Thursday, September 17, 2020

Kashmiri Dogri Mashup Song

A SearchKashmir production.
Third in the series

Rahul Wanchoo and Hempreet Kour team up to give us a mix of Dogri/Pahari folk song with an old Kashmiri sufi song. Together capturing a certain beauty of the two languages. The Dogri song was made famous by Malika Pukhraj ( and later by her daughter Tahira Syed), whose origins are in Jammu and the Kashmiri one is by Sufi poet Wahab Khar (19th century)

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Lyrics

pal par bei jaana bei jaana, o jindey,
some more moments stay with me, o my love!

raati rayi jaana rayi jaana o jindey
stay the night, o my love!

yaar dood naar khot, zaalan koh t' wan
love it burns stronger than fire that burns forest mountains

wasiye yaaras wann, talai lati yaaras wan
say this my friend to that love of mine

khaar mye thovnam, sui chum dar badan
in smithereens he leaves me, yet he is within the body

wasiye yaaras wann, talai lati yaaras wan
say this my friend to that love of mine

haripur, nurpur thandiyaan ne chaavan
cool is the breeze of Haripur - Nurpur

haith katochey da thaana thaana
there dwell Katoch, home of, o my love!

pal par bei jaana bei jaana, o jindey,
some more moments stay with me, o my love!

raati rayi jaana rayi jaana o jindey
stay the night, o my love

dooriy chum baalyaar yemai teer laayan, hoor chas vetarawan
from afar, my lover shoots those arrows, fairy I, bears them all

choori paeth t'cholum yaar, manvith su antam
like a thief quietly he left, cajole him back to me

wasiye yaaras wann, talai laeti yaaras wann
say this my friend to that love of mine

Friday, September 4, 2020

Pandits under Article 370 regime

Extract from "Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War" (2004) By Arun Joshi.
the charges


Extract from "Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War" (2004) By Arun Joshi. It nicely lists outs how KPs were shaped as the perfect enemy by politicians of Kashmir. How KPs were seen as Nehru agents (today they are called Modi agents), how it was whispered that it was KPs who brought down Sheikh Abdullah, that they were Indira's little soldiers, privileged powerful community that was eating into the KM privilege pie, subverting their politics, how they were also "presstitutes" selling wrong narrative about Kashmir, how they were enemies of Kashmir since forever.  

The targeted killing  of Kashmiri Pandits in 89-90 was natural outcome of these whispers. They serve the ideological bases and justification for the cultural genocide unleashed upon the  community.

We are never told how the community was living under such charges and what purpose the charges served. We are not told why Kashmiri Pandits may resent the article. While a lot is written on how Article 370 was gradually eroding the "autonomy"and how KM majority politics perceived these changes to the status of conflict, nothing is mentioned about what was happening in Kashmir under the so called "autonomy" for decades and how KP community time and again was saved by Indian Constitutional ingress, the interpretation of constitution by Supreme Court, the so-called weakening of the Article 370.


To get a brief idea, we go back to 1960s when under so called communist leaning Indian Nationalist Sadiq , the state was continuing with its efforts in finishing off the KPs economically. In 50s, most KPs were working as teachers, State needed more teachers, and this was the only job available to them. Something they could still aspire for. They became the backbone of education but only to be chewed and spit out later. In mid 60s, when the time for these teachers to Gazetted posts came, the state government made an arbitrary rule from promotion. Out of every 100 gazetted posts, 50 went to Muslims of the entire State of Jammu & Kashmir, 30 went to Hindus from the Province of Jammu, and the remaining 20 went to Kashmiri Pandits, out of which one or two went to Sikhs. The reason: Muslim majority state considered ALL Muslims of the state (irrespective of their economic or social status ) as backward, and strangely (perhaps for cutting into Jan Sangh/ Praja Parisha support base) the Hindus of Hindu majority also as Backward. Pandits and still more invisible Sikhs were pushed to the bottom of the stack.

Thus, in many cases KP teachers now had a KM boss who was earning more salary but had originally been a student that the KP had taught. (And due to land reforms, that KM student may well have been having agricultural and Orchid land for additional income).

While all this was happening. Parmeshwari Handoo agitation started. An underage KP girl married an older KM man. The girl's mother alleged it was a case of forced marriage. Whatever may have been the truth, even Premnath Bazaz write that it was strange that even after claim was made by mother, no one had the power to restore the girl to the mother till the claim could be verified, as would have been the procedure for case. Kashmiri Pandits launched a massive agitation in which Jan Sangh leaders also took part and at least few KPs lost life in police action. However, interestingly the prolonged agitation towards the end shifted from communal issue to economic matters as KPs sought some "favors" for jobs.

To get KPs in line, Sadiq is famously claimed to have said (Premnath Bazaz also attests to it), KPs were still overrepresented in jobs and if KPs don't behave proper, the jobs will actually be based on the proportion of their miniscule population of 6% [prior to 1954, before Indian Constitution extended to the State, the recruitment was made to the services in proportion to the population of the major communities in the State. ]. The agitation broke, some KPs knew this was the end, they started looking for place out side the state and never ever did KPs later launch an agitation that could bring the state to halt and have themselves heard forcefully. 

It must be remembered that at the time Kashmir was not independent, was certainly not part of Pakistan, it was supposedly under left leaning Nationalists, all under article 370, yet KPs were dealing with this obvious communal state. The state was so blinded by its bias it didn't even realize what it was doing wrong.

The case of teachers went to Supreme Court [Triloki Nath Tiku & Anr vs State Of Jammu & Kashmir & Ors on 15 December, 1966]. The court found the rule to be contravention of Article 16 of Indian constitution:

(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State

(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect or, any employment or office under the State

In was in 1954, Part III of the Indian Constitution with some modifications was made applicable to the State. What today is sold as "erosion" of the Independence of Kashmir. It put J&K in a tough position as it couldn't continue with its "jobs in proportion to population" formula. Thus the State promulgated the Jammu & Kashmir Civil Services Rules in 1956, under the "Nationalist" Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed. It is obvious all these were just deals, carrots for trying to ride the mule of Muslim majoritarianism. Center looked the other way as long as some leader would say they have no issue with India, and it could be sold internationally as some sort of approval that all was okay in Kashmir. Center could look away, why not, it just impacted 4% of the population of the valley, and India gets to keep the muslim majority state as its crown jewel. In such an atmosphere, only loyalist KPs found life easy. Thus a generation of KP leaders were born who could not win a single election but were part of NC as "Yes Men", or at times "Yes Men" of centre. No KP could win election because delimitation was done in such a way that KP majority areas were partitioned. [Interestingly, something similar happened with marginalized Hanji community also. Delimitation meant they could not vote in their own people]. 

