Archive for October, 2017

I- Kargil: War-town, at Peace / By Rashmi Talwar/ Daily Kashmir Images


Screenshot Kargil 1 Communal harmony 9sept17.jpg
Dateline Kargil Part I
Kargil: War-town, at Peace
Rashmi Talwar

As I awkwardly pose for a selfie, in old Kargil bazaar, I notice, shopkeepers peeping, smiling, looking at each other and smiling some more. I pick up a little Kargil girl, swirl, put her down, and whisper, rather loudly -“Mujhe yahaan achha lagta hai” (I like it here!). Someone pops a question -“Aap idhar kitne din bethoge” (How many days will you stay?) and lets out an -“Ohhh! Kuch din betho na yahaan bhi” (Stay here too, for some more days,). I merrily wave and wonder about this apricot country and its infectious sweetness.

Of mixed racial stock of Aryans, Dards, Tibetans, Mongoloids; of Brokpas, Baltis, Purik, Shinas and Ladakhis; of its colours and multi-cultures and faiths – Buddhism, Islamic, besides Bonism, Dardism, Hinduism, Sikhism, perched at a threshold of alpine mountains of Himalayas, Tibetan Steppe and cold deserts of Central Asia.

Predominantly Muslim, 65% Shia compared to Sunni, this war-linked population communicates in almost seven languages Purgi, Balti, Dardic, Ladakhi, Zanskari, Sheena, Urdu/ Hindi. A silky white taffeta stole is placed around my neck in homes, a traditional welcome for guests, and a timeless charm seals the warmth of old stone houses groaning under ancient wattle and daub. Homes, now wilting, giving space to newer homes, hotels, resorts for eager tourists, mountaineers and scholars; apart from, droves of political, bureaucratic paraphernalia, popping-in from Srinagar and Leh.

The town, a view of charming markets, inviting, attractive, vivid – a salivating sight of virtual food-floods, laden with every kith and kin of summer veggies and fruit.

The town once battered by bombs, explosions is on a merry track, of being a coveted tourist destination. Syed Tawha Aga, Additional Director Tourism, in his infectious enthusiasm, lists out almost 22 heritage sites for my three-day itinerary. Spots of magnificent sculptures, people, forts, palaces, built in Central Asian architectural stream, gleaned from Turkish, Arabic and Iranian styles. He can add more and must be deeply pained to omit trekking, mountaineering trails, adventure and bouldering sites, aside from hundreds of lesser known hideouts with virgin views.

Kargil, in popular consciousness concomitant with war, has within its multiple-community cross-links, a strong socio-ethnic amalgam, where minds and hearts lie at peace. The habitation has experienced horror, dreaded war clarions, but down the years the momentum of harmony envelops every layer of its social makeup. Easy banter, frolic-teasing, between communities over issues with potential to become flare-up points, are taken in a jolly stride.

Enmity, animosity, faith-linked or otherwise has not crossed this trek. “No communal outburst was ever heard or seen among the 1.40 lakh populace sprinkled around 127 villages with a solitary Kargil town as Axis”, smiles the 72-year Karan Singh, a former Principal of Suru Higher Secondary School, his family, a witness of every milestone of the town’s chequered history.

Harbour of Communal Harmony – The Balti-Street

Down ancient Balti Street, rows of homes clutch each other, as the lone binding lane lends simply a cart-road space reminiscent of a trade melting pot of yore, to passers-by. A few steps ahead, the spire of Hanfiya Mosque, shoots tall, standing parallel to a Nishan Sahib-symbol of Sikhs, of more than a century-old Civil Gurdwara, and share more than a wall.

Balti Street retains and exhibits its strong flavours of friendliness that once claimed a niche expanse of Hindu-Sikh migrants from Baltistan (Pakistan). Interestingly, according to 1981 Census, 69.38% of them conversed in Balti language. Kargil, carved its district identity in 1979, subsequently, Census 1981, placed 77.90% of Kargil’s inhabitants as Muslims; Buddhists constituting 19.49 % and Hindus at 2.26% – as 3rd major religion in the district.
Census 2011, held Hindus totalling 10,341, with an urban populace of 3139; Sikhs numbered 1101 with 321 in Kargil town.

A sizeable population then, nearing extinction now, the two minority communities have moved, presumably to mainland, for no specific reason than economical more than fear of wars or otherwise.

However, Balti Street still stands home to 40 Sikhs, compared to a Hindu family of four- the lone remnants of the once sizable faith, with Muslim neighbours around. But then Kargil – a melting pot, trade point of ancient Silk Route has always been on the flow. “Remnants of several faiths, communities, stamp their cultural and artistic footprints and move.” Tsering Sonam, a Buddhist from Garkone hamlet – famed for retaining the Pure Aryan race, inserts.

