Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Jehlam flows into Bay of Bengala

Goof-up from a time when East India Company had just arrived at Mughal courts:

Kyshmier [Kashmir]. The Cheefe Citty is called Sirinakar [Srinagar]. The Riuer of Bhat [Behat or Jehlam] passeth through it and findeth the Sea by Ganges or, some say, of it self in the North Part of the Bay of Bengala. It bordereth Cabul to the East Southerly. It is all Mountaines.
From the Appendix to 'The embassy of Sir Thomas Roe to the court of the Great Mogul, 1615-1619, as narrated in his journal and correspondence' (1899).

A note in the book does point out the obvious error in sending Vitasta eastwards and mentions that William Baffin's map from 1619 of Mughal empire , based on Sir Thomas Roe's account did get the direction of the river right.

William Baffin's Map
[via: columb


Kashmir in Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal. Summer, 2011
Mughals are known to have built most magnificent gardens in Kashmir but the garden of their most magnificent building was designed by a Kashmiri. A man named Ram Lal Kashmiri was the chief garden designer of Taj Mahal.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Kashmiri Opera Performers, tracing 1955/2013

It's 1955. First Kashmiri opera Bombur ta Yambarzal (The Narcissus and the Bumble Bee) by Dina Nath Nadim, that has already had a few re-runs, is again put up at Nedou's Hotel for special guest - military leader and Marshal of the Soviet Union Nikolai Bulganin who is accompanied by First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party's Central Committee Nikita Khrushchev. By the end of 1956 Uzbek communist leader Sharaf Rashidov brings out his interpretation of the story in a novella titled 'Kashmir Qoshighi' ( also known as Song of Kashmir/Kashmir Song/Kashmirskaya song) acknowledging Nadim's work. Almost a decade later, in 1965 , the year of second Kashmir war between India and Pakistan, USSR's famous Soyuzmultfilm studio produces an animated film called Наргис based on Rashidov's Song of Kashmir. Interesting the film retained the original Kashmiri names of all the characters sketched originally by Dina Nath Nadim, all the names except Yambarzal who is given the popular name Nargis, the name of this film.
[More details at a post from 2011: 'Bombur ta Yambarzal'. From Russia. With Love.1965.]

A group photograph of the artists who gave performances in honour of the visit of Soviet leaders at Srinagar.
Image from Photo division India.
[Date of event via a Russian archive at visualrian: 05/11/1955]

Within an hour of posting this photograph to Facebook page of the blog, I started getting comments identifying the people in the photograph, words along the way painting a beautiful picture of connections and relations:

Archana Kaul That is my mom( Nancy Kaul now Nancy Dhar) when she was in college, and is seated first from the left!!
5 hours ago
Puneet Dhar I wonder if Zia Durrani is also here? Bindu check with Ma? Is that her next to Ma?
5 hours ago
Indira Rao Archana, your mom looks absolutely lovely! I still fondly remember her teaching us music. One of the ghazals she taught us (hum apne gham ka fasana) continues to be one of my favorite
4 hours ago
Zia Durrani I am the one standing all the way to the right!! My cousin Farkhanda is the fifth standing from the left. She died last year. Gargi is the second standing from the left. I recognise some other faces, but can't remember their names.
4 hours ago
Sudha Koul Principal Mahmuda ( Govt. College for Women, Srinagar.), the tall one standing in the middle, so young and striking! Thanks Bindu!
26 minutes ago

Comment in July, 2018

Roshan Dass Raj Dulari the one sitting in the middle of front row must be around 77 now. she is a bundle of talent 

double gilaas

Cherry Earrings
July. 2013.
I had to promise my little cousin a 'pizza treat' for posing

My mother remembers
in spring
she would run around with cherry earrings.


Cherry Picking. Kashmir. 1953
(From  the archive of Indian Photo Division)


dimyo dilaas
gandyo walaas
peirtho gilaas kulni tal

Kashmiri word for Cherry comes from Persian word for Cherry: gilaas

Update: April, 2016

Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Irania film "The Silence" (1998)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Kashmir in Sven Hedin's Trans-Himalaya, 1906

Man Mohan Munshi Ji shares some scans from his copy of Sven Hedin's Trans-Himalaya : discoveries and adventures in Tibet (1909). On way to Tibet, Sven was in Kashmir in mid of 1906. Among the scans are two old photographs of famous Nedou Hotel of Srinagar. I add some recent photographs of the hotel sent in by another friend.