That the issue of teachers impacted KPs immensely from the fact that even Poet Dina Nath Nadim protested and was victimized. After State lost the case, it was asked by SC to actually define who is backward in J&K. Meanwhile the arbitrary communal rules for hirings, promotions still continued.

The state came up with Jammu & Kashmir Scheduled Castes & Backward Classes (Reservation of appointment by Promotion) Rules 1970.

Yet, on ground, in practice, the appointments were made on communal basis with KMs at the top of the stack despite their economic or social standing.

The matter again went to court [Makhanlal Waza & Ors vs State Of Jammu & Kashmir & Ors on 23 February, 1971]. KPs were still superseded based purely on religion.

KPs started boycotting the process. Around 400 KPs refused to sit for the interview for job promotion as protest.

The matter again went to court [Janki Prasad Parimoo & Ors. Etc. ... vs State Of Jammu & Kashmir & Ors on 10 January, 1973].

Court held that "Selection means that the man selected for promotion must be of merit. "

SC asked to State to explain how merit was decided.

It was told, candidate with more than 30% marks from the Committee and more than 20% marks from the expert were declared eligible for selection.

It was told how experts had asked that 50% score be the passing criteria, it was told how the committee went with 30%. And then when the people it wanted to select couldn't even score that, the score was dropped to 20%. Thus a candidate with more than 30% marks from the Committee and more than 20% marks from the expert were declared eligible for selection.

The Court went into the list of Backward classed that the state had prepared.

It asked the State the logic by which it called cultivators backward just on the basis of how much land they hold.

Court noted:

"In some areas as in Kashmir valley the ceiling for a cultivator is 10 Kanals of irrigated land. If a cultivator holds 10 Kanals of land or less he is to be regarded as backward i.e. to say socially and educationally backward. But if his own brother living in the same village owns half a Kanal more than the ceiling he is not to be considered backward. This completely distorts the picture. It will be very difficult to say that if a person owns just 10 Kanals of land he should be considered socially and educationally backward while his brother owning half a Kanal more should not be so considered. "

It is obvious that the State tried to practically again claim all Muslims as backward and again follow the communal policy to starve off KPs economically, forcing them to look outside, forcing them into counter communal politics. In this atmosphere the slogans of "Raliv, Tchaliv, Galiv" (Mix, Runoff, or Die) was first heard from the mouth of Sheikh Abdullah.  

Meanwhile, in Center, as a favor to KPs for putting up with this nonsesne, as a reward for loyalty and communal silence/peace, Centre under Indira, started hiring KPs in central jobs. The KPs were now getting placed in Central Banks, Communication depts. and offices like AG. But, in long run even that worked out against the KPs. In valley, they were now even all the more seen as "Center", the organ of all evil center.  There were whispers, not much killings yet. It was seen as peace. This peace dealing decade gave us the keyword political term "Kashmiriyat" [Toru Tak, EPW, 20 Apr, 2013. shows how the term was first deployed in mid 70s. The term has to be understood in context of Indira-Shiekh accord.]. The imaginary thing that supposedly according to experts died in 90s. Meanwhile in 89-90 KPs were again told that they were the eternal blood sucking privileged class and this time there was going to be another purge. 

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Sunday, August 23, 2020

Ghat Temples and Pandits, 1948

 


1. People watching Nehru's Boat procession from Ganpatyaar Ghat, Srinagar. May 1948.
source: Indian Photo Division
Much confusion if this is Ganpatyaar temple or Purshyar Temple


Kul Razdan, who was there. Identifying his matamaal, mother's house.

Some more photographs from the collection.

Pandit ladies can be seen looking on from the windows

Batyaar Temple near Aali Kadal.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Placing Rama-Krishna in Kashmir History


The idea that worship of Rama or Krishna or that the Vaishnav thought was alien to Kashmir is a unique thought that has taken root in Kashmir in the last few decades. Thus the thrust in Kashmir that Janamastami or Dussehra festival is an alien idea, or the temple of Rama or Krishna is a manifestation of foreign import. These ideas are driven by rather recent politics of Kashmir which is no more than 100 year old.

Krishna-Baldev etched on a rock in Chilas, Gilgit-Baltistan. Dated around 6th century AD. The left figure has a crown on his head but the right one has a crescent-topped headgear. Both of them are holding a club in their right hand. The left figure is holding a plough-topped banner in his left hand and the right figure is having a discus on his left hand. Left one is Balaram and the right figure in Krishna. Kharoshthi inscription in Scythian style accompanying the figures reads: "Of (Bala) Rama (and) Krishna, (erection) of Dhamaputa.' Source: Chilas: The city of Nanga Parvat. By Ahmad Hasan Dani, Islamabad (1983).


To get a broader perspective these thoughts must be analysed in context of Kashmir history. Ramayan is referenced in Rajatarangini as a narrative tool. The story of Hanuman bringing a goddesses from Lanka to Kashmir itself is told in Rajatarangini. Kalhana tells the tale with the humor usually associated with monkeys and Hanuman tales. We find Rama and Krishna their life stories narrated by 11th century poet Kshmendra. Earlier, King Lalitaditya the builder of Martand commissioned temples that were non-Shaivite. Under his rule only one Shiva temple was repaired (not built), that too because he took a loan from the temple trust for his military campaigns. In Rajatarangini we find a mention of an 8th century Island city built in Kashmir and named after Dwarka. Also, Kalhana tells us during Lalitaditya time two idols of Keshava [Vishnu] were excavated and inscriptions on them mentioned that they were dedicated by Rama and Lakshman. These idols were then installed in new temples at Parihaspora. We have Pradyumna Hill in Srinagar, named after the son of Krishna. The hill we now know as Hari Parbat. Alluding to Pancharatras concept popular in Kashmir back then, and out of which modern Krishna takes centre stage now. Much later in 14th one of the Shah Mir Dynasty King, father of Sultan Sikander, in a Sharda inscription is called "a scion of the house of Pandavas".

Rama Laxman Sita, Martand Kashmir
Rama, Laxman and Sita.
Martand
S.P.S Museum
via: Narinder Safaya

In 14th century, around which Kashmiri language was taking birth. It must also be remembered that ideas of Bhakti in which Krishana and Rama figure are just as old as Kashmiri language as we know it. We find Rama in sayings of Lal Ded. Some of the earliest surviving written work in Kashmiri language are seeped in Vaishnavism. Thus in 15th century we have Banasur Vadh, Mahanayaprakasa. In 17th century Sahib Kaul writes "Bhakti" leelas in Kashmiri about Krishna. Also, the Kashmiri Ramayan came up not in Dogra time...but in Afghan era in around 1786...just about 200 years after Tulsidas came up with his Ramayana. Kashmiri Pandits have been writing in Kashmiri these devotional Vaishnava poems for at least 300 years...finding greatest expression in poems of Parmananda in 18th century. When a Muslim Fakir told Parmananda that his works were too "Sanskrit" for common muslims to understand, thus depriving them of joy, Parmananda promptly came up with the work in Persian lexicon. The death rituals of KPs are governed by Garuda Purana even-though instead of "Ramnaam Satya hai", among KPs a struti to Shiva is employed. Then there is Gita. From Abinavagupta (11th century) we have a commentary on it. There is a sanskrit text that Bhatta Bhaska gives a Shaiva interpretation of Gita. Even Prem Nath Bazaz in recent times wrote a commentary on Gita. 


