Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kashmir around 1915

Photographs from 'Our summer in the vale of Kashmir' (1915) by Frederick Ward Denys.

A 'Bathing Spot' at Achabal. Interestingly, most other writers didn't given credit to Kashmiris when it came to bathing.

 Ruins of Avantipur

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dilemma of Shyam Kaul and Sula Bhat.

A story sent in by my uncle Roshan Lal Das. Growing up in Jammu, I spent most of 90s hearing stories like these. 

Duck Hunter near Sopore.
He is re-winding the turban to be photographed.
 His musket, lashed to the boat, projects forward.
 From: The Romantic EastBurma, Assam, & Kashmir by Walter Del Mar 1906
One of the earliest photograph showing common Kashmiris holding guns.
In 1990 most of the Kashmiri Pandits left Kashmir as the emboldened terrorists had started their killings on a selective basis. One Shyam Kaul who was working as a public analyst (the one who tests food stuffs), did not leave, though he had already sent his family to Jammu. Maybe he was made of sterner stuff or maybe he was a little naïve or a little daft. The public labortary is situated at the base of Shankracharya Hill in Drugjan (historically known as Durgavanjni). A narrow road connects Dalgate to this labortary.This narrow road had become a den for gun-totting terrorists. Most of the time they would loiter in these lanes and bylanes which formed arterial ways to their hideouts.The place had an advantage that one could also hide behind the bushes in Shankracharya Hills.

During this time one terrorist who was nicknamed as ‘Cobra’ quickly gained notoriety. He was dark and he could climb drain pipes and gun down his victims right in their bedrooms. By 1994, the time our episode took place he had become the most feared terrorist of Drugjan, Gojwara and Dalgate area. Those days government employees in Kashmir did not do any tangible work so Shyam Kaul too did nothing in his office. He would usually visit the office of the physician in governor's office and while away his time in idle gossip. He had a bad habit of bragging in his own office that he had close links with governor Saxena - a man who was anathema to the terrorists and their cohoots.

One day as he was entering his office he was accosted by a ‘pheran’ clad bearded chap. A Klashinkov could easily be seen hidden beneath the pheran. Soon he was joined by another person.

"You have been summoned by our leader Cobra Sahib", the bearded guy informed him.

 "I am a simple government  employee, why should he ask for me," Shyam Kaul said.

"He wants to check your antecedents," said the bearded man, holding him tight by his collar now.

Shyam Kaul jerked himself free and ran inside to his office, for going in opposite direction would surely have invited a volley of bullets. Luckily for him, his head of the department popularly known as Sula Bhat was there to attend some meeting. Shyam Kaul excitedly rushed towards his room shouting, “I am being killed, please save me.”

Soon the terrorists also entered and overpowered Shyam Kaul. By this time other staffers gathered near the door and looked on helplessly. One of the terrorists took out his revolver, pointed it at the temple bone of Shyam Kaul and was about to pull the trigger. But for Sula Bhat's timely intervened.

"Look here my brother, if you kill him here,the paramilitary persons will come and take us all to jail, there by affecting everyone of us present her and our families. It will be better if you do this when the office time is over. I will hand him over to you near the Dalgate bus stand, for handing him over near the office will again invite trouble from security people.” 

The staffers seconded the solution and appealed.

The militants agreed and now waited outside in the street. At about 4 P.M, Shyam Kaul accompanied by Sula Bhat came down the street towards Dalgate bus stand. They had hatched a plan. A bus was about to leave. Shyam Kaul ran fast and jumped into the bus which had speeded by then. The militants could not do anything as the bus was full of people.

Shyam Kaul dropped down the bus near Badami Bagh cantonment. He went to the camp and narrated his sob story to the army people. They listened to him sympathetically. They asked him about all the details of militant hideouts in Dalgate and about the kind of ammunition these men had. They were surprised at the wealth of information he had. He stayed with them for the night and early next morning they sent him safely to Jammu. 

Sula Bhat had managed to free himself from the militant's wrangle by calling Shyam Kaul a wily fox and many other names. As soon as Shyam Kaul left, the army alongwith the local police swooped over whole of Dalgate area. They seized a lot of ammunition and arrested nearly a dozen militants including the two who had accosted Shyam Kaul. Cobra along with his mentor Bilal Lone escaped. Bilal Lone was one of the four most sought after terrorists of the valley. He escaped to Nepal. Cobra was later killed in an ambush.