Sven Hedin who entered Tibet even after having been denied official permission to enter; The British Government allowed him to proceed via Jammu & Kashmir on his way to Eastern Turkistan from where he crossed into WesternTibet and carried explorations in areas never visited till than by any white man. His publication "Trans Himalaya" published in two volumes in 1909 is a master piece [in fact he later brought out a third volume covering mostly his visit to the source of Indus. Read the books here via archive.org: V1 (covering start of his journey from Kashmir), V2, V3]. He made his preparations for his journey in Kashmir initially. He is profuse in his thanks to a Kashmiri gentlemen Pandit Daya Kishan Koul Diwan Sahib who arranged everything from supplies, equipment, mules ponies and four soldiers as body guards. He has also acknowledged the services rendered by about thirty six Asians mostly Ladakhis who accompanied him to Tibet where when discovered by local authorities they did face trouble. Besides others, he also thanks Sir Francis Younghusband, the then British Resident at Srinagar who had explored Muztag and other passes of Karakorum Range between Eastern Turkistan and Jammu and Kashmir and also led the British Expedition to Lhasa in 1905-6.

title cover

Portrait of the then Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir [Pratap Singh]

view of the then Srinagar Palace now old Secretariat

view of Fateh Kadal, 3rd bridge of Srinagar. The building on the left with the flag is the C.M.S School, Srinagar. On the right the minaret of Shah Hamdan's Ziarat is visible with North Kashmir or Sogput Range in the distant background

Sven Hedin in front of the Nedou's hotel Srinagar with his baggage

Some of the mules being loaded at Nedou Hotel

Four body guards for Sven Hedin arranged by Pandit Daya Kishan. Sitting: Ganpat Singh, Khairullah from Peshawar. Standing: Bikom Singh and Basgul from Kabul. Both Singhs are Dogra Rajputs

starting off from Ganderbal

The Road to Baltal.


Some recent photographs (June 2013) of Nedou Hotel that was last year vacated by CRPF. And is now under renovation with possible plans of reopening. Shared with me by cartoonist Sumit Kumar of Kashmir Ki Kahani.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Two Weeks in Absurdistan

Spent last two weeks in Absurdistan
attending an ailing old man who has
now definitely lost his memories
or maybe not
He wouldn't admit
Grandfather hasn't spoken for a year

In the ER, next to his bed
A dying old woman fell off a rusty, naked iron bed
broke her skull
all this while
her son was trying to find a place to keep the medicines

In the ward, next to my Grandfather's bed
to the left was an old Sikh from Budgam

He had a failing body part
but yet lively he would wave his arms in air, time to time
Scream at his sons, still angry about scant quantity of chicken in his last meal at home

His daughter said I looked familiar
Thought I looked like Afzal

She is happy her family never left Kashmir
'Why did you leave? Sometime they throw stones at us...but we stay put...Didn't you read about conversions and the protests?'
Her brother says she is rich
'Property worth 75 Lakh'
but she wouldn't even gift him a Kashmiri shawl

Brother is in police. He think Kashmir will be over this time if 'it' starts all over again
Nothing of it will exist
He thinks I am familiar. A friend.

'Let me tell you what is really happening...'

He whispers in my ears, what he wouldn't say out loud in front of ladies.
'Even Muslims will have to move. And I don't even like them. Even ten year old girls not left...the Militants, the BSF, the Police, the Army...all of them. '
He makes a loud vulgar rapid hand movement as he speaks about not so virginal Kashmir.

I wish away his existence. Or my own. He disappears.

His sister isn't happy they didn't move.

'If we couldn't move out, at least we too should have tried for migration certificates. College admissions are tough...My daughter is in Convent. It still has some discipline. Biscoe. It is worst of the lot. Boys now carry knives to school. And have you seen the size of those boys...all muscles. My son is friends with some...they eat at our place all the time...sometime secretly even during Ramazan. My son never eats at their place. Strong traditions, you see. And no young people speak Kashmiri there...they are ashamed of their mother tongue. You don't have a Kashmiri accent...you speak hindi quite clearly. How long have you been out? Where do you live? How much money do you make?'

I don't tell her my tongue still sometimes rolls out Kakaz instead of Kagaz.

She fiddles with Fluid meter of Oxygen mask that covers the mouth of old Sikh.

'Never enough Nurses here. And all of them lazy. Munchers. In Bemina, it is worst lot. All running after money.'

I notice that the Humidifier is empty. I fill it up.

In the ward, next to my Grandfather's bed
to the right was an old Kashmiri Muslim living in Poonch
A sturdy looking old man, his legs had suddenly failed him.
My father kept saying, 'In five days they pumped in injections worth 3 Lakh into him'

The old man was happy all his sons were with him
including his adopted son - a house help named Ramzaan.
All of them kept massaging his legs from time to time.