While it is true that under Dogras Vaishnava temples got made...but then it only follows the tradition as seen in Rajatarangini that kings built temples based on their personal preference. And it must also be remembered that while Hindus in Kashmir may have started celebrating New festivals...it should also be mentioned that they had already lost hundreds of festivals that were no longer celebrated. Kashmir had periods in which public celebration of non-islamic festivals was not possible. In accounts of Araqi we have mob violently stopping a musical procession to Hari Parbat that entailed public dancing and music. There Jazia in Kashmir as late as later Mughal rule. One of the last mob violence in this era was because a hindu celebrated a festival publicly in a garden in 1720. The era these new temples came up was also the era when Shivratri as we know it now came into being. In older texts it is not the central festival but one of the many. In this era the whole ritual for Shivratri became properly codified. Shivratri is not mentioned in Nilamata as some sort of central or main festival of Kashmiris. The idea evolved overtime in relatively recent time as the Hindus of Kashmir rediscovered and reclaimed their past in whatever bits and pieces they could based on oral and textual sources. It was also based on this activity of "revival" that the sites of old temples in Kashmir were reclaimed and rebuilt. Thus most of the functional temples in Srinagar (at least) are actually new temples. Some of them in construct no older than the 17th century even if the sites on which they were built were older. The oldest Krishna temple in Srinagar is Amar Kaul temple near Hari Parbat which came during Dogra time.  New tales were created based on past remembrances. From the writings of Pandits of the time, it is clear that they saw the coming of Sikhs and Dogra in religious terms and saw it as a time for them to assert their religious identity publicly again. They thought is was Hindu rule. Thus we see the Chakradhara idol found during excavation of Avantipur temple in 1913 getting installed in new Gadhadara Dogra temple in Shergarhi Palace. It was common back then for such new finds to end up in a temple. 

vishnu gadhadar temple
Catutanana Visnu
9th Century
Found at Avantipur. Kept in Gadhadar Temple.


Krishna idol Kashmir 9th century
Vasudeva
Baramulla, 9th Century
[From "Kashmir Sculptures" by J.L. Bhan]

Post-47, the majority thought Hindu rule was over ( and some among them thought still it was not yet Muslims rule again.) The Kashmiri society negotiated an experiment with democracy or rather the NC's understanding of it. 

Somewhere along the way the idea that Kashmiri Pandits are exclusively Shaivites also came up. With the coming of NC brand of "Kashmiriyat" politics which centers on the thought that Kashmiri people and their culture is unique from the rest, a thought necessary for the 20th century ideas of nation states, came to be frequently employed. The idea that KPs are Shaivites, having their uniqueness and thus different from other Hindus, was a sort of tool to explain how KP could still be Kashmiri. At the same time thus we see people claiming Kashmiri Muslims are different than Muslims elsewhere, Kashmir being the "Peerwaer" - the land of muslim mystics. In the splitting of the Kashmiri society post 90s, an interesting thing that has happened is that a person from Kashmir, in a good faith possibly, is still very likely to remind a KP that KPs are different from Hindus elsewhere, but at the same time, for his own community be incapable of saying a Muslim in Kashmir can be different than a Muslim in any other part of the world.

It is also in this ideological meta-context of "Kashmiriyat" that we frequently see articles about "non-veg" Kashmiri Pandits converting to "veg" (not so surprisingly, "Vaishnav" of KPs) Kashmiri Pandits (thus possibly outside of sphere of protection afforded by Kashmiriyat). These all debates subtly tend to be about good KP vs bad KP. By repeating ad infinitum that Rama or Krishna are alien to Kashmiri Hindus, the definition of Kashmiriyat seeks to define again narrowly who among Hindus is a "true" + "native" Kashmiri. Considering how exclusivist Kashmiriyat is, and how sharp its nationalistic edges, and the strange dividents it has brought Kashmir to Kashmir in form of Islamists, all this is not surprise. Kashmiriyat was what Orwell called "Negative Nationalism", it only could define itself in terms of "what it is not" or "what it is against''. What was supposed to be "Naya Kashmir" was built on the fundamentals of "Othering".
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A Directory of Kashmiri Pandit Youtube Channels

A lot of Kashmiri Pandits are now running Youtube Channels where some great new content is coming up. The range of topics are as far and wide as: music, comedy, food, literature, language, culture, short films etc.

Given the small number of the community, I see a lot of them struggling for audience and reach. The insignificant number means it takes Youtube lot more time to start recognising and recommending the content to the right people for the community. Result: a lot of them get buried under the general Kashmir content produced in Kashmir. For algo. to recognize the sub-set data, there are some basic things that can be done, and that I see a lot of these channels not doing. Good ol' - networking. Recognise each other, like, subscribe, comment and importantly create playlists. Overtime you will see discovery getting better. Algo. will understand this sub-cultural set better. It will understand this Kashmiri content is not coming from Kashmir. I am actually surprised most of these channels don't subscribe to many Kashmiri channels! Guys, you don't lose anything by subscribing, it just better contextualises your content. Creates a pool of viewers of "similar". 

[And for those who watch - download and whatsapp the content or FB upload to their own personal walls, all is not helping anyone. You may get to be star of your family whatsapp group for it, but this aping just discourages the new content producers. Just be nice and support them on Youtube.]

To help people discover such Kashmiri channels, I am creating a list of some channels which are actively generating content and treating Youtube seriously as a platform. Most of these channels have content primarily in Kashmiri or about Kashmir. This is not a definitive list, and in no order, if you believe you should be on the list, do write in:   


The Kashmir Project

[Channel by Naveen Pandita documents Kashmir. Some videos are hard-hitting and some are pure love of Kashmir]


[On Kashmiri Language]


[Lot of humor and some culture]


[The phenomena Didda. Meanka Handu reviving Koshur humor and some more]


[Kashmiri Pandit poets reciting exile poetry. Massive.]


[M.K. Raina has been persistently working on promotion of Kashmiri language]


[Video Blog of a NRI KID while learning Kashmiri]


[KP rituals + recording of Bhajans recorded live at Hari Parbat in 1970s]


[The poetry of Master]


[Kashmiri Food]


[Probably the first Kashmiri Youtuber couple. Great content!]


