Sunday, February 17, 2013

Vivekananda's Last Day in Valley

Years were 1897-98. Vivekananda wanted to set up as Math in Srinagar. He needed some land. Like most visitors, he stayed on houseboats, traveled on boats. Camped at sweet European camping spots. Met the royalties. But land was refused by the British Regent Adelbert Talbot. With his foreign friends, he celebrated American Independence day floating on Jhelum, holding on to a locally made crude American flag. He even wrote a poem about the day: Bethink thee how the world did wait, And search for thee, through time and clime. A few years later, died on the same day of July. In Kashmir, he visited Mughal gardens - Shalimar, Nishat... and ancient temples - Bijbehar and Mattan. He climbed hills- Shankaracharya and Hari Parbat, and trekked his way to mountain abode of god Amarnath.  Here he told shell shocked Sadhus to not treat Muslims, and others, as infidels. Suffered what his doctor called a 'massive heart attack'. Survived and claimed: 'Now I have seen Shiva too'. In valley, he worshiped four-year-old daughter of his Mohammedan boatman as goddess Uma. He told Pandits that it is fine to send their children to a missionary school. At Khir Bhawani, he wondered why Goddess of this land didn't protect herself from the Muslims. Claimed Mother Goddess answered, 'It's alright! I protect you, not the other way around.' Here he picked up a Muslim devotee, a man he cured of migraine by a roll of a hand over the head. Here he made a mistake and found himself in middle of an ancient game of metaphysical star war. This man used to be a devotee of a local Muslim Fakir. The Fakir on losing a soul, cursed the man in orange robe, 'Before you leave this valley, you shall taste your own blood. You shall remember, you too have a body. You shall vomit blood. Mark my words!' And the words soon turned true. The story goes: Just before leaving the valley, Vivekananda vomited blood. It shook his core: 'I have seen gods, talked to them, understood their mind, and yet something as crude as this can happen to me. I can be cursed. How? Why? What chance do the common folk have? What are we up against?' His mind tossed and turned. His disciples took notes. Once back in his land, virgin-widow of his dead Guru advised, 'Even Shankaracharya couldn't survive these machinations. Even your Guru Ramakrishna was once cursed and vomited blood. Don't worry. It probably saved your life. Had the blood gone to your head, you would have surely died. It's probably all the yoga that you do.' Some disciples wrote: Even gods are susceptible to craft. Rules of craft-  words, written, said and thought - are all binding even on Gods.

* Based on 'The Life of the Swami Vivekananda' by Swami Virajananda (Publisher K.C. Ghosh, 1912) []

"My wooden bow shoots
only arrows of grass
This metropolis finds
only an inept carpenter"

Friday, February 15, 2013

Kashmiri Sword and Guns, 1884

Came across these in a German work titled 'Aus dem westlichen Himalaya: Erlebnisse und Forschungen' by  Károly Jenö Ujfalvy (1884). All these specimen appear to be from Bhaderwah. In Kashmir, the art of gunmaking was introduced during era of Afghan rule. Best of the gunsmiths had shops at Nawatta in Srinagar. There still remain some old makers at Bandook Khar Mohalla, Rainawari (Gunsmith Lane) of the town.

Kashmiri Swords, Divine Bow and Arrows, Shalimar the Clown 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

algebra nay jabar kiya

From an image published in 1952

A popular old ditty from Kashmir on Maths and its mind befuddling mysteries.

Algebra Nay Jabar Kiya
Waqt Ki Rahi Tangi
Kalam Bechara Kya Likhay
Kakaz Rahi Nangi

Algebra unleashed terror.
There wasn't enough time.
What could the poor pen cover?
Naked, was left the Paper.

In Kashmir, Kagaz is Kakaz.
I first came across that ditty thanks to my grandmother who would use bits of it to taunt me while I would fall asleep while reading. Then, recently, I came across two lines in book  'Srinagar: My City My Dream' by Zahid G. Muhammad', a complete 'Kashmir Nostalgia' trip, (first and only book that someone actually bought from Flipkart based on a recommendation on this blog). Then, today, I came across the full ditty in 'Cashmere: Kashir That Was Yarbal' compiled by Somnath Sapru. [PDF download link].