Ramzaan, himself an old man, said I bestowed much respect on his old man
after I helped him carry his master to the bed once.

They were in awe that my Grandfather's daughter-in-law should be changing his dirty diapers.
'Sawab. Sawab.'

Much later Ramzaan asked, 'Are there no good hospitals in Srinagar too? Why is Pandit Ji admitted here in Jammu?'

I laughed at the puzzle. His brothers laughed too. We laughed out loud. Miraculously, this poor man was untouched by history. Nothing had happened in Kashmir. All this time he was massaging someone's leg.

I laughed at the Amar, Akbar, Arminder set-up created by the hospital.

A young surgeon came to check up on my Grandfather. It's a private call. A distant relative. Son of a man who was killed by militants in 1990. My mother remembers that the boy was around two at the time.

Two days later. Hospital has extra security set-up. Access to canteen is blocked.
Either some minister is visiting
or something bad has happened.

Victims from 'Gool firing incident' start filling the ER.
It started over some insult.
It can't say much about it
except that the hospital in which they were admitted
it has no clean, functional toilets.
The drains are clogged. Taps always running. There are no soaps.
There are no electric bulbs.
And no separate toilets for men and women.
The private 'NGO' toilet outside the hospital
costs rupees five and closes at 10 in night.

Some indignations, you just get used to.

Brought Grandfather home. It is Friday. The loud speakers of local mosque are angry. Jammu is peaceful. ER ward had one good facility besides good but overworked doctors, the ACs were on 24/7. However, at Home there never is enough voltage for an AC to work. The power scenario has been like that for almost fifteen years. Even if I can now afford to install an AC in each room, I can't actually afford it.

I hear Jammu is in grip of a mass hysteria. In outer reaches of the city there are stories about a gang of magical thieves that steal children. They enter the house in the form of an animal, a dog, a cat, or a goat, and then transform to human state and pick sleeping kids and leave. Kuttey Billi ka Khel, they say. At night locals are keeping vigil. There are stories that people are beating up stray animals screaming, 'Ban InsaanBan Insaan, Turn human,Turn human!' The local paper carries appeals from police that there is no such gang stealing any children. Our old house help, Makhni, Buttery, who lives outside the city, rolls her head and insists such things are indeed happening. Children are missing.

I try to teach my grandmother to operate a medical pump on my Grandfather's lungs. I tell her, 'It is simple.'

She laughs and sings me a simple song about marriage:

Syim'pul Khandar
Woth Kar Panas
Ye Chuuy Cha'nas 

Simple Marriage
Go for it
There is still chance
Be glad

I read two books. One by a white woman in 1989 about the early European visitors to Kashmir and about the crafts of Kashmir. Other by a white man in 1953 about his travels in all the areas of the divided Kingdom of Kashmir through roads and through air, and that too at a time when officially the common inhabitant of the subcontinent could never even imagine the possibility of it.

I prepared to leave again. My flight had a stop-over at Srinagar. My maiden flight. I was foolishly delighted. I was going to now capture Kashmir from skies. Flying over formidable Pir Panjal, I would perhaps capture its beauty.

At the airport when asked if I had any R6 battery on me, I told them my camera doesn't work on R6. They asked what I planned to do with my camera, I truthfully replied, 'I plan to photograph.'

'Have you gone mad? This is Kashmir. Take the battery out and leave them in the bag.'

It was too late by the time I realised my mistake. I may have captured Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, Chennai, Everest, Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada from the sky, in flight. But this is Kashmir. I should have lied. I should have replied, 'No. Nothing. Jenaab. Maibaap. Sarkar.'

I tried to reason. I screamed. I even told them, just imagine I never said that.

'We have no imagination. Do not stall.'

I told them I made a mistake.

'Ab toh ho gayi na. You did it. And you admit it too. Move on. This is Kashmir.'

I cursed that white man from 1953 who managed to move around with impunity even after divisions. I cursed Bernier, Forster, Moorcroft, Jacquemont and Vigne. I cursed all their houses. And I cursed this sad land and it's mad people. I unimagined that my ancestors lived in these lands for thousands of years. I calculated the years that the ancestors of the man who stopped me must have lived in Kashmir. A hundred, a two hundred, a three hundred. Where do they stand against my thousands?

I howled and howled. It didn't matter.

I realised I too melt into incoherence
when confronted by absurdity.


Geographical Model of Jammu&Kashmir kept at Hari Singh Palace in Jammu

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Two Srinagars

'The Rope Bridge at Serinagur' by Thomas Daniell (1800)
"One can only wonder at the fortitude of the early travellers  men such as Huien Tsang, or the painters Thomas and William Daniel. Their determination must have been supreme in order to press them ever forward and eventually reach the Vale, settled as it is high among seemingly impenetrable mountains at the end of a route that was, and still is, full of hazards."