After two years in jail and lot of torture most of these arrested militants gave undertakings to the authorities that they will eschew violence and lead a peaceful life, if let off. Some of these men later joined counter insurgency group known as ‘Ikhwane-Musalmeen.’ As soon as the two militant,s from whom Shyam Kaul had escaped, were let off, they confronted Sula Bhat. Now Sula Bhat was in trouble.

Three conditions were put forth before him: Either he should produce Shyam Kaul before them. Or he should procure two Kalashnkovs for them which was in replacement for the ones which had been seized from them.Or he should pay them Rs.4 Lakhs in lieu of the cost of two Kalashinkovs. Sula Bhat was given seven days to pick his option by the two men who seemed inclined to go into the new booming terror business as independent operators. 

Now Sula Bhat was in quandary. Calling the cops was more dangerous. What could he tell them? What could he expect? But there was one person who could may offer a way out. 

Dr. Rasool Raina, who lived earlier in Sula Bhat's neighborhood, had taken to militancy in his fifties. His son, who had been a fierce terrorist, had been killed in a shootout and after the son's death, his family was harassed by Security Agencies. Subsequently, Rasool Raina along with his family fled to POK. Dr. Raina was now conducting militancy related operations from POK.

Somehow, Sula Bhat got in touch with him and requested for a reprieve. “Don’t worry, someone will come over to your house, he will hand you a two rupee note which will have a large hole in the center. If anyone tries to harm you, just show him the note, he will not dare touch you,” Dr. Raina assured him. Sure enough, a two rupee note with a hole in center made its way to Sula Bhat. That day onward he never came close to harm (except may one other time, more of that story, later). 

In 1999, the conditions of Kashmir were a little better, certainly different. That year I was transferred back to Srinagar holding an additional charge of Public Analyst. One fine day, those two ex-militants came to my office asking me if I had any information about Shyam Kaul. I treated them with cinnamon flavoured ‘kahwa’ and plain refused that I ever knew any man named Shyam Kaul

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pairim Kashmiri

Shikarawalla. 2008.

Walter Del Mar, the man who may well have coined the term 'Resident Sahibs', and a man described by newspapers of his time as 'an inveterate globe-trotter, but one of the best specimens of that class',  in his 'The Romantic East Burma, Assam, & Kashmir' (1906)  tells us Kashmiris have nipari, mimuz and battekheu when they intend to have breakfast, lunch and dinner, respectively. In fact, he borrows these terms from an extensive list of workable, passable Kashmiri words provided by Walter Roper Lawrence in his 'The Valley of Kashmir' 1895.But some of these words, like battekheu (I had food, I have had food, Had Food?), are grammatically confusing. 

Another word that Walter Del Mar borrows from Lawrence is even more interesting. He uses 'Pairim gad' for Mahseer. Lawrence translates it as "Punjab Fish". Now, the thing is: Kashmiris have  Panjayeeb G'aaer or Punjabi Singhara (Chest Nuts), and these aren't called 'Pairim  G'aaer' so why would Punjab Fish be called Pairim gad. In fact, Pairim in Kashmiri would mean Outsider fish. In Kashmir, Pairim is used to denote anything that comes from outside Kashmir.


For any tourist visiting Kashmir, a Shikara ride is a must. During my Shikara ride in 2008, the Shikarawalla, acting a good guide, kept tour-guiding in a Kashmiri tinged Hindustani to my little younger cousins.

'...Aur Yeh Loatus flower hai. Abyhi ye chota hai...' (...this is a Lotus flower. Yet to bloom... ) and at this moment my uncle suddenly interrupted him, 'Tche Kyoho Chukh Pairim Karaan! Dopuy na as Che Kashir.' (Why do you speak in outside language? I told you we are Kashmiri.) Hearing this, the guide, half-smiling, switched to Kashmiri, for sometime. Soon enough, nasal vocals, high treble and dumb beats of a hit bollywood song hit up coming from the stereo deck mounter at the back of a distant Shikara. As if on cue, the Shikarawalla again shifted to Pairim. Soon enough my uncle again interrupted him, 'Hye Dal Batta. Koshur Karu.' (Hey you Dal eating Pandit! Speak in Kashmiri.) and shot a laugh. The Shikarawalla was too young, I don't know if he understood the reverse joke, but he too was by now laughing. Maybe he understood it. I am not sure if my little cousins, all Pairims, understood it, but they too were laughing. Maybe they didn't. I looked at the dark waters beneath us, the dark waves we were cutting through over the noises. I saw weed that gave the deceptive illusion of friendly shallowness to the waters of Dal. Like you won't drown. Like you would somehow bounce back on the boat. A little niece dropped her hand in water. Wait. I remembered my first Shikara trip over the waters of Dal.  A trip taken years ago, one evening, when I was a kid. I remembered how afraid I was when one of my elder cousin put his hand in the water and pulled some water hyacinth on board. Now I laughed.