[First one to do proper Youtube comedy skits in Kashmiri]


[well made content on KP cooking]


[She keeps bringing in her touch to old Kashmiri songs]


[Ujval Handu helps you get in touch with basics of KP culture]


[early Youtuber who has comedy going in great style]


[a sensational Singer from Jammu singing in Kashmir. Yes, I have produced some of his songs]


[Sunandan Handoo, a gifted young KP doing comedy in old traditional Kashmiri mould but with fresh twists]


[KP cooking ]


[Cooking and workout]


[British Royal family + Koshur. Uniquely funny!] 


[Kashmiri+English+Rock]


[The Master Chef who introduced Australia to Kashmiri food]

Aves n Fauna

[A treat for Birdwatcher. By Romel Mahaldar.]

Kashmiri Language Lessons by Neetu Koul

[from last 1 year Neetu has been uploading videos imparting lessons on Kashmiri language ]

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[basically Youtube version of this blog.]

Q and A with Outlook Magazine

Last month had a brief  Q and A with Outlook Magazine on Kashmiri Pandit Literature and exile. 


1. What's the significance of Kashmiri culture for a Kashmiri Pandit? Is it any different to them from say, the significance of Malayali culture to a Malayali living elsewhere in the country? What strikes you the most when you observe Kashmiri Pandit families -- I realise you are one yourself --, their way of living, their food habits, the conversations, etc.?

A: Since you mentioned Malayali and since I am in Kerala for last many years, I can tell you one thing I found common is that both really love the land and culture they belong to. Both think of it as unique and ancient. Both interestingly are mutli-lingual and open to other cultural influences also. However, one big difference is that in case of Malayalis they have a common traditional festival like Onam in which Malayalis from all religious backgrounds take part and it is mass celebrated. In case of Kashmiri culture, the commonality of a festival does not exist. While Kashmiri Pandits take pride in Kashmiri culture, they also emphasise the fact that within it, their own culture is a subset. A Malayali living elsewhere in the country may have personal fears of losing out on culture but the actual culture is only thriving in the land of birth. In case of Kashmiri Pandits, exodus from Kashmir has meant that most of their culture is now diasporic in nature and concerns as reflected in the literature and art produced by them. There is constant fear that the culture is dying, so all the activities eventually tend to be self-aware acts about preservation. 

2. Loss is arguably the single most defining theme of literature produced by Kashmiri Pandits post the exodus. Are there other themes too? What was the literature about before the exodus?

Prior to 1989, literature produced by Kashmiri Pandits had concerns similar to artists belonging to other places in India. Post 47 and till 60s...bulk of popular writing was part of Progressive movement influenced by the left movement. We have Poet Dina Nath Nadim and his concerns for the common people. In this period a lot of literature was about communal harmony also. By 1970s, we have short story writers like Hari Krishen Kaul, still writing in Kashmiri but inspired by Western writers like Kafka. In this period, the concern deals with modernity and how it was changing the old Kashmiri society. Also, all this while we have a lot of devotional songs and music getting produced by the community. Poet Master Zinda Kaul's main theme was devotional and spiritual. The theme spiritual is probably most popular in Kashmir and is most common in Kashmiri Muslim culture also. So we have a lot of mystical poets, even till half a decade ago, and their works celebrated by both communities and publicly sung. AIR was the hub of culture and lot of Kashmiri Pandits like Pushkar Bhan and Pran Kishore were involved with radio. Meanwhile, we also had writers like Sarvanda Kaul Premi who apart from writing poetry in Kashmiri were also translating Tagore into Kashmir. By 1980s, we see a crop of Hindi poets and writers also active in cultural scene. Novelist Chandrakanta belongs to this era. Her concerns in early work also deals with modernity and how Kashmir was changing.

Post exodus, bulk of Kashmiri Pandit writing has been in languages other than Kashmiri and the major tone has been nostalgic and longing for home. Initially it was mostly Hindi but in the last few decades English has become the language for capturing the experiences. I think in a few years in the community we will see new writings on how the community was changing and how they adapted, carried multiple cultures. Writing from people who are either comfortable or struggling to be comfortable with the past and present.


In the 90s we do have a lot of Kashmiri Pandits writing in Kashmiri about the loss of home. There are writers who only a few years ago were writing in Kashmir and writing about other themes and now find themselves out of Kashmir and just remembering Kashmir. The reach of these writers was limited. So, now some work on translations is also happening. There are people working on preserving the Kashmiri language among the community. Latin script for writing Kashmiri is gaining acceptance for the simple ease of use. But, arriving at a standard remains a challenge.

4. Do you write yourself too? If yes, what do you write? Would you mind sharing something please?

I do write. Some of the pieces have been published on various online News portals. I am co-founder of Game studio in Kerala and for last 10 years I have been running a blog "SearchKashmir" that archives bits of Kashmiri Culture. This involves telling stories that I have heard, personal stories of other people, folktale, history, old photographs of Kashmir, music, films, books, arts and artists. It is basically a collection of personal discoveries as I try to dig into the past. It started with a family visit to Kashmir in about 2008. I realized I knew very little about the place I belonged to and the kind of things about the place that interested me were not there online. So I went about cataloguing. Overtime, more people started sharing their own stories too.

3. Which poet/writer's work do you relate to the most? What's so profound about them?

Strangely, or not so strangely, like most Kashmiri Pandits of my generation my introduction to Kashmiri literature was quite late. In my teenage years, work of Ritwik Ghatak spoke to me. His understood exile like few in India could and successfully captured it on screen. Manto resonated. The violence, the odd-balls caught in history and the occasional wry humor. It was only much later, as often happens, I sought and found Kashmiri culture, or rather parts of it. There is Arvid Gigoo and his sardonic tone. There are poems of Prem Nath "Shaad" and Brij Nath Betaab in Kashmir capturing the violence of 89-90 and experience of exile in Kashmiri.

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Extracts and quotes from the interview were used in the Magazine:
August 2, 2020 issue 
[What the Pandits Lost: Trauma of exodus and the Kashmiri past of Pandits in the community's art/How Kashmiri Pandits' Loss And Longing For 'Home' Find Expression In Their Literature]

Monday, August 3, 2020

"The Intrepid Kashmiri in the Flying Machine" by Rekha Wazir

Guest post by Rekha Wazir. She recalls how her Grandfather, Tara Chand Wazir came to be the first Kashmiri to fly in an aeroplane in 1921.