~ Visiting Kashmir by Allan Stacey (1988).

All that is fine but...

Sometimes a familiar image and a familiar name can cause all find of confusion. A lot of people consider Thomas and William Daniel to be among the first Europeans to reach and paint Kashmir. Painting titled 'The Rope Bridge at Serinagur' by Thomas Daniell only confirms it. There are a bunch of books that claim this. All this because the place they visited is Srinagar. But the fact remains, the two never visited Kashmir. Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) and his nephew William Daniell (1769-1837) were in India during 1785 and 1794. In 1789 they visited of the city of Srinagar on the banks Alaknanda river in Garwhal which is named so because . That's were 'The Rope Bridge at Serinagur' comes from.


Now, coming back to 'Srinagar' or rather the two 'Srinagars', and continuing with the word games and antonymic folklores... it is believed that the town of Garwhal gets its name after the goddess of Fortune, Sri or Laxmin. Some say the same of the city of Srinagar in Garwhal gets its name from 'Sri Yantra', a giant rock which could kill you if you even looked at it. The rock had origins in a tale in which a Goddess kills a demon named Kalasura thanks to the device/rock . The local storytellers say that this rock was turned upside down by Adi Shankaracharya, in the 8th century AD and chucked into Alaknanda. He thus put an end to all the tantric exercises associated with the rock and laid down the plan for the city of Srinagar. Interestingly, there are places in Garwhal were Sri Yantra is worshipped. One of the belief associated with Sri Yantra in Garwhal is that installing a roof over Sri Yantra would bring disaster. [This last bit from 'Marriage And Customs Of Tribes Of India' by J. P. Singh Rana (1998)]

The Srinagar in Kashmir still has the Sri Yantra rock at Hari Parbat. The origin of the rock/hill in local folklore has killing of a demon named Jalobhava by a Goddess using a rock, hence laying the foundation of Srinagar. The temple that was reclaimed in Srinagar by Adi Shankaracharya is across this Hill and on top of another Hill that is now renamed after Shankaracharya. The Sri Yantra is roofed at Hari Parbat. Done only in recent times. The only person to protest construction around the rock was an artist named G.R. Santosh.


Mr. Vigne is responsible for the strange derivation of the name of the Kasmir  capital, Srinagar (Srinagara, or as he spells it, 'Siri-nagur,' from " Surya Nagur, the city of the sun" (p. ii. 137). Judging from the persistence with which the error has been copied by a succession of modern writers on Kasmir, this etymology bids fair to establish itself as a piece of orthodox creed with European visitors to the Valley.
~ Ancient Geography Of Kashmir by M A Stein (1895).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Kashmir by V.V. Vereshchagin, 1885

Two oil-painting of Kashmiri landscape by Russian artist V.V. Vereshchaginmore known for painting graphic battle scenes. He visited the place around April, 1885.

Mountain stream in Kashmir
Glacier on way from Kashmir to Ladakh [via: wikipaintings.org ]
[Update:  Man Mohan Munshi Ji identified the place as Machoi Glacier between Zogilla Pass and Matyan.
There were later used in his two volume autobiograpical travelogue 'Vassili Verestchagin, painter, soldier, traveller; autobiographical sketches '(1887) with the capter on India by his wife.

'Ailan Gali Zinda Hai' by Chandrakanta. Translated by Manisha Chaudhary

A Street in Srinagar (2010)
Ailan Gali Zinda Hai by Chandrakanta. Translated from Hindi by Manisha Chaudhary.
[Earlier published as 'Between the Seven Bridges' (2009)]

On the night of Khech Mavas/Khichdi Amavas/Yagya Amavasya/Yech Amavas /Yaksha Amavas a thief breaks into a house in a street in Srinagar. A woman raises an alarm. Neighbours come running. The thief while trying to make a hasty escape, tumbles down a window and dies. The brotherhood of thieves swears revenge. The street fears obliteration, of wealth and women. A settlement is mediated. A declaration is made that henceforward all the households in the street shall pay a small monthly payout to the brotherhood of thieves. Since that day, that street where no thieves shall venture, came to be known as Declaration Street or Ailan Gali. Hence, the strange unidentifiable as Kashmiri title of Hindi novel by Chandrakanta.