Bhattni/Haenz'bai by Fred Bremner, 1900

Another beautiful case of disjoint text and images. In this case a simple goof-up by an 'angreez' leads to a funny situation where a 'pandit' photograph ends up getting tagged as 'musalmaan', and then almost a century later, due to a vacuum created by lack of information, on a 'social network' the photograph and the actual subject does the rounds in all three social groups, in a 'secular' manner, devoid of any specific context, as a symbol of 'Kashmiri Beauty'.

From National Geographic, 1921. Photograph by Fred Bremner. What is interesting about this photograph is that the caption suggests that the woman pictured is a boatwoman while the special danglers in her ear point to the fact that she is a Pandit woman.

Another photograph. Another pose. Same woman. By Fred Bremner in around 1900.

 Titled 'A Panditani [Hindu] Kashmir' 


Monday, February 11, 2013

Even at the worst of times, it is only love that reaches out to me from Kashmir.

Talked to Posha  today. It was after almost fifteen years. That was when she visited our house in Jammu. She talked so fast, so animated, so alive,  just the way I remembered her. She talked of old times. Kashmiri flew out of her mouth like little sparrows. I wanted to keep pace. Catch all I could. I needed time to find the right words. To reply. I failed. She talked and I listened. And then all my memories of Kashmir came flooding back. She said I had all grown up. She had brought her young son along.  We played 'bat-ball'. I balled and he batted. A debt I needed to pay. She used to ball and I used to bat. She was the first stranger I ever knew. My first friend. When I must have been younger, just a toddler, she too must have sometimes picked me up, hurled me in the air and then caught me. 'Ha'tay'e Posh'ey! Wai Bhagwaan!' Mother must have screamed. And Posha would have just laughed.

Today, she visited again and asked about me. My father told her I often talk about her. He then rang me up and handed the phone to her. We talked for a minute.

I can't write what we talked about and none of it would make any sense. Even at the worst of times, it is only love that reaches out to me from Kashmir.

Summer. 2008
Veena Didi with Posha's mother Mohul, entering their home.
Posha wasn't home.
After marriage she has moved to a new place about half-a-mile down the road. 

Update[26th Feb 2013]: Talked to my mother a few days ago and got the full import of the story.

Posha had an accident while riding her 'scooty' around Chattabal. Yes, she drives a Scooty now. Given the serious nature of the injury, Posha decided to get herself checked up at a better hospital in Amritsar. But there was one problem: her husband was in Bung'lore selling shawls and other Kashmiri merchandise, so there was nobody to take care of her three young children. But bones need mending. So Posha left her eldest son with one neighbour, other son at the house of a friend and her little daughter with her mother Mogul. Then she traveled to Amritsar. While Posh was in Amritsar, Indian Government decided to hang Goru and declare curfew in most of Kashmir. Posh was now stuck. But then she remembered something. She remembered she has a place to stay in Jammu. Posha headed straight for our house, house of her old neighbours from Kashmir. She stayed at our place till the road to Kashmir cleared. She slept in the same room, on the same bed next to my mother, a room with more than half a dozen Gods on four walls. She looks so pretty now. No more running nose. She is not the same old Posha now. She works as a laboratory assistant.  Draws a salary of 25000. In her toes, she has gold rings. Despite her recent injury, for the time she stayed, Posha, not so quietly, singing some song sometimes, sometims shouting,'Bhabhi, Be havav! Aunt, let me show you how to do it!',  went about cleaning and dusting old cupboards, shelves and clearing ceiling corners of cobwebs. She stayed for two days and then went back to Srinagar after the halaat got better.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Picked Kashmir at Delhi Book Fair, 2013

This is the fourth year of the ritual. And it seems the well has finally dried up. Couldn't find much that I hadn't already read. This year's pick:

Kath - Stories from Kashmir
Compiled and translated by Neerja Mattoo
Sahitya Akademi
First Edition, 2011
Rs. 175
Mahmud Gami
by Muzaffar Aazim
Sahitya Akademi (First published 1991), Rs.15)
(Thanks to this one, made an edit to note on Wahab Khar's Shekh Sana)

Next ones are in a language I can't read. Kashmiri. Maybe, I will pick it up someday.

