a room eating your hand cooked mutton?'

'Those are for me. I was cooking because the hotel staff here, for some strange reason, just does not know how to cook meat.

'Isn't the staff Kashmiri?'

'These kids are from Chamba or Garhwal, besides all sorts of Biharis. What do they know about cooking meat?'

My father at a 'Pandit' Hotel, the kind around zero bridge, the kind often run by a reformed former militant, the kind that houses Hindu government employees during Durbar move to Srinagar. He shared his room with three or four other Pandit employees caught in a similar situation, the situation faced by a dwindling tribe of Pandit government employees, the situation of the employees who are suddenly asked to report back to job after a gap of twenty years, the situation of Rip Van Winkle. Only there was Rip Van Winkle-Panti from government side too.

'I pretty much started my career in the same way. At Hiranagar near Jammu. From the train, on way to Jammu, you can still see the water channels I worked on.'

'Not boasting, but you can see the things I built online.'

'Online-Shonline. Cement and Iron are real. My fist in your face in real. Not this software thing.'
'It is funny. I am here sharing a room with a bunch of guys and you are there sharing your room with a bunch of guys.'

'The people here laugh when I tell them I have seven houses.'

The Muslim guys in the office would often ask him, 'Tohi Keetah Ghari Pandiji'. (How many houses do you have?)And my father would reply, 'Me Che Voyn Sath Ghar.' (My one house in now divided in seven). They seldom understood the meaning of the claim. Instead, my father spend too much time getting dragged into arguments over things like, "Isn't world Beautiful? Surely, someone created it. So, Pandit think evolution is a fact? Why do your gods have 5 heads and 10 hands? And what about the stones in your home?"

Post script: Less than a year later, another order arrived sending my father back to Jammu and onto his retirement. A few months later another fresh round of violence started in Kashmir.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

'Don't Basherakawa Me'

A Marwari friend of mine calls me up to tell me:'We had a visitor from your place yesterday.'
'My place'
'A Kashmiri. Kashmir. Your place. You folks are quite something.'

I know. I know which way the conversation will go this point onwards. The last time he called me up to talk about people from 'my place', that was about a year or so back, the conversation was about a Kashmiri truck driver opening up his heart in middle of Delhi's Loha Mandi to a bunch of shop-helps. He told them how his life was messed up because he, a poor Kashmiri, was caught between Militants and Army. 'Yes it is bad,' shop-helps conceded. But time and again some shop-helps, much to the displeasure of the Kashmir, kept interjecting his laments to remind him what his people did to the Pandits, the Hindus. 'We did nothing. They left on their own.'

'You folks are quite something. What do you expect?'
'Is this why you called me? You @$#!' I have stopped peddling stories. I am through telling them about the ordeal, the exodus, the great evil that evil men did, the evil that drove them, drove us out, the apple and the almond farms and the assorted addendum. I have to stop listening too.

'Yes. Kashmiri. So listen. He came in a Lancer. A Pashmina dealer, we have known him for more than 10 years. And I didn't know that. My family has had many dealings with him.'
'Yes, they operate that way.'
'My mother was buying Pashmina for her would-be bahu.'
'That would be your would-be wife. How's your Sheesh Mahal coming along? Is it finished? It has been what two years? Do you plan to cover it with Pashmina? You Marwari. Boozwa pig.'
'Yeah. So. He greeted me in English. Funny guy. '
'Pashmina he gave us for fifteen. A special discount price, he said, specially for us. My father told him not to misuse to term. Discount. It's his take on Geelani that I found interesting. Funny you people are no doubt! Freee...'
'For fifteen. Are you sure that is the real stuff? Because...'
'Yeah, he said it is some hybrid or something. New stuff. Some Kalakari or Kamkari.'
'Kalamkari. What that got to do with...anyway I don't know what you got but you got it cheap.'
'My father asked him about the situation.'
I have to stop telling random strangers travelling in  trains about the situation. You can keep advising GOI and GOP about how to go about solving the situation. You can keep exposing the truth to the world.
'What can we do against Goondas? That's what he said.'
'I am working. Don't you have Loha to sell. I gotta...'
'China wants to make Geelani the Dalai Lama.'
' He said China wants to make Geelani the Dalai Lama. Tum log!'
'Chal bye! I gotta run. Bye. You Marwari @$#!er.'