 In the first chapter of 'Ailan Gali Zinda Hai', author Chandrakanta while giving the story of origin of the street name beautifully merges the ancient folklore associated with Khech Mavas, about peace treaty between the demi-gods and humans, a war settled for a bowl of Khichdi, and the modern treaty amounting to blood money in instalments, or a ransom paid out to thieves with honor for being left alone. The ancient code merging with the new. Much like Ailan Gali, where the ancient and the new merge to form what may be called day-to-day life. In the end, thieves prove to be of least worry to the streets, the real threat to the street comes from within. The new struggling to be newer, and sometimes old, and sometimes both. While the old, their ancient wisdom struggling to explain the conundrum, their only self-comforting explanation - 'Kalyug'.

It essentially a growing up tale of a kid in a typical Kashmiri neighbourhood in downtown, on a street which hasn't seen sun's light for ages. Where the old guards hold on to hope like they hold on to faith. But where the new guard is losing both. But maybe there is hope. Maybe the street will live and the circles of life continue. The light shall indeed be born out of darkness. Or may be not.

The reader is drawn intimately into the lives of the people who live on this street as the author tells us about their most intimate secrets, shows us their private wounds, walks us into their dreams and nightmares, and describes their public rituals of joys. And that makes these characters flesh and blood. And what characters: an orthodox mother who wishes her son be adopted by a friend, maybe for the money; a woman who can't bear children loves a neighbourhood kid like a son; a husband-less 'keep', a feisty woman who raises a daughter in an unorthodox way;  a beautiful daughter who withers away as she tries to keep an old long dead love alive by not marrying another; a 'refugee' girl who runs away to marry a Muslim boy; a wise old Masterji, a tailor, who wouldn't see the face of his grandson even as he wants to because his son broke the "neighbourhood code"; old men who try to feel alive again by getting young wives, sometimes getting unlucky and sometimes getting lucky; ambitious young wives who want to live their own lives, run their own kitchens; a priest who steels temple money to raise his children; a sagely Master ji, a teacher who abets his own son's suicide and drives a daughter man; a son who doesn't go anywhere and looks after his own parents; sons who dream of crossing seven seas and sons who go off to distant lands.

Although, the stories are told though the mind of male characters, and the drama unfold due to actions of men, since the tales are from a Kashmiri household, we soon realize that the actual stage on which the drama unfold is held on the strong shoulders of women. Even the dislocation painfully felt by some men over loss of home, on some scale is felt by all women after marriage. Probably explains why the book has been published by a feminist publication (Zubaan). It is the women characters in the book that really stand out for their ways of looking at life and its challenges.

Towards the end of the story we read, "If you look back, you'll find the longest journey will flash before you in an instant. But if ou try to look into the future you'll not be able to see even an instant."

Ironically, it seems this book wasn't just looking into the past, but also into future. This most poignant yet funny tale of Kashmiri displacement was first published in 1988. The characters that bravely or disquietly stayed put in the street, probably got displaced in 1990. The street is now gone.

At a later point in the story, the text from the novel crosses from the domain literature and into the familiar Kashmiri domain of 'other world' that famously pre-occupies the mind of most Kashmiris. The text offers a prophecy and it offers an ancient advise by great Grand-mother of the land, Lal Ded. Al though the book is sprinkled with lot a Kashmiri says, old song, even long forgotten persian one, this particular time the text moves into sacred domain.

Ratni, the feisty 'keep', a throbbing pulse of the neighbourhood, is dying of cancer. Her son-in-law has come to take she away. Away from Ailan Gali so that her daughter can take care of her in her last days. As she leave, in a half-dead state, her  only last words to tearful residents of the Galli are the famous verses of Lal Ded:

Shev Chhuy Thali-Thali Rozaan
Mo Zaaan Kyon Hayond Ta Musalmaan,
Trukhai Chhuk Pannui, Zaan Parzaan,

[Shiv is imbued in eveyone. Make no difference between Hindu or Muslim. Know yourself first and that wil be really knowing Shiv]

It offers us scenes from future, it foretells the question that our hearts now ask. The question that in the end a history loving madman named Bhoota alias Lambodar Prasad Kakpori ask our main protagonist when he is about to start a new life outside Kashmir:

"Kalhan Gani te Sarfi, sairab kari yami aban, suy ab sanya bapath, jehre hilal astha?" (The water of the land which nurtured learned men like Kalhan, Gani and Sarfi, will that water turn to poison for us?)


Chandrakanta now lives in Gurgaon. I write this living next to the Arabian Sea. We were both born next to a Himaliyan river. My mother told me stories of a woman named Savidhaan Ded who once pushed down a thief from third floor.

Buy A Street in Srinagar from Flipkart.com [You can also read extracts from the book there]

Oddly, the copy I ordered came signed by the author. Probably a complimentary copy meant for someone.