Nehru Bal Pustakalaya
First published 1975
2001, Rs.21

A beautiful page from the book that sold it to me:

And then sold this book too.

An Anthology of Kashmiri Poem
National Book Trust, India
2000, Rs. 65



  1. Picked Kashmir at Delhi Book Fair, 2010
  2. Picked Kashmir at Delhi Book Fair, 2011
  3. Picked Kashmir at Delhi Book Fair, 2012
  4. Picked Kashmir at Delhi Book Fair, 2012 (Part 2)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Our Zoon isn't Cheese enough

“Either it brings tears to their eyes, or else -"
"Or else what?" said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.
"Or else it doesn't, you know.”

I still recall that late night phone call. Someone, a relative, had been killed in Srinagar. That killing became a vindication for my parents that the decision to move to Jammu, a decision much contested by my Grandfather, was right. A storeroom on roof of a relative was the right place for us, it was our refuge.

The stories of Pandit migration that most people read and write, is a story of a single night, and it goes like this, 'And then that morning our family left in a ...' In my family's case, it didn't happen in a single moment. It wasn't just one morning. We moved in parts. And there was more than one such morning. First one to leave was my choti Bua, who back then I used to call Didi. This was the time when threats to Pandit women were openly advertised. Then a few months later, as the frequency of killings increased, it was the turn of wives, children and some essential goods, mostly clothing and gold. My grandparents stayed back. After dropping his wife and children at a relative's place, my father and some uncles went back for their respective parents. They got stuck in the city for a few week. It was the time when Srinagar experienced some of its first few long spells of curfew. During a brief pause in these spells, they too reached Jammu. My family reached Jammu from Chattabal.

And all this time, feeling of fear was unknown to me. In a way, my feeling of normality was protected by my parents and grandparents even as they were experiencing a situation that was questioning their sense of normal. In Srinagar, a city burning under a thousand guns, I was busy chasing cats and dogs. In Jammu, a city burning under a thousand suns, I got busy tracking toads and frogs.

Even that late night phone call didn't change much for me, except for seeding a feeling that something terrible was in fact happening. That it all was not a game that gods were playing. That it was a game of men who believed in gods and paradise. That maybe I should remember it all.

The stories of those days arrived much later. Only after we learnt to speak again. As we learnt to revisit our memories. I heard these stories, over and over again, and because I was listening carefully, I saw them change and evolves, tales getting appended and deducted from the narrative  Till they achieved a definitive narrative form. Rahul Pandita's Our Moon Has Blood Clots captures all the major points of this narrative. It's a narrative that most Kashmiri Pandits believe in and hold close to their heart. And now for some families Rahul Pandita's 'Our Moon Has Blood Clots' too will become part of a family heirloom and an inheritance that consists of books like 'My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir' by Jagmohan, 'Converted Kashmir by Narender Sehgal  (Utpal Publications, 1994) and some old issue of various community magazines. Based on one's political position, one can judge whether it is a good or a bad company of books to keep. But one can't deny that this book is trying to do what these older publications were never even aiming to do, or had no chance of doing. Trigger a debate, bring the narrative of Pandits into the mainstream, even perhaps rescuing it from right-wingers. A few years ago, the possibility that a Ramachandra Guha or a Patrick French should be interested in the story was there, but that they would openly talk about it, or even back it, wasn't. So, I do think it is an improvement. It is something that Pandits were waiting for a long time. A public telling of their personal sorrows.