Call over, I listen to Dimyo Dilas Gandyo Valas Paertho Gilass Kulni tal.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Kashmiri Durzies/Tailors/Sitcz, 1890s

A tailor at Jammu. 1917. Found these two ar site
A Tailor Shop, 2008


The shops where carved furniture, silver, bronzes and brasses are to be found are for the most part in private houses, or what have been private houses and changed into shops. The tailors, however — and there are a great many of them — have shops in the bazaars, and these are frequently, like the bazaars themselves, open to the street, although the more important ones that cater to European trade have arranged rooms in the rear of the front where their goods are to be seen in greater privacy and where the measurements are taken and the garments are tried on. At some of these it is quite surprising to find such excellent materials, and even more so to see how well the garments are cut and made, especially if the purchaser has a garment of a certain style that he can give the tailor as a sample. One of these men, for instance, has a cutter who was taught, or learned his trade, in a London shop where there were many American patrons ; and some of the garments made by this tailor are so well cut and shaped that it is impossible to realize, or to believe, that they have not come from London, or Paris, or New York.

More astonishing, however, than all else, and seemingly incredible to many, is the cost of these articles. For instance, one gentleman had a suit of homespun that had been made in America and for which he had paid eighty dollars. As this was getting a little old he asked one of the tailors if it would be possible to get any more cloth like it. The tailor said:
"Certainly, I can get you some exactly like that." The gentleman asked how long it would take, and was told about three weeks. The gentleman exclaimed: "What! is this possible? How can you get cloth out from England in so short a time as that?" "Oh!" the tailor replied, "it would not be brought out from England. It would be made here." "What!" the gentleman questioned, "can cloth like this be made here in Kashmir?" "Yes," said the tailor, "and if it is not satisfactory you need not take it. The only thing necessary will be to loan me one of your garments so that I can give it to the weaver who will make the cloth."

This was done and in less than a month a piece of cloth large enough for a couple of suits of clothes was shown the gentleman, and so nearly like his own was the material that it was almost impossible to distinguish one from the other, the only difference being in favor of the native product, which seemed somewhat nicer in quality. This suit of clothes was made and lined with silk, there being three garments — a coat, waistcoat and trousers — and when it was finished it fitted just as well as the suit that he had been wearing. For this suit of clothes, made of cloth that had been especially woven for him and lined with an excellent quality of silk, he paid only the equivalent of a little more than six dollars as against eighty dollars. His wife was so pleased with this experiment that she took the balance of the cloth and had it made into a dress that would have cost her at least a hundred and fifty dollars at home, and for which she paid seven dollars.

And what is true of this suit is true of all the clothes and cloth made in the Valley by the natives, and though it really seems incredible that such could be the case, it is an absolute
fact. These, however, represent the expensive and extravagant suits, as a homespun suit without silk lining could be bought for from between three and four dollars, and with such suits
a cap, or hat of some sort is made of the same material without charge.

- Our summer in the vale of Kashmir. By F. Ward (1915)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

winter treat

My Mother and Massi hit the I.N.A market, a blessing for immigrants in Delhi, and came back with loads of Var'muth (or Krehin Dal, as Kashmiri Muslims usually call it), dried Kashmiri Chilly (Hotch' Mar'tchWangun), Wangan Hat'ch, Al'Hat'ch and Kasher Wari. And not not to forget, a Kangri. The winter is officially here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Security Break

At Gulmarg.
I too was enticed by guns.
I too was threatened. Once.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bichhua, a Kashmiri chutney from Himachal

A product of EarthyGoods, this mango chutney with the catch line 'a traditional Kashmiri recipe in memory of Saraswati Mushran' presents an intriguing mystery. A Kashmiri recipe for Mango chutney!


Update August 2018

This was in fact a German product marketed as "Kashmiri"

Nandita Haskar discusses this post in a passage from here book The Flavours of Nationalism (2018).

She write:

Saraswati Mushran was my father's older sister. She taught Linnet, her English daughter-in-law, the art of Kashmiri cooking. Many years later Saraswati Mushran died, Linnet bought my father's apple orchard in Himachal and started making jams, just the way her German mother, Katherine, had taught her. The jams are famous as Bhuira jams - Bhuira is the name of the village in Himachal Pradesh where the orchard is situated."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Shiv Temple at Gulmarg

The Shiva temple at Gulmarg, also known as “Rani Temple” or “Maharani Temple”,  built in 1915 by Mohini Bai Sisodhia, the third wife of Maharaja Hari Singh. Famous for having a Muslim priest.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

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