 Two houses in intimate conversation. Somewhere in downtown Habba Kadal, 2008
Last night food had no salt. When he enquired, she told him, "Old fool, you have lost your mind. Just Eat." So how was your last night. No they don't share bed anymore. So how was your last night.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Naseeb Bazigar

Naseeb Shah and son Ayasan Shah. 1987.

"He begins by letting them doubt that greatness, his skill and power, by briefly allowing them to think their perceptions are valid and their reasoning is effective. In teaching me this cups and balls routine, Naseeb demonstrated how to make it look like I was concealing one of the balls under one of the cups. The move was subtle - it had to be done slowly enough to make sure the spectator saw it, and yet quickly and deftly enough so that the spectator would believe that he was not meant to see it, that another observer, someone not quite so sharp, would have missed it. This prepares the spectator for the revelation that the magician is always one step ahead of him, and for the realisation that his perceptions are being controlled by the magician, but at first they must think they know, that they see through the magic:"You put it in the other hand! It's under your foot! It's in the fold in your pants!" And if they don't shout the words, Ayasan does their heckling for them, voices their thoughts and suspicions. Then, all at once, they are shown that what they saw did not happen, what they thought was untrue, and what they believed was unreal. There is then the surrender, the yielding to their need, out dark longing, to be deceived; the roadside crowd gathered around a vagrant con man and a scruffy little boy becomes the spellbound audience at a persistent play, a cosmological, social, domestic, and psychological drama, that everyone has at some time seen in some sacred sanctuary or darkened theatre, in some room or dream."

~ From the book 'Net of Magic: Wonders and Deceptions in India' (1991) by Lee Siege. [Google Books, Flipkart]It offers one of the most insightful and detailed look into the live of a street magician in Kashmir. And along the way brings alive the street scenes of Kashmir from 1987. We also get to know things like: in Kashmir 'Chinese Stick' trick (one trick I actually witnessed as a kid in Jammu) was performed by naming one stick as Hindu and another as Musalman.

Naseen is still around in Srinagar and was recently featured in this film on his disappearing tribe:

Tomorrow we Disappear.



Ghulam Da'en, the three card trickster

- A Snake Charmer in the New Bazaar, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1892.  J. E. Goodall. Illustrated London News.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Rascally Kashmiri

Image: Indian memories (1915) by Robert Baden-Powell
Agar kahat ul rijal uftad, azeshan uns kamgiri
Eke Afghan, doyam Kamboh soyam badzat Kashmiri |

Although a scarcity of men should happen, do not cultivate the acquaitance of these three people:
the 1st, an Ufghan, the 2nd, a Kumboh, and the 3d, a wicked Kushmeerian.

— 'A collection of proverbs, and proverbial phrases' (1824) by  Thomas Roebuck (1781-1819), Part I. p. 99 [Extracted from Shahid-i-Sadiq]

Complete saying is supposed to have following additional lines [unverified/untranslated]:

Ze Afghan hila bhi ayad, ze Kamboh kina bhi ayad,
Ze Kashmiri nami ayad bajuz andoho dilgiri ||

Probable transliteration:

If a deceptive Afghan comes
If a tyrannical Kamoh comes
If an infamous Kashmiri comes
Nothing except sorrow follows


Other variations:

Agar khalal mardan ufad, az inan na bagiri: yakam Pathan, duyam Kamboh, seyam badzat Kashmiri

If mankind should be coming to an end, do not select (for its restoration) first the Pathan, secondly the

Kamboh, thirdly the rascally Kashmiri.

- 'Eastern Experiences' (1871) by Lewin Bentham Bowring, pp.274

Agar kaht-i-mardurn uftad, az ín sih jins kam gírí; Eki Afghán, dovvum Sindí, siyyum badjins-i-Kashmírí

Though of men there be famine yet shun these three First the Afghan, second Sindi, thirdly the rascally Kashmiri.

- Arabian Nights by Richard F. Burton, Vol. 10, pp. 178-219

If folk be scarce as food in dearth ne'er let three lots come near ye: First Sindi, second Jat, and third a rascally Kashmeeree.

- Arabian Nights by Richard F. Burton, Vol. 6, pp. 156

Better have no friends at all than take up with an Afghan, a Kamboh, or a rascally Kashmiri

- A meaning given in The People Of India (1908) By Herbert Hope Risley, William Crooke


Other oriental quotes on "Rascally" Kashmiri:

If you find a snake don't kill it;
but if you find a Kashmiri it is another matter

~ Indian memories (1915) by Robert Baden-Powell. Another one from it:

Many chickens in a house befoul it:
many Kashmiris in a country spoil it


Kashmiri bas Kashmiri guft
Kash miri ki man khalas shavam

Kashmiri desires the destruction of his fellow countryman

~ Kashmiri Pandits by Pandit Anand Koul, 1924.