“Where we see the world brokered over faiths and regions, mines and mights, ours is special,” Karan Singh, elected Chairman of State Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, from civil Gurdwara Kargil, and resident of Balti Street, contends. “Special?”- I query. “Our Sikh families settled more than century ago; continue to be part of this remote chunk. Soon after India gained Independence and was partitioned simultaneously, Kabalis backed by Pakistan fired and looted our shops in 1947; a decade later in 1965 war, infiltrators sat on high peaks overlooking Kargil, that eventually were wrested from them. After 1999, many assumed Kargil was War or a Military Operation not a Town, less, a district.”
Folding his hands and looking up, in Shukar– (Thanksgiving)–Karan Singh utters- “Despite being in abject minority, we are special, caring for us has become a virtual culture here. In my lifetime there isn’t a rude word from any community exchanged in Kargil! During a ‘Swatch Bharat’ Abhiyaan, Muslim brethren swept our Gurdwara, while Sikhs and lone Hindu family cleaned the mosque and the Imambara. On Baisakhi and during our founder Guru Nanak Dev ji Gurpurab, the Nishan Sahib- is changed and entire Kargil remains in participation.

The warmth of these gestures has assumed the status of tradition, encouraged by society, as if, a sacred duty. Even political, bureaucrat, attendance comes naturally.” Smiling as he stretches out on cool sheets laid over carpets.
‘Once having a sizeable Hindu population are there any temples?’ I ask. ‘There was one Mandir, but since community migration, it remained in shambles and was eventually razed.”

Vividly recalling a recent incident, Karan says- “When our Mother-Balbir Kaur, passed away in February this year, it was the peak of winter, much of our family had gone neeche to Jammu. Only we two brothers were here with her. Kargil, that lovingly addressed mother as – Amaa Bir, organised the cremation at Shamshan- near army headquarters. Kargil women undertook the Gusal- last ritual bath, as no family women were present due closure of roads, and the entire town observed a shutdown in mourning and respect, thereafter”.

“Just a Few days back, a Kashmiri entered the Gurdwara and offered Namaz. When I pointed out the masjid next door, he responded –‘I didn’t realize when I came here- Khuda ka ghar ek hi hai’(Almighty’s house is one only), I was moved by the comment. This is my Kargil. Common walls make for cohabitation but loving hearts make for lifelong bonds”. Hussain Ibn Khalo, Editor of a local cable channel, a majority community Shia Muslim, sitting nearby, with arms around a bolster in Karan Singh’s home, nods in agreement.

Lone Hindu family

Going down Balti Street, almost at crossroads stands a shop “Amar Chand Dev Raj’. The lone Hindu family resides just over the shop. Ravinder Nath (55) and his wife Madhubala have a cosy little dwelling. Ravinder is a rich merchant, having wholesale and distribution rights of Britannia, Dairy Milk, green tea, CGI corrugated Sheets for roofs.

Offering the choicest salty tea, he says -“I have been living here with our family all my life and we have always been traders.” Learning about my Amritsar roots, he butts in –“We get our green tea from Amritsar and I often visit your Golden Temple.” Pouring me another cup, Madhubala, is a beauty, like her namesake cinestar Madhubala of yesteryears, enhanced by red kumkum bindi. –Do you always wear a bindi? I ask Madhubala. ‘Always!’ she smiles. Looking at me, peering at the tea cup in my hand Ravinder comments – “It’s from Yarkand,
My grandfather Amar Chand, was one of the foremost in trading circles in Yarkand and China during the times of British and the trade through the old silk route. Much as I have inherited from my family my prized possession is a “Passport” issued to my grandfather Amar Chand- it reads – Lala Amarchand resident of Jahan Kalan Hoshiarpur, Issued by the order of ‘Her Majesty Counsel General at Kashgar’- British Subject by Law”. It maybe the rarest of rare cases of a passport, I revel.
“My grandfather brought gold and finest silks in the central Asian trade. In fact, the route taken by my grandfather was marked to lay the Manali-Leh road,” claims Ravinder. “My life, my being is Kargil, people are most loving. During my childhood about 25-Hindu families lived here. Like Karan Singh’s family, I have attended almost every occasion of happiness and pain in this place. I wish to die here and know that after me, no one would carry forth the mantle of our faith anymore. But Kargilis are more mine than my own relatives. Yahan ka Pyar-Mohabat duniya mein kahin nahi- (the loving-love here has no second in the world) I can call upon them 24×7, what more can I say?.”