Map of Cashmere, 1901

From 'A Handbook for travellers in India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon' (1901) by publishing firm, John Murray


Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Romantic Kashmir, 1906

Photographs from 'The Romantic East: Burma, Assam, & Kashmir' by Walter Del Mar (1906)

 Shankracharya Hill
 Wular Lake


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mainz Raat Soundtrack

As promised I give you the OST extracted (and a bit cleaned up) from the film Mainz Raat. In addition to original compositions, I have included some interesting dialogues, background scores and folk melodies.
In all there are 13 tracks.
First 4 are background scores (my favorite being the track 3 for its very modern violinish touch).
5th Track is a harvesting folk song.
Track 6 covers some dialogues.
Track 7 and 8 are Kashmiri folk songs
Track 10 is a traditional Kashmiri song for Mainz Raat.
Rest of the tracks are original songs written for the film by famous artist G.R. Santosh and put to music by Mohan Lal Aima.

Singers for the film included Nirmla and famous Raj Begum, besides Mohan Lal Aima himself.  (Because of lack of information, I can't assign which songs were sung by Raj Begum (expect maybe Mustafa) and which one were by Nirmla)

Track 9: Lalwaan
Track 11: Mustafa
Track 12: Vyasiye
Track 13: Nazray Nazray

Download the complete Album (.mp3) here: Mediafire Link, .zip, 31.74 MB.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mainz Raat, 1964. The first Kashmiri Film

The film starts with a man welcoming a recently orphaned young son of his sister into his family. The man's young daughter takes a special liking for the orphan boy. The plot is set for a childhood romance that will blossom in youth. The local bad boy of the village with perhaps a linking for the girl grows an instant dislike for the boy. How the world conspires against them and how their love survives, that in a nutshell is the premise of the film

On the surface of it, there isn't anything new to this story written by Ali Mohammed Lone, a man with literary background. It is plot of countless Hindi films. But it is the social background, the Kashmiri culture, within which this simple story is told, its music, the idioms of its language and the gesticulation of its people, that all add various unique delicious layers to the experience of watching this story unfold on screen. Even to a  Kashmiri viewer it offers layers of ecstatic wonder, layers that the interested viewer can devour to his contentment in each viewing.

 Although nothing much is known about the film's Director, Jagi Rampaul and the Producer, M.R. Seth, this film was considered path breaking enough back in 1964 to win a President's Silver Medal. Generations of Kashmiri people remember this film for some great performances by lead cast: Omkar Nath Aima as hero Sulla.Sultan, Mukta as heroine Sarye/Sara, and an outstanding act by Pushkar Bhan as villian Barkat. But most of all this film was remembered for its use of folk songs and some beautiful new Kashmiri songs written by famous poet-writer-painter artist G.T.Santosh and set to music by great Mohan Lal Aima. For generations this film has been known as the first Kashmiri film ever made.

What now follows is not a review of the film, it's something else, it's how the film interact with memories.

The opening scene of the film when Rajab arrives in the village to check up on Sultan.
Children playing Hopscotch or Sazlog in Kashmir, taken by James Ricalton in c. 1903,
Rajab, known fondly as Rajab Kaka or Rajab Uncle, distributing sweets, maybe Shirin or Nabad, sugar candies, to children of the village.
After burying Sultan's mother, Rajab Kaka takes Sultan alongwith him back to his village. As they start of, a woman hands him Kulache for the journey and beseeches him to take care for the motherless child.

Sara, the daughter of Rajak and Sultan hit it off instantly. Meanwhile...