On page 86 of the book are the details of that phone call. Description of that killing which I grew up listening to in much more brutal details. A story recounted many times by my mother. It goes like this: They say when the killers shot him down on that bridge, the man fell to ground. His killers, with pistols in hand, came around to check on him and to make sure he was dead. The man on ground, in pain, raised his one hand and told his killers, 'Bas. Be ha Mudus. Stop. I am already dead.' A killer shot him through his hand.

The dead man's son, a distant cousin of mine and more of a friend, just about the same age as me, went to a college only miles away from the college that I went to. Even during college days he remained one of the most decent guys I knew.  The decadence of college life barely touched him. They say he is a copy of his father, a man about whom a poet friend (in a poem quoted in the book) asked:

"I used to ask him every time
why doesn't he possess the cunningness of Srinagar
I still await his response
My friend! Yes, I changed my address
since after your murder
it ceased to exist
the bridge of friendship, this Habba Kadal"

The son of that man is not online trolling Kashmiri Muslims, asking for their mass-killing at the hands of Indian Army. He is busy working, building a life, raising a family. He isn't clinging to any sense of victim hood. But that doesn't mean that the killing on that bridge didn't take place. It shouldn't be brushed aside just because it complicates an already complicated situation. Usually at this point, it becomes a question of who suffered more: 'A lot of innocent Kashmiri Muslims, not just one, died on these bridges at the hands of Indian security forces.' And then the usual. 'True.True. But in this case, the perpetrators of these crimes are known to you. You know where to put your anger. The Security forces. The State. But who were killing the Pandits? Men with a dream. Men funded by another State. Men with orders. Men who were worshiped as saviors. Men who inspired at first fighters and later writers. Men who after spilling blood of innocents in the day, at night went back to a life of wives and children. Together dreaming of a bright future. Of course, Pandits question this dream itself. They curse the men who were dreaming. This idea of a religious state that will be a paradise. They point at the present and ask if this is the future they wanted. They point at the state of the State that funded it. They curse the idiot who first labeled these killers 'Secular'. Then they curse the 'Sickulars'. They curse the idiots who formed cozy narratives about what transpired.'

A million things transpired. You need a microscope, not a telescope.

In a world where victims, to prove a point, are increasingly either setting themselves aflame or blowing themselves up along with a few more people, it is not surprising that even well meaning people find it difficult to understand Pandit response (or even a lack of it). They fail to see a possibility that it is a community in which I can still have the freedom to argue with relatives of a dead terror victim about the political nature of help offered by Shiv Sena. I can critique their single track narrative of 1990s. It is a community in which I can keep asking my father questions, uneasy questions, till he acknowledges that he did see an innocent Kashmiri Muslim die at the hands of Security forces on a street outside his home during the weeks he was stuck in Srinagar back in 1990. Yes, this free space is at times shrinking and at times expanding too. It is a community always evolving. Always changing. There are Pandit writings from 1920s in which old men complain that the young are not following the ways of the old! That a way of life is dying. Of course, it is dying. But something new is always born.

What Kashmiris ask of each other, ask of the world, ask of the written text, is something that they themselves, the world in general and the text itself, seldom offers. They ask for an absolute truth.

Me, I am only interested in nature of text and its relativity. 'Our Moon Has Blood Clots' provides some interesting twists to the known text about the events of 1947. From my family, I had already grown on stories of an earlier pandit migration, flight of relatives, from the border towns of Princely State of Kashmir to the capital Srinagar during the Kabili raid . But I first read about the scale of this migration in a Pandit community magazine some years ago. It was an entire series documenting the hardships faced by these people, all told mostly in personal narrative. I believe bits of these have gone into 'Our Moon Has Blood Clots' in the section dealing with 1947. Here, in this section I found an interesting bit. In most of the historical texts dealing with the events of 1947, destruction of Mahura power grid by tribal men and the subsequent plunging of Srinagar into darkness is one of the most dramatic events of Kashmir story of that time. But in 'Our Moon Has Blood Clots', we read that the Mahura power grid may well have been switched off by an unnamed Pandit to signal fellow Pandits in a nearby village that their lives were in danger. Isn't that interesting. Is it a literary invention? Is there space for invention in memoir? Or did the earlier texts miss this detail because no one even back then asked migrant Pandits their end of the story?