Together in wartimes

Humans are prone to be more united during distress, calamity or war. Sitting with nephew Karamjit Singh, a co-owner of a local TV Channel and his bhabhi Charanjit Kaur, Karan Singh, recalls -“During Kargil war 1999 shelling, Karamjit was a baby, I was the principal of Suru Higher Secondary School.

While targeting Iqbal bridge to cut off the lone National Highway to Leh, our school was battered by bombs. Close-by army’s ammunition dump too triggered-‘We heard ammunition blasts for nearly 32 hours! My coat buttons flew off with the impact, just as windows burst, children defecated and urinated in their pants and were laden with sticky mud. It was macabre spectacle. People, pooled in, to rush injured, to help hide children in safe spots, one teacher was killed, one had her jaw blown off, and one was hit by a sniper shot but survived. When Gen Arjun GoC visited the school – he was stunned to know there was only one casualty. With people’s participation tents were pitched, in Karnoor and Minji on Kargil-Zanskar highway about 6 Kms from Kargil town and school restarted. Only the following year, the school was rebuilt. Many of the teachers were army personnel wives.”

Woman who broke glass ceiling for girls’ education

We traverse our way to meet another icon of the town Fatima Nissa Begum (75) a close friend of Amaa Bir, who opened the doors for education for girls. She is the only surviving educated woman of the 1950s, who studied in Kargil against all set norms of girls’ education. Her home has the bestest Geranium flowers, cheerful in old tins and assorted containers gleaned from the kitchen granary, – a cheerful Fatima, serves a feast of chicken, salads, buns and namkeens with rounds of typical pink salty tea, that I am getting used to – and says- “Two others, who were educated at my time, were from other places, -One, from Skardu in PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) and another Simla educated, both passed away.

And added- “Education for girls was forbidden, in our Islamic culture, but I studied till class 5th in Government, Girls High school. My father, despite being a much respected religious scholar supported me. In lower classes, I alone possessed a bag, pencil box and books in a class of 5-7 girls. Girls came, listened and left. This was the education we received. I often shared my books with my classmates, but soon they were forced to drop school.
However, with much diligence, I finished 5th standard in 1955, competing with boys, as girls hardly appeared for exams.

I was nearly ostracized-‘Don’t play with her, don’t look at her! Etc etc.. Fatima trails off. “Those were hard times, but my father’s support minimized all hurdles. After primary my father was at a loss, as high schools were only for boys. Seeing my enthusiasm, an old teacher offered, and taught me at home. No sooner had I completed class 8th, a teacher’s job fell vacant in Baru village about two Kms away. On my father’s insistence, at the age of 14, I took up the job, crestfallen over my loss of education. The first princely amount of 100 rupees for my services thrilled me endlessly.

My spirit however didn’t die; I finished matric, and slowly started into the forbidden domain of girls’ education from home to home, along with the job. “How?” I butt in. “I started by teaching Koran to select girls then urged parents to send them for Koran lessons in school and imparted education in all primary subjects.” I notice the glowing face of Fatima and sit in wonderment at her ingenuity and pluck in those times and at that tender age. Today on retirement Fatima receives a pension of Rs 20,000. With her own savings has performed pilgrimages- Haj to Mecca Medina, and is widely travelled in Iran, Iraq, Dubai, Syria, UAE, and plans to go to many other places in the world, that feat, no woman in these parts can yet compete.

Footnote

Returning to my hotel Jan Palace, I learn about the Kargil’s Mamani festival rooted in pre-Buddhist religion of Bon, in peak winter of January snows, that pens togetherness in the endearing town, when traditional meals are shared amongst all. It reminded me of calling upon each other during times of distress. It reminded me, that the world needs more people to build up other people, instead of tearing them down. It also reminded of mobile phone and internet being dead slow here; pushing forth the fragrance and flavour of inter-personal communication in varied tongues and dialects, that clasps the absolute key to kindness. Holding umpteenth packets of dried apricots from warmth of town homesteads, I knew I was taking back seeds of sweetness, the treasures of peace of the apricot country.