Sara's brother Razak is chilling out with Barkat the bad boy. Barkat spots the Pandit boy, Poshkar walking with a stack of hay on his back. Just for fun, Barkat flings his cigarette bud onto the load on Poshkar. As Poshkar slowly and without knowing carries a blaze on his back, the bad boys laugh out at the scene.

Sultan and Sara reach the spot, Poshkar gets rescued by Sultan. With this episode Sultan makes a friend, the Pandit boy Poshkar.

'Myane Bhagwano', O my God. Poskar's cry on realizing that his stack was on fire.

'love-lighted eyes that hang over their wave'

The boy and the girl grow up, already deeply in love.

'Batt'e Aaprawun'. Sara feeds Sultan.
Barkat fumes.

Sara and Sultan will marry each other, is an eventuality even hinted by old Rajab Kaka.

Notice the headgear on the woman who walks into Poshkar's shop to barter an egg

A Kashmiri woman drawn by drawn by H.R. Pirie  in around 1908

The only comic sequence involves a woman who walks into Poshkar Nath's shop to barter an egg. In a demonstration of typical Kashmiri humour, Poshkar Nath quip's about the size of the egg.

After the joke, the stage gets set for the gloom to descend. Barkat starts poisoning Razak's ears, how the village people are not saying nice things about Sara and Sultan. Razak, in a round around way tries to reign in his sister, but Sara snubs him. Razak goes to his father complaining about relation of Sara and Sultan. Razak seems more worried about the fact that Sultan can stake a claim on what he believes to be his property and land. Rajab Kaka tries to put some sense into his son, but the worms of doubt get laid into his mind too. After a villager also asks him about Sara and Sultan, the father feeling ashamed, publicly lashes out at Sara.

Now Barkat plays he next move. Using his minions, he takes the matter to village panchayat with the purpose of throwing Sultan out to village.

As the minions start to take control of the panchayat's proceedings, Pandit Poshkar Nath moves in to defend the case in favor of his friend Sultan.

The matter ends with Poshkar Nath not only stopping Sultan's excommunication but using his wit even manage to get a ruling that Sultan has a right to the property.

Barkat isn't very happy with this outcome. The object of his immediate anger is Poshkar.

Barkat plans to destroy Poshkar by looting the supplies coming in from city for Poshkar's shop. As the plan is being executed, Sultan comes in at the last moment and fights off the looters.

'Kal'e Thol' - Sultan's  Kashmri Headbutt.
The only other genuine Kashmiri combat move involves throwing a Kangri over  the opponent's head.
I have actually seen my father perform this artistic maneuver many moon ago.
After this the forces that try to seperate Saran and Sultan only get stronger. Sara sees a storm coming. She shares her worries with her friend, the wife of Poshkar. [There voices drowned in the gurgling of the stream.]

Meanwhile, Poshkar Nath tries to talk sense into Rajab Kaka who now seems to be dying of guilt. Rajab Kaka admits that he still loves Sultan like his own son but it's the voice of the villagers that he fears.

The lovers grow sadder. Razak sings his love's lament. Rajab Kaka dies. Razak get's into mounting debt due to his gambling habit. Barkat makes his next move. Sara knows what is coming her way.

A Kashmiri Hanji woman with Kanz and Muhul.1904
 She talks to her friend about the fate that has befell her.
She asks God for help.
The village bard sings. The visuals get poetic.

Sara gets buried under autumn leaves of Chinar. Harud, autumn is upon the village and upon Sara. Play of seasons is constant theme in modern Kashmiri literature. This scene pays dues to that theme.

Razak finally gives in and to settle his debts, agrees to marry-off his sister Sara to Barkat.

Sara's Mainz Raat arrives. Before the night, she meets Sultan one last time. Sultan bemoans his fate, swears over his love and respect for Rajab Kaka. Sultan bemoans his orphan status.

He tells her he is happy for her. He tells her maybe it wasn't meant to be. He asks Sara why isn't there Henna, Mainz , on her hand.

 The film gets its title from this sequence. It's the most significant scene of the film.Sara's Mainz raat is symbolically arranged by her lover Sultan when he puts bangles around her arms and wishes her happiness.