The Intrepid Kashmiri in the Flying Machine
by Rekha Wazir

According to Wazir family folklore, my grandfather, Tara Chand Wazir (1893-1979) was the first Kashmiri to fly in an aeroplane. I don’t know if this is factually correct, but this is what I will happily believe till somebody tells me otherwise! Of course, I am only talking about the residents of the Valley –even Kashmiris who migrated to India generations ago were not included in this record-making event. This is the story we were told:
Tara Chand Wazir in Plane, 1921
Tara Chand Wazir, 2nd from left, and Capt. Jackellis to his right, are the two passengers in the plane; in the foreground are members of his family or his fellow performers of the Brazilian Trio. Great Yarmouth Airport, August 1921, photographer unknown.
Photograph of the first ever plane that landed in Kashmir at Tattoo Ground - Chandmari, Batmaloo, Srinagar, 1922
Photograph of the first ever plane that landed in Kashmir at Tattoo Ground - Chandmari, Batmaloo, Srinagar, 1922; in all likelihood the same aircraft in which this historic flight was made. Showkat Rasheid Wani has kindly shared this photograph from his extensive archive of vintage Kashmir photographs and given me permission for its use.

A bi-plane came to Srinagar in 1922, to provide a demonstration for the people of Kashmir. Judging from their reactions, this must have been the first time many of them saw an aeroplane; most regarded it as a monster and were afraid to fly in it. The details would get a bit sketchy in the recounting of the story at this point, but it would appear that my grandfather, and his friend and colleague Sham Sundar Lal Dhar, were daring enough to volunteer for a ride.¹ (If I may insert an interesting aside here, Sham Sundar Lal Dhar was an older brother of my maternal grandfather, Tika Lal Zutshi. He had been adopted at birth in the Dhar family, hence the different surname.) There is a charming story around this flight that I loved to hear from my grandmother, the main teller of stories in my childhood.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Portrait of Mahrattas, KP family, Brariangan, 1950s

Back in 2012, I had posted this photograph from a collection given in "The Hindu Householder Family and Kinship: A Study of the Pandits of Rural Kashmir"(1957-58), an anthropological study of Kashmiri Pandits living is "Utrassu-Umanagri"  (Votaros-Brariangan, as known to Pandits)) twin villages 12 miles east of Anantnag. Even then I wondered who exactly were the subjects of the study and what became of them. I was not married back then. After getting married a few years back, I have now new relations. The image meanwhile the image was often shared around online all these years, even making it to some random articles on Kashmiri Pandits.

used in Quint


This is the story of the photograph and the people in it.

A few days back, my brother-in-law from wife's side Rajesh Pandita wrote in to say that the little girl in the front centre is his mother. 
 



Rajesh Pandita provides the details:

This photograph is of my maternal side family who used to live in Brariangan (Umanagri). At the back is in turban is my Nana Ji:  Mahishwarnath Mahratta. On right is my Nani: Mugaljigri. Left side is my Mamaji, O.N. Mahratta. In front of them is my mother Jaya Mahratta along with her bother Vasudev Mahratta. Two ladies on right are part of extended family.

Prior to 1947, Mahishwarnath Mahratta was living in Delhi at Connaught Place and working with Birla group at the time of construction of Birla Mandir. His name is engraved in a stone there.  He was manager at Birla House Manager which at the time was a new structure. Primarily he work involved taking care of  guests like Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahamta Gandhi and freedom fighters who used to frequently visit and stay in the Birla House. My Nana was close to both Gandhi and Nehru but had a special Kashmiri bond with Nehru. In early 1950s, when Nehru visited Kashmir after independence, he visited Pahalgam and invited my Nana to Pahalgam. After the 1948 War, my Nana he moved back to Kashmir due to health reasons and built a house in Umanagri, Anantnag. The house seen at the back of the photograph. 

T.N Madan knew Mahishwarnath Mahratta back from his time in Delhi. When Madan moved to Kashmir for his study, he sought him out, moved to his village, stayed with them for weeks and thus the famous anthropological study of Kashmiri Pandits was born. 

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Devi Angan Conundrum

 Hari Parbat Hill Map, Drawn on a Shawl, 1850s.
Information that is easily available online: 


In 1930s post-communal violence, Kashmiri Pandits laid claim on whole Hari Parbat (land around it was called "Devi Angan") as their religious site. The claim was rejected by Glancy Commission even though they accepted it as Hindu land. The process was thought to be too inconvenient for majority community and prone to raise communal tension.


Info. not often mentioned (however recalled by poet Zareef Ahmed Zareef):

Decades later (in 60s-70s, exact date not known) Jia Lal Nagri associated with the temple came up with a plan to distribute (retained trunctated) empty "Devi Angan" land around the temple among needy people. According to the plan if 10 plots were carved out of the land, the distribution was to be in this proportion: 2 were to be given to a Muslim, 1 to a Pandit, every 6th to a Sikh.

Hari Parbat Temple (left). 1958
via personal collection: ‎Satinder Singh Sandhu‎


Info. not easily available ( told in "Crisis in Kashmir" (1991) by Pyarelal Kaul) and not often mentioned: What still happened in Kashmir:

In May 1972, Pujaris of the temple were attacked by "unknown assailants". One of the Pujari died. The temple committee wanted to build a wall around its land to keep it safe. There were forces at work who would not allow it. Even official permission was not given. Meanwhile the temple committee setup a fence around the land. The land was still not safe. The chowkidar of the land was harassed by people till he left the job. A Sikh guard, a former policeman was hired to keep watch. This man also left the job under pressure. Then a Muslim man was hired, he too was harassed till he also excused himself. To keep the land safe, the temple committee planted vegetables on the land. One night, someone let loose cattle on the land. Then the committee landed fruit trees on the land, one night someone uprooted all the trees. In all this, the pilgrims still arrived everyday to Parbat like they had for centuries, circumambulating the hill, they worried a bit, but went about their prayer rituals as usual. When on action was taken by goverment, only then the actual land grab around the temple started. Bagh-e-Ram Singh which fell on the traditional Parikrama route around the temple was also grabbed. Now the pilgrims couldn't even circle the hill using the old routes. They kept their heads down, took other routes, prayed, returned to their homes. This went on till 1983 and later.

Chakreshwari Temple on Pradyumna hill/Hari Parbat.
Other Shrines also visible
 Drawn on a Shawl, 1850s. 


Post 90, the land was still getting grabbed. This was happening with other temples of Kashmir too. Pujaris (often non-Kashmiris) were bribed, temple committees subverted, deals done, "land leased", land sold and money made. 

Dome of Chakreshwari Temple getting constructed.
inaugurated by Laxman Joo 
1961-62
via: Anil Bhat
[Bharat Wakhlu adds: My father Mr. O.N. Wakhlu designed the shell structure. Supervision of the contractor’s work was done by Mr. A.N. Thussu, who became Chief Engineer a few years later.
 He was an ardent devotee of Swami Lakshman Joo. The year should be 1963-64]


Post 2000, when new Pandits tourists started arriving "home", cut-off from the land, its bloody history, most not even aware what the place waslike a few decades ago, the tourist Pandits quietly arrived at the temple, claimed the stairs, deliberately avoiding Muslim majority lanes of Parikrama route, said their prayers and marvelled at the beautiful view of the sad city from the hill.