"a snake in his morals and a fowl in his manners"

The Kashmiri bears an evil reputation in the Panjab, and indeed through-out Asia. Proverbs liken him to a snake in his morals and to a fowl in his manners, and men are warned against admitting a Kashmiri to their friendship. Moorcroft writes of the Kashmiri, ' Selfish, superstitious, ignorant, supple, intriguing, dishonest and false, he has great ingenuity as a mechanic and a decided genius for manufactures and commerce; but his transactions are always conducted in a fraudulent spirit, equalled only by the effrontery with which he faces detection;' and Drew admits that they are ' false- tongued, ready with a lie, and given to various forms of deceit.' Hugel has nothing good to say of the Kashmiris, and it is a matter of history that in the Mutiny the Kashmiris of Ludhiana turned against the English, and in the Settlement Report of the Kangra district the Kashmiris of Nurpur were spoken of unfavourably by Mr Barnes. But it must be remembered that Moorcroft was speaking of the city people, and that the Kashmiris of Ludhiana and Kangra were the shawl-weavers, who are the lowest and meanest of the population, and it would not be fair to apply Moorcroft's epithets to the villagers as a body. He admits, too, that the vices of the Kashmiris are not innate, but are due to the government under which they lived. ' The natives of Kashmir have always been considered as amongst the most lively and ingenious people of Asia, and deservedly so.

~ The valley of Kashmir (1895) by Sir Walter Roper Lawrence.



Some more. These from Seir Mutaqherin: or a View of Modern Times, being a History of India from the year 1118 to 1195 of the Hedjirah. From the Persian of Gholam Hussain Khan, V1-4. 1789. A history pf Muslim nobel families of Bengal. Translated by Nota Manus alias Raymond alias Haji Mustapha, a French-born Muslim convert.

Cashmiri, bi Piri; Bengallee, Djendjali. The Cashmirian acts as an Atheist ; but the Bengallee is always one from whom there is no disentangling one's self. 
and one directed at Kashmiri women

Cashmiri, bi Piri ; ne Lezzet, ne shiri. The faithless Cashmirian affords neither taste nor flavour.

From the book "Kashir" (1947) by G.M.D Sufi

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Salima lives in Kashmir, by Anna Riwkin-Brick, 1971

Salima lives in Kashmir.
Photos by Anna Riwkin-Brick, story by Vera Forsberg.
Children of the World Series
Published 1971 by Macmillan

Anna Riwkin-Brick (1908, Russia -1970, Israel), Swedish photographer, spent a good part of her life traveling the world, and to place she went she captured the lives of children on camera. Later, these photographs were used to produce a series on day-to-day lives of 'Children of the world', with text captions from collaborating writers added to weave a story. In all there were 19 such book with titles like Dirk lives in Holland, Eli lives in Israel, Gennet lives in Ethiopia, Marko lives in Yugoslavia, Matti lives in Finland, Noy lives in Thailand, Randi lives in Norway, Gia lives on Kilimanjaro and Salima lives in Kashmir.

Anna Riwkin-Brick captured children on camera like few could, perhaps because she started photography by first capturing dancers (her photograph of Third Reich dancer Alexander von Swaines in 1930s, although considered imperfect in its time for the 'motion blur', can now be called perfect). 

The beautiful photographs in 'Salima lives in Kashmir' in all probability come from Anna Riwkin-Brick's visit to Kashmir in 1969. The story that the pictures tell has a nine year old Kashmiri boat girl named Salima and she struggle for joining a school, about how she convinces her grandfather to let her go to school.  

"Certainly there are few things more attractive than the friendliness and broad smiles of the Kashmiri children." Even V.S. Naipaul, the man who thinks 'World is What it is' confessed it once.

And this book offers something akin to that, broad smiles, Kashmiri children and a friendly camera. The effect casts a spell of heart-aching beauty upon the viewer. A spell that is broken only by the realisation that this beauty, this innocence is now gone. It is only an illusion in the mind and a shadow on the book. Or so it seems to a grown-up and the world of children remains the same.



Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Kashmir, Shinya Fujiwara, 1978

Shinya Fujiwara
Translated by Margaret F.Breer
This Beautiful World Vol. 60
Kodansha International Ltd., 1978

Shinya Fujiwara arrives in Srinagar at night through road. Tired he decides to sleep late into the morning and explore the 'Emerald City' of Srinagar after lunch. He goes to sleep. He awakes to the sound of someone singing. He checks his watch, it says 5:00 A.M. He looks out the window and sees few stars twinkling in western sky and hears birds chirping. He thinks he has woken up in evening and missed an entire day. He is about to jump out of bed but just then again he hears the strange singing.