Sara is married off over the sound of Kashmiri wedding song. [At this moment my mother walks into the room, without asking what I was upto, goes through my cloths singing the song from the film. A song about Mainz.]
The brilliance of Mohan Lal Aima's use of music shines through. He was at his peak back then. Even the use of background score for someone the scenes is well ahead of time and imaginative. And the music is just not limited to folk, there's contemporary film, with a distinct Indian Cinema touch of the ear and there is classical Indian music setup. [I will be posting a Soundtrack from the film sometime soon. A cleaned up sound extracts from this film]

Sultan looks on.

 Barkat get a wife. He is infuriated at seeing those bangles around Sara's wrist.

He knows he has caged a bird.

Now, having again lost all his possessions, Razak realizes his follies. He is repentant.

We now see a new side of Sara's personality. There is residence. She fights with her husband over the state of his brother. She wants Barkat to help Razak out. Barkat too notices this side of Sara's personality. He who used to flick knives is now beaten by the verbal lashing of his wife.

He gets a quasi heart-attack. We now see a new side of Barkat's personality too. Strong, evil Barkat now comes across a weakling afflicted by consequences of nature. He, the corrupter of simple village folk now sees cure, refuge in city, the capital of corruption. It's a textbook Indian film situation but to see Srinagar at the seat of corrupt requires a present Kashmiri viewer to really challenge his senses.

Srinagar is the waterdown version of big bad Bombay in this social setup.

Barkat acts like an a Kashmiri version of Devdas. He wants to drink as much alcohol as there is water in the ocean. Definitive Devdas inspiration. He smokes, drinks and gambles. Back then when Srinagar wasn't yet cleansed, among other things Srinagar still had vice centers like gambling den, drinking joints and cinema hall. Now these are only private pleasures in the city.

Sara now shows another facet of her personality. She now weeps for her husband.

Over the grave of her father, she cries for husband and wishes his return. Her two brothers, Razak and the Pandit brother Poshkar Nath console her.

Now, Sara, the woman who used to tie threads on Pir's mazaar for fulfillment of her love, grabs a black veil and prays to Mustafa, the head of all Pirs.

The beauty of it is that this transitions is presented so logically that it takes imagination to conjure up conflicting natures of her personality.

She is delighted when Sultan volunteers to find and bring back Barkat from the city.

Sultan grabs Barkat from a den and brings him to Sara.

Barkat is dying. He is repentant. He wants the bird be set free.

Barkat dies.
Earlier in the movie on being asked by Poashar Nath about getting Sara married, Rajak Kaka had said that by the end of Harud, autumn, Sara will be happily married off.

The season has changed. Harud is over. We hears the songs of reaping.

We see Sara and Sultan together working the field, reaping. We see a new sun rising.

I first watched this film on Doordarshan in its afternoon regional film telecast on some weekend more than a decade and a half ago when I was still a teenager. I must admit I didn't grasp most of it back then but it felt significant back then as some of the sights and sounds from the film remained with me for a long time.

A couple of years back, when Kashmir again started churning inside my head, I remembered this film. Given the state of film archives in India, I never thought I would be able to watch it again. I felt the loss of this film.

The complete film, probably procured from Pune film archives (which for some unknown reasons does not list it in its online listing) is now available on Youtube channel of Rajshri.  For some strange reason a quick google search on this film will have you believe that the film was made in 1977. Which of course is wrong. It was made in 1964. And for obvious, self-defeating financial reasons the channel uploader had tagged this film with all kind of nasty, profane keywords (hence the pathetic related videos over there). Which of course is wrong. But at least we now have the film, even if it now swims in a river of innoquitues that is Internet.


I cannot by help think that if this film was to be re-made now, it will be pregnant with elaborate political connotations and undercurrents. It will be something flashy and sense numbing, something that will try to educate you but won't let you think, something that will try to interpret ideas but won't dare you to interpret. It will be real. It won't be cinema. It won't be something as simple as Mainz Raat of 1964, the first Kashmiri film. 

"The first film Maanziraat was released in 1968. It was directed by Pran Kishore, featuring Omkar Aima as the hero and Krishna Wali as the heroine, with Som Nath Sadhu, Pushkar Bhan and others as the supporting cast"
~ Came across this interesting  bit in 'A History of Kashmiri Literature' by Trilokinath Raina. In the original credits Pran Kishore Kaul is mentioned as Assistant Director. Also the lead actress is named as 'Mukta'. But from what I have heard, the actress as almost certainly Krishna Wali. Pandit community is so small that I have actually heard about the tough days that the woman had to face in her real life.


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