The iconic gate of the temple.
Post construction.
1961-62
[Bharat Wakhlu adds: The gate was already there. Used to be wooden earlier. ]


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Monday, July 6, 2020

Pandit Bazaz the Iblis

If we know one thing about how ethnic cleansing is possible, it is that first intellectual arguments for defining them as perpetual "problem" is done. It needs creation of an amoral society in which killing of the "other" can be legitimised. In India, if we have Congress, Communists, Socialist etc that have done lot of work countering attempts to delegitimise Muslim existence in India, in case of Kashmir, it was National Conference that laid the foundation of systematic hated for Pandits. It was not work of religious parties in Kashmir, they joined in later, it was work of ultranationalists in Kashmir who needed a perpetual enemy they could blame for all that was wrong in Kashmir.

By 1989, the ground had already been prepared to cast Kashmiri Pandits as the eternal enemy of Kashmiri Muslims. No matter what politics they pursued - communist, socialist, ultranationalist, democrat - they were marked people. To illustrate it we can see how Prem Nath Bazaz, the man that certain Tahreekis still love to quote, was perceived in the "intellectual" circles of Kashmiri Ultranationalists.          

In "Perspectives on Kashmir" (1983) by Mohammad Ishaq Khan, writes:

"The emergence of the Kashmiri Muslims on the political map of the sub-continent forced them to move in two directions viz, communal and secular. While more than 99 per cent of the Pandits opposed the popular movement tooth and nail, an insignificant number of the Pandits like Prem Nath Bazaz decided to support the Muslims. However, the role played by the 'secular' Pandits too, proved to be far from satisfactory. Bazaz, for example, was a great influence on Shaikh Muhammad Abdullah and, although the conversion of the Muslim Conference into the National Conference was brought about by the political sagacity of the latter, it was in no small measure, the outcome of the influence of Bazaz's powerful writings and his close association with the Kashmir leader.

But it remains to be seen why Bazaz who played an important part in laying the the foundations of secular nationalism in Kashmir, later turned to be an arch enemy of the National Conference.

Not only did Bazaz join hands with the enemies of the National Conference after 1940, but he even did a lot of academic propaganda against Shaikh Abdullah so as to tarnish his towering public image. Whether Bazaz's role in Kashmir politics since 1931 has been that of a 'nationalist', a 'Pakistani', a 'socialist', or a 'reactionary' masquerading in the guise of a 'secularist' is a question worth studying; nevertheless, the course of development in his political thinking suggests particularly one significant conclusion that his political role was always strong enough to induce mutual conflict in the Muslim community of Kashmir. This is not only proved by his writings but also by the fact that the Mir Waiz family of Srinagar always enlisted the support of Bazaz in order to regain the position it had lost in Muslim society of Kashmir owing to the emergence of Shaikh Abdullah. Thus, while the pre-independence period, Bazaz supported Mirwaiz Muhammad Yusuf Shah demand for the integration of the State of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan, in the Assembly elections of 1977 he pitted Mir Waiz Moulana Muhammad Farooq against the National Conference so as to pave the way for the success of the Junta Party in Kashmir. It is interesting to note that the main item on the agenda in the meetings presided over by Bazaz at the Miz Waiz's house during the elections was how to bring about the downfall of Shaikh Abdullah."
Thus we find that even a Pandit like Bazaz was simply seen as a man whose actions lead to conflict in Muslim community. That Ishaq Khan links it to event of 1930s when NC was born out of split in Muslim Conference is significant as it places Pandits as a historical enemy who for their interest are always conspiring to split the Kashmiri Muslim ummah. So not only are 99% KPs are painted communal but intentions of 1%  Bazazs is also questioned. They are seen as someone extra cunning who will only confuse and mislead the Kashmiri Muslims. *


These are charges that 30 years later still are hurled at Kashmiri Pandits. The language and those making the accusations change but the gist remains the same. An evil insidious villain is made out of the community. Ishaq Khan continues with his accusations:

"The radical land reforms introduced by the National Conference government in 1950 were interpreted in communal terms by the Pandits and their supporters in Jammu and New Delhi One of the main arguments raised was that the reforms were directly aimed at the Pandits. Though the Central Government was not against the spirit of the re forms, it did not approve of the manner in which the re forms were implemented. Sardar Patel's group particularly was greatly alarmed by the radicalism of Shaikh Abdullah.
It is, therefore, hard to contest the view that Shaikh Abdullah's expulsion from power in 1953 was mainly the result of a conspiracy hatched by those Pandits whose interests in the land were affected by the promulgation of the Big Landed Estates Act of 1950.

The Pandit agitation over the voluntary conversion of a Pandit girl to Islam in 1967 also bears an eloquent testimony to the fact that Pandit leadership role in Kashmir has always been against the larger interests of the country. No less anti-national has been the role of the national press fed mainly by the Pandit correspondents; its editorials, articles and news concerning Kashmir have often looked at things with jaundiced eyes by magnifying the problems of the Pandit community. So great has been the effect of the propagandist activities of the Pandits that even a seasoned politician like Indira Gandhi was forced to remark recently that the 'minorities' are not safe in Kashmir.!

It will thus be seen that in spite of their numerical in significance, the Pandits have not only made their presence felt in the arena of national politics but even now seem to guide the destiny of the Kashmiri Muslims. True that the politics of the Pandits is the politics of certain vested interests it has, nevertheless stood in the way of emergence of the Kashmiris as a monolithic political group. The Pandits phobia regarding their property, life and religion have only served to strengthen the revivalist and the separatist forces in Kashmir in recent years. The growing popularity of the Islami Jamiat-i-Tulabba among the Muslim youth may be described as a chain reaction to the onslaught of communal forces in the Kashmir politics One need not feel surprised, therefore, why in a mammoth Friday gathering at Hazratbal recently Shaikh Abdullah felt constrained to openly criticise the inimical activities of 'Hindu communalism' in and outside the State against the Muslims of Kashmir."
When Shaikh was thrown out of Power, again a Pandit conspiracy was blamed for it. Street gossip is passed off as popular opinion. The portrait of KP that is painted sees them as people who lie to Center to make Kashmiri Muslims suffer, KP journalists as "agents" who mislead someone "seasoned" as Indira Gandhi and communalists driven by phobia who are forcing not just Muslims youths to turn to Jamaat and radical Islam but also forcing Shaikh Abdullah into making communal speeches. Thus they are presented as the anti-national devil who has been (mis)guiding the destiny of Kashmiri Muslims. They are the reason for all that is wrong in Kashmir. It is a surprise that in 1989 when guns arrived in Kashmir as the "solution", it was only the "Pandit Problem" that got solved? Is it a surprise that the marked men among KPs were journalists, historians, socialists, democrats, communists, liberals, secularists, nationalist and ultranationalist of all kind? Every KP was a problem. It was this intellectual sophistry that made this violence possible. 
 