Photos : Hosan-Ibn- Khalo

Rashmi Talwar is an Amritsar based Journalist, can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com
URL:http://dailykashmirimages.com/…/14…/kargil-war-town-at-peace
00–00

Advertisements

Sikh promises ‘Bhangra’ cheer to Turmoiled Kashmir / By Rashmi Talwar/ Daily Kashmir Images


Screenshot wedding open invite

Sikh promises ‘Bhangra’ cheer to Turmoiled Kashmir

Rashmi Talwar

When I think of October in Kashmir, I visualize the skyline awash with Harud or Autumn hues of reds, oranges and golds. In those Almighty’s favourite tints, Chinars dazzles over most other greens, in majesty and sheer beauty of its wavering shades from ochre to buttery yellows fingers, turning gold and finally crimson. To the famed – Aatish- a-Chinar or a Chinar on fire, as Emperor Jahangir famously exclaimed, describing Chinars incredible beauty in Autumn. Few saw the resplendent blooming tulips, the spring’s exotic European flowers, Badamwari’s almond blossoms, this year, while Mughal gardens of Shalimar, Nishat, Harwan, mesmerized just a few locals with its exquisite blooms.

It was deeply saddening for Kashmir especially this year during peak summer season to host just a trickle of tourists. Merely 5% occupancy in hotels, huts, guest houses, homestays and houseboat were reported from Srinagar from last July to this year too. But, come September end and early October, the horizon may cheer for a change, albeit, for just a few days. The menu is Punjabi Bhangraa and not Wazwan – the Kashmiri favourite platter that shall take centre-stage in a Kashmiri wedding.

It was delightful to read Jatinder Pal Singh’s wedding invitation on social networking site Facebook, on an otherwise languid Sunday, that managed to refresh the brightness of the holiday –It stated –“An OPEN INVITATION for my wedding scheduled for on October 1, 2017 for all known or unknown Facebook friends.”
JP- A Kashmiri Sikh, software engineer, from Tral Kashmir, settled in Gurgaon, has 3932 strong friend-list with 581 followers and the invite went not only to them but as a public profile open to any and every one. JP is a promoter with a start-up- easywaylabs.com- a website ‘making things convenient’ for laboratory tests as also a coordinator for United Sikhs- a Charitable International NGO, that’s on the forefront during disasters. JP did commendable work during Kashmir floods in 2014, collecting a sum of more than Rs 4 lakhs singlehandedly, before the NGO collaborated to push nearly half a Crore, in aid to flood-hit. Hence his popularity is high in the region.

Incidentally, militancy in Kashmir and JP Singh were born the same year. Moreover, the venue of the wedding is Tral- a place ignominiously highlighted as the region of Burhan Wani,- Hizbul Mujjahidin commander, killed on 8th July 2016. Killing of Wani spiralled militancy to an all-time high, last seen in 1990, reminiscent of the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. JP’s house is merely 8 Kms from Burhan Wani’s house in the next village.

Moreover, JP’s dad Kanwal Nain Singh and Wani’s father Muzaffar Ahmed Wani were colleagues till last year when JP’s father was Vice Principal in the village’s Higher Secondary School and senior Wani was the Principal.

In trouble torn Kashmir, Sikhs – a minuscule minority, (less than one percent) amongst the dominant Muslim populace of the state, has a high concentration of the community, in Tral region. On JP’s friend list is a medley of faiths- Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims (Sunnis and Shias), Kashmiri (Muslim and Pandits) and Buddhists. The invitation has drawn 540 likes and 323 comments.

JP who defines himself as – ‘I am Not a player, I’m the Game’ surely knows how to play one- “The idea is to bring people who want to visit or love Kashmir, on an all paid stay, much like a destination wedding . But contrary to downsizing of guest lists, JP is ready to host as many as those who can traverse and dare to come for this ‘cultural -adventure’. Lately, tourists of most hues are mortally fearful of visiting Kashmir, affected by adverse reports in popular media. Given the time of the invitation, in coming days his friend list invitees could swell in numbers.

He has referred to Dharam-Gund in Tral as his ‘beautiful picturesque village’, and announced the happy occasion to be a “Kashmiri Sikh and Punjabi” wedding- a four-day event, of ‘Band Baja Barat’ starting on September 28th.
Allaying fears, he wrote on his Timeline- “If you know-me/have-met-me or NOT, it hardly matters. Please confirm your availability; I and my whole family would be more than happy to host you. Lodging, Boarding and your safety will be our responsibility” Ready to put on display the famed Punjabi-Kashmiri Hospitality, he sweetly urges –“I am telling you, do not miss this. It would be worth it!”

And underlines the convenience for his Baraatis,- wedding guests, outlining the location of the venue and nearest exit and entry points by air, road and travel modes – “ Our Village Dharam-Gund is 46Km’s from Srinagar International Airport and 20Kms from Awantipora (National highway connecting Jammu and Srinagar). If you want, we can pick you from Srinagar Airport or from Awantipora -If you are coming by road”.

With a tongue in cheek emoticon he adds as a Post script.–“PS: This LADIES SANGEET function is 10% of Ladies Sangeet and 90% of BHANGRAA!