This book is letting the Kashmiri Pandits connect their stories and experiences in a way that no other book has done before. Rahul Pandita's house was in Chanpore. Chanpore was my Matamal, the place of my Mama and Massi. I know that place. It too have taken walks along Doodhganga. Walks organized by my Nani, who would sometimes take the kids to a Gurudwara too. Rahul Pandita mentions the evening when the mosque got stuck by a lightening. I was there that evening. I was in the crowd that had gathered in front of it. Rahul Pandita mentions the night of 19th January. My sister was in Chanpore that night. Only six, and about two years younger than me, she doesn't remember but when the mosques started playing the 'Jihadi Tapes', my Massi stuffed her mouth with Parle-G biscuits to shut her up. Rahul Pandita in Jammu went to Luthra Academy, it was the first school in Jammu that I too could find admittance in. I lost a school year in the process. Rahul Pandita changed 20 homes in Jammu. For me the number is more like 5. He writes about living at a place called Bhagwati Nagar. My Matamal, my Massi's place in Jammu for a couple of years was Bhagwati Nagar. I know the sweet spot along the Neher where the water falls off with a gush. He writes about not belonging anywhere. I have spent last ten years moving from one place to another, living out of a bag. For him Kashmir is home, rest are all a house. And so it is with me.

In 'Acknowledgments', among many other people, Rahul Pandita thanks me and this blog for triggering memories of home. I am content to say that my contribution to this saddening book has been addition of some happy memories. Memories that I can't truly call my own. I was delighted to see Deen'e Phila'safar's 'Man in the river' proof used in this book to embellish a sentence. It's a story that I can't call my own as it was shared by a friend of my father. I am told Professor Dinanath's progenies are now settled in Germany. I was delighted to see the sentence that mentioned the play of bursting fish bladders. It's a game I have never played, it was a memory shared at this blog by a reader, Arun Jalali. 

While I am on nature of memories, isn't is wonderful that bits and pieces from this blog have already gone into an Indian Publication, into Kashmiri Muslim publications and now a Pandit Publication too.


Buy Our Moon has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Beheading of Dara

"During the time that Aurangzeb was in Kashmir his usual diversion was going out to hunt, of which he was always very fond. It happened once that, tired out, he sat down in the shade of a tree, having with him only one huntsman  a great favorite, who had formerly served Dara in the same capacity. They held together conversation on various subjects, and encouraged thereby, the huntsman asked Aurangzeb why he ordered Dara's head to be cut off. Such a question put the royal person into some fear, and so he answered that it was his (Dara's) ill luck. Then, rising, he made for the palace, where he commanded that his huntsman should never again appear in his presence. The mere sight of the man acted as a reproof for his unjust deed. "

~ Storia do Mogor; or, Mogul India 1653-1708; (1907) by Niccolò Manucci (1638 - 1715).


Abanindranath Tagore's Aurangzeb Examining the Head of Dara. Around 1908.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Picking the Middle

Hiding it is easy
when you are much younger.
Your hands are supple
and fingers not yet set
by work.
Index, Middle, Pinky and Ring
all look the same.
In some cases even
the sore Thumb!
That's when
picking the Middle,
the longest finger
is a fine game
to be played by two
or more.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ghat/Yarbal, 1957

While in some parts of India there are still issues like which caste can claim upstream and which caste can claim downstream of a river, the below image captures how Kashmiris, Muslims and Hindus (two women on right are Pandit) were sharing a river, probably without even realizing the significance of it.

'Jhelum Ghat Scene' by Brian Brake, 1957

Won't you come to the Yarbal dear?
I would wash your footlings;
My wounds are unhealed -
Come my Love.

~ Mahmud Gami (1750- 1855)

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