 

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*After coming across these writing of Prem Nath Bazaz, I was expecting that someone among Kashmiri Ultranationalist would have gone out of way to discredit him. 

These writings and thoughts were the trigger:  




Saturday, June 20, 2020

"Exile and Death" by Sushant Dhar

Where is Home

A few lived it, many died and some waited. His last words were, ‘Where is Home?’


Refugee Camp, Jammu Province, 1990’s…


It was a sea of people. Hundreds of trucks were lined up; each carrying a home. I remember the day when one man lost his life to the blazing sun in the afternoon. He lived in our block. He was forty. He earned his living by binding books. He was playing cards on the roadside. Feeling dizzy he left in between, and fell panting in the middle of the road. People offered him water. He died instantly.


Pitambar Nath’s body was found on the banks of the river Tawi. He was cremated the same day at Devika Ghat. The next day we woke up to cries from the block adjacent to us. The temple was flooded with men and women. I saw an old man’s body wrapped in white cloth lying on the floor. He was being washed. A priest was chanting hymns. People were offering water to the dead. Gash Nath died due to electrocution. A high tension wire ran close to his quarter. The chant asking God for forgiveness reverberated in the entire camp. ‘Kshyantavue maiaprada shiv shiv shiv bho shree mahadev shambu’. The man who works at the crematorium says, ‘We mostly receive bodies for cremation from refugee camps.’


***


The whole camp is engulfed in a silence of despair and longing. A house with several rooms lies vacant in the village. Fifteen families have sought refuge in Narayan temple near the camp. Some live in sheds and fabricated structures alongside the railway station. One old woman is hurling abuses in her native language. She is sweating profusely. Her husband is continuously stamping the earth with his feet. He shouts at the sky, ‘This is galling, this is galling.’ He does this all day.


People are dying in numbers. The one in E-1 died of a snake bite. Hriday Nath succumbed to fever. One of the teachers from the Government School lost hold of himself. A week later, he left and never returned. Some say he was last seen at the crematorium and then at the bus stand. Did he ever board the bus to his home? Is he alive? Nobody knows.


***


The camp welfare association has been formed last night. Trilok Dhar will be taking us to the commissioner’s office. He has a few contacts. People taking refuge in Geeta Bhawan will also be joining us. Have you received the ration? They are giving 5 kilos rice to each family. This is the ration card. It has my permanent address. This is all what is left. We must carry it along with us every time. This is our identity. They are going to shift us to a different camp. It will be on a hilltop. Where are you going? You must not go out. The sun has come out early in the morning. Be with us for a few days. We will talk.


Niranjan Kak with a frozen flickering smile: I’ll take a walk over the wooden bridge. I’m feeling a bit perturbed. I have to take care of my cows. The fields have been left unattended. The garden is in complete disarray. Let me call Jigri. Where is Vijay? Where is Asha? What’s with the walnut tree? Why has it dried? Who has stolen the fruits? Look at the frozen sky. The river has changed its course. Someone has set my house on fire. It’s burning down to ashes, the house of my ancestors. Look at the mound of the dead. I must leave. I have things to do.


He lived alone in the camp in a shabby room covered by cobwebs. He mostly seated himself on the bed and at times on the wooden chair alongside his bed. The picture of his native house always lies close to him. It is not a dangerous illness but the memory of home that torments him for days and weeks. The sobs slow down when the darkness sets in. Nights are filled with shrieks and native songs.


I remember the way to my home, 200 meters from the bridge, near Farooq’s bakery.


‘I nurture my longing and see through days. I will wait. They say we will be taken in buses. I have packed everything. When are they taking us back? I make amends with my heart. I caress it. My heart starts throbbing violently when I visit the place. I tremble and run back. Look at the stream of tears flowing through my eyes. I have grown bitter over the years. I am losing my memory. It’s something like a bridge which hangs above the desert. The bridge shakes every second. It’s not fixed. One has to crawl to reach to the other end. It changes position. Many fell down and died. The old man and the woman couldn’t hold for long and jumped to death. I persisted for days and years. Hundreds died. Bridge remains. It hangs. It devours. I escape. I run. Horses cry, make sounds and gallop towards the bridge. I mount on a horse and take the route through mountains. I jump from mountain to mountain, peak to peak, into the valley of mountains and then towards a vast emerald blue sea spanning the entire universe. I have grown lonelier. Solitude is eating me up. Where have they gone? Who is jeering on the streets? 


***


Where are my cigarettes? Have I turned a little sallower on face? No. Am I sweating? Yes. Who started this carnage? They. Who will stop this conflagration? Where are the firefighters? I’ll wait till my final breath. I have tumors in my stomach. It refuses to take food. I bark like a dog. There is mud all over on the sky. It’s on my face. There is no light. One day I will die in sleep. That must be liberating. Death will be my final emancipation. Deliverance.


Do you sense this turmoil in my heart, this devastation? Who can save this exile from dying in an alien land amidst strangers? Nobody! Waiting seems like dying, dying every day. Where is the priest? He is out for the tenth day at Ranbir canal. Who died? Bansi Lal from Block Q. How is Hriday Bhan? He is suffering from lung cancer. He pleads with God to give him death. How is his wife? She died a week back.


Have they cut down all the trees? There are no trees. This is desert. Where is the harvest of this season? Who stained it with blood? I wait for the return of winter. What’s with the sun? Who has fixed it over my head? Why is it not moving away? This is summer. Where are the hillocks? This is desert. Why is the window pane shut? There are no windows. Who will cry when I will die? Nobody. What to do with these memories that have accumulated in my heart? They assail me. Give them to fire. What to do with the dreams? Starve them. How many summers are waiting? My guts have dried. Water them. 


Everything will be turned to ashes. Every one of us will die.


***


Who is groaning?


It’s him. He is trembling, another paroxysm of yearning. He is breathing heavily. Yes, he is alive. He lives.


Where is the photo frame with the picture of his house?


He flings it out.


Give it to him. Tell him, ‘The bus will come in an hour’.                                    


I heard, ‘They are shifting us to another camp. People are already on the move. The place is around cement factories. Slum. Desert. Brick kilns. I am tired of moving from one camp to another camp. Where is home?’


Why these breathless, dreary sighs? Death is near. It has been set in motion. We will die like dogs. Look at them. They are galloping towards us. It’s a mob with swords and guns. Run! 


Niranjan Kak is writing names on a paper. It is his permanent address. The place has been burnt. The house was looted. He wears pheran in summer. He has a long beard. The photo frame with the picture of his house hangs from his neck. 


‘I will wait on the bridge for the whole day. I will wait for the fires to ebb. It is not that everything stands destroyed, that everything is in ruins, a memory still breathes, a laugh still resounds in the rooms, a house still stands tall and the earth still bears my footmarks. Flowers have dried and trees have picked a disease. Time has wilted them. They long for water.’