"These words were sung by a strong quivering masculine voice and sounded strange to my ears, the ears of a foreigner. But the spiritual intonation might cause one to feel that long ago, when still in the womb, one heard these sounds together with the mother's heart beat."

He was hearing Azan for the first time in life.

After a few days in the city Shinya, the Japanese photographer,  noticed a phenomena typical to Srinagar city. The second Azan.

"Hearing this second song after Azan always cheered me. It came from the stray dogs which roam this emerald city. Even thee dogs must have felt the force of the morning prayer for they seemed to be singing the Azan. The first few times I heard this far away howling, i did not know what it was. By the third or fourth day, however, I was sure that the dogs were calling in response to the people. It then seemed rather comical, and as I lay in bed I could hardly contain my laughter. Yet listening to this wordless song day after day, it began to sound just as devout a prayer as the real Azan and I was moved almost to tears. I should probably not even have written about being impressed by the distant howling of stray dogs, yet any tourist in kashmir who fancies the unusual should listen for this wordless Azan. It made me vividly aware that religion in Kashmir governs not only man, but all living creatures right down to the smallest insect."

This is one of the most subtlety humorous 'Guide Book' I have read about Kashmir. Later in the book when he compliments a man for his devotion to religion, he is reprimanded and told, 'I am not the only one who is religious. Here in Kashmir, everyone gets up early. While the Azan is recited, many people are in the temples saying their prayers. We believe that anyone who stays in bed when he hears Azan will receive only half the profit of Allah's blessings.'

In addition to some beautiful photographs, this slim little book also offers some useful tips to the travellers  besides listing and describing the 'must sees' (although the history of the places is a bit breezy, bit wrong, but yes interesting for tourists ). Every chapter starts a some neat drawings of oriental designs giving the book a feel like you are reading one of those old English travelogues.

The only problem with a book is problem that books with great photographs often suffer: sometime great photographs are slip over two pages. Who likes that?

In between pages, the subtle funnies just keep rolling. When Shinya is tired of all the salesmen chasing him in the streets and on the waters of Dal for buying one or another thing, he decides to employ a trick to avoid unwanted attention. He change his look. He goes about the city unkempt and wearing worn out cloth. Of course, everyone starts ignoring him. He roams the city unattended. But this also upsets him, he misses the nagging calls of the infamous Kashmir salesmen. He even comes to like them. This is a book of simple pleasures that gives a glimpse of simple pleasures that Kashmir could offer travellers.


Some more photographs from the book:

In his photographs Shinya inadvertently also captured a phenomena that doesn't exist in Srinagar anymore. A Kashmiri Pandit wedding. Although the book makes no special note of it, in the photograph we can see the the 'groom's welcome song' being sung by women who were muslim neighbours  An old Kashmiri tradition.

Also, it is interesting to note that the composition of a basic Kashmiri Pandit plate for the wedding day hasn't changed much, there is: Hakh, Razma, Dam Aloo, Tchaman (in the pic probably served by someone from a bucket), Nadur Ya'khin, Palak, Aulav Churm'e and Muj Cha'tin.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bahadur Shah's paradise

'Journey's End', 1913
Abanindranath Tagore

"Paradise is there where no harm is received, where no one has (any) concern with any other."

~ Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah I, second son of Aurangazeb, in Lahore days before his death on dilemma of choosing Kangra or Kashmir for summer. He died in Lahore. Days before his death, he turned a bit insane. He almost entitled Lahore Dar-ul-Jihad. He asked Ali be declared chosen heir in daily khutba. People suspected he had turned Shia. There was political chaos. People said, 'This cannot take effect in Hindustan; it is not Iran'. Two khatibs,  reciters of new khutba were murdered. One in Gujarat. One in Kashmir. He threatened Mullas that he would make them eat in same platter as dogs. Mullas responded, 'That matters not — for we feared that you would make us eat out of one platter with yourself.' A commander revolted and threatened coup. Emperor had to eat his pride. They say he turned insane. He couldn't sleep at night. The howling dogs wouldn't let him sleep. It is said he had hundreds of dogs slayed. And then he died. Some say he died of apoplexy after a bout of cold, some say he was poisoned, some say he was stabbed by a General whom he caught in his harem...'They say that an inverted sore (dumbal-i-makush) formed on his stomach, and some have said other things which are not fit for me to repeat nor in accordance with his honour. God alone knows the truth!'

* Based on 'Later Mughals' (1922) by William Irvine.

Previously: Gardens, Paradise, Kashmir

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