 I haven’t locked my room and wardrobe. They have plundered it. The new pillows still lay on the bed waiting for my father to rest on them. My mother isn’t doing well. She has fever. I’ll go to the town to collect some medicines. My radio and new books are in the almirah.


***


He is on his bed now, muted. He doesn’t speak to anyone. He has stopped eating. He walks inside his room, making a circle every minute. He never comes out of his dwelling. He fears sun. He waits for winter. He waits for homecoming. He has grown weary and old. He has long hair and beard. He lays famished on his bed. His eyes are fixed on the ceiling. He wears a vacant look. He doesn’t blink for hours. He hides the pills and other medicines under his pillow. The chemist nearby the camp visits him every week and feeds him intravenously. He offers a faint cry, a wail every morning and evening.


What is life to me and what is its meaning? It’s a long tiring wait. It is futile. Flakes of snow welcome me at the door. Who lights the lamp? Smell the incense and see the rising embers. Where has the mystic gone? What’s with the people? Why have they gone mad? Who has killed Janki Nath and Bimla? Where is Ramesh?  Everybody has fled. I hear gunshots. Do you hear? A mob is coming towards our house. Do you hear their slogans? They have taken a vow. Every one of us will be wiped away. There will be massacres. They are coming. They will kill us all. Where is Home?


He has grown hysterical and his memory keeps tormenting him.


Why are the trees bereft of their fruits? What has happened to them? Time has poisoned them. Desert has grown on snow. They grow only leaves and stems, no flowers. Where are the birds? What is with the water? Who has changed its color and its sweetness? It has become sour and frothy. What has happened to the village and its houses? Who has lived here? Who has left them? Who wails inside them? Where are the children? What memories they hold? Who cries all night? Let them stone me. Where should I go? I’ll bury myself in the walls or I’ll dig a sepulcher for myself. What’s with the fire and its flame? Who is dousing it?


I am reminded of a path that was all laden with grass and mist with dense woods. Now it’s only stones. I see a river passing by, a flock of sheep dotted with different colors, walnut trees, rice fields, clear sky and a thud of cold breeze floating on chinar leaves. I am reminded of the giant folding of mountains guarding our village. These are spherical dwellings, hovels. It is a new place. The house stands buried now. Bricks have turned into dust.


***


The next day I visited the engineer to borrow the almanac from him. He was preparing his bed, covering it with white bed sheet, two pillows at the head end and one at the other. He hurriedly allowed me to come in. He was delighted at the sight of seeing someone visiting him. He smiled with a sparkle on his face. I asked for almanac. He offered me tea. I shifted my gaze. A sour odor wafted in the room. Nauseating. The place was reeking. A strong stench emanated from the room. He had placed a kerosene stove on bricks. There were few utensils. A large portrait of a Goddess. A family portrait. Scraps of paper all over, each having the same thing written over, the address. Table Fan. A kerosene lamp hanging from the nail above a small wooden shelf. Ration Card. Books. A dusty mirror and a round comb. Ashtray. Cigarette stubs. A soiled sheet lying on the floor. The smell of quilt and mattress. We had our tea. He mentioned places and names. There were moments of silence.


‘I don’t believe in God, I believe in death, I saw many. I saw water turning black. I saw ghosts pillaging everything in their way. It is only between me and the flames. Only time will decide who will consume whom?’


‘The blood soaked hands rise in the dark, circling my neck. I lost them all. I'll not survive this sweltering summer. I’m all dry. Parched stomach. This darkness is eating me up. I’ll die in disquiet. I vomit. I shiver. I breathe heavily. I have nausea. This is not home. I have been dragged here. I don’t belong to this place. I’m suffering today. I’ll suffer tonight. I’ll suffer tomorrow. It’s a vale of sufferings. I’m dying. I’m waiting for the winter. I’ll go home. I’ll die there. I’ll suffer there, but not in solitude. My stomach is long dead. The food is floating. My mouth is stinking. I can’t bear the stink. What will I do? I will stop my breath.


‘Winter has arrived. Bring me some snow, snow in round earthen vessel. It will not melt. Bring me some snow.  I will touch it; I’ll let it melt in my hands. I will stand still when it starts snowing.’


He stopped in the middle of the conversation, something came upon him, and he started murmuring to himself, looked at me in an instant and started crying like a child. He rose from the bed and fell on his knees pleading with me to take him to his native home. ‘Take me. Take me to my home. I have money, I’ll spend it all. Take me to my home. I will kiss the walls of my house. I will die anytime. The sun is eating me. I haven’t slept for a week. This heat is charring me. Take me to the commissioner. Take my ration card and show it to them. This guy knows me. He is from our village. His father was my friend. He will arrange a taxi for me. Write a letter to the Government. Have this diary. Call my friend. He will take me home. Where have they all gone? She is here with me all the time. She loves strolling with me in the garden, walking down the road, and leading to the river gushing through the village. We sit for hours on the banks of the river. She dips her long hair in the water and waits for the sunrise.


‘I will walk close to that mountain surrounding the entire village. They say the river has reduced to a thin quiet stream. The river has dried. I will follow the stream. I will wait for the water to turn sweet. The wait is tiring. I lived life in solitude. I don’t die either.’ 


It was in the summer of the year 2000; Janmashtami festival was being celebrated in the camp. The temple was all flooded with devotees. A rather pale cloak of darkness had descended on the morning. The earth had lost its smell. He was in the middle of eating his lunch. The glass of water had spilled over. There was rice spattered all over his bed. His fingers were clenched tightly with one hand holding a fistful of rice. The tip of his tongue had come out, bruised and marked by streaks of blood. His mouth was half-filled with food. The eyes were dry and clear; a tear had rolled down his cheeks. His face looked as if marred by enormous grief and the picture of his native house hung from his neck. He was dead, lying on his feces. Ashen legs, blue swelled veins, bloated belly, blanched shaven glistening face and combed hair. His eyes gave me a long gaze. Niranjan Kak, the engineer was no more. I opened the pack in a hurry and smoked half of them. The other half I kept on his bed and went away.


The chanting continued… ‘Kshyantavue maiaprada shiv shiv shiv bho shree mahadev shambu.’


Notes:

1. Tawi: A river in Jammu Province in the state of J&K.

2. Devika Ghat: Name of a crematorium.

3. Pheran: Traditional Kashmiri attire worn during winters.

4. Janmashtami: Hindu Festival celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna.

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This piece was first published in Muse India, Issue 70.

Sushant's work has been published by Outlook, Kitaab, Bloomsbury, The Bombay Review, Muse India, New Asian Writing, Coldnoon and others. 

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Artwork: Vinayak Razdan


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