The Kashmiri –Sikh wedding rituals are quaint and different from Punjabi Sikh weddings, JP says. The celebration will commence with Gandiaan – a Kashmir Sikh ritual where celebrations formally begins with groom’s family going to the bride’s house to present her precious jewellery , in return the bride’s family presents a Gold Karra – Sikh faith symbol of Bracelet, to the groom, followed by merriment with wedding songs. Sangeet amongst Punjabis isn’t as innocent as it sounds and actually means boisterous Bhangra and dances by both genders.

Another ceremony is of hand impressions on the wall of the house, after dipping them in coloured water- Chapaa. Followed by Mitti Khodna – digging soil near a village Gurdwara, putting walnuts in it and inserting a pinch of the ‘divine’ soil in Mehandi – Henna to be sent to the bride The muh-boli- bhen or the groom’s adopted sister, commences the ceremonies, along with ritual of – Pani Bharna– when water is brought in a Gaagar- earthen pot, from a village Nag or spring and mixed in haldi ubtan – the turmeric mixture with curds, applied to the groom in a pre-wedding ceremony, believed to render a glow to the skin.

The grand finale on October 1, would be the wedding day for morning Baraat – groom party’s arrival at the bride’s house and Anand Karaj pheras – Sikh wedding circumambulation with recitation of holy scriptures and hymns, around the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib, at Aluchabagh Gurdwara of Srinagar, near the bride’s house. “Other than the jewellery that both sides gift to the bride, we don’t accept or give dowry,” JP adds with pride.

“Along with me, as one unknown-never-met baraati, how many had confirmed their attendance”, I ask. “At least 20 unknown people have messaged me, wishing to come for the wedding. They are confirmations from Kashmir, Ladakh, Jammu and Delhi and now I have four from Amritsar including you,” he laughs
“Accommodation and security?” “People in our village hold us in respect. My uncle Rajinder Singh Rajan, is an award winning Punjabi writer of book ‘Taja Bawri’ -about a Kashmiri girl gone insane due to turmoil. He won the national award for his book in 2015 and was felicitated in June last year by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Since few in our family were intellectually gifted, Kavishris- poetry symposiums, were often held in our home, which villagers attended. Today every villager has opened his home to host guests for my wedding.” And added –“A nearby police station has assured us all security for guests.”

Did both sets of parents agree? Both me and my fiancée Vipeen Kaur, a dentist in Noida are from Tral, her family is now based in Srinagar. We could have had the safest wedding in Delhi, but I insisted that I want to marry the girl I love, in the place we both love. The families are more than happy with this decision.

I tried to contact Vipeen Kaur, JP’s fiancee and sent her a message but did not receive a reply.

Since liquor is a typical of Punjabi weddings, would you serve?”- “Mum is the word!” he responds.

The responses to his timeline post have been welcoming, appreciative, longing, assessing and touching. Nidhi calls the invitation a cool idea. JP’s adopted sister Komal Jb Singh is gleefully petulant as her name has not been added in the invite. Shabangi Mushtaq, a Kashmiri based in Zimbabwe, calls him open hearted and broadminded for writing this beautiful post cutting across the barriers of religion, class and caste and promises to try to attend. Akhilesh Khurana comments,- ‘The invite made us part of the celebrations virtually’. Rauf Tramboo, a Kashmiri, adventure travel consultant, called it a chivalrous invitation and confirmed his presence to perform the bhangra after a long time. However a distraught Adventure tour operator Bashir Damna pointed out ‘Till date no visitor or tourist was harmed in valley and locals are good hosts and helpful. Some Indian media men are spreading false rumours about Kashmiris and that is why our brother (JP) has said ‘prime responsibility’ (read security).

Arjimand Hussain Talib termed it the most beautiful invitation that he had ever come across. Raja Farooq teased –“Good to know Rangeela JP is going to marry. Free invitation another of his innovative styles.”

What warmed the cockles of the heart was a desire expressed from across the border by Umar Javid, a resident of Mirpur in Pak Occupied Kashmir –‘Congratulations, I wish I could participate’, to which JP answered ‘Please try to come, it would not be that tough and let me know if you need any documented invitation from India that can help you with the visa. We would love to host you’ To his friend Sudhir S Parihar who Congratulated him, JP Singh responded- “Agar tu na aaya teray chittar peen ge…” that sums up the quintessential Punjabi Ishtyle of
friendship, I have no translations to offer.

Rashmi Talwar is an Amritsar based Independent Writer, can be emailed at: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com
00—00

AN OPEN INVITATION!

I am getting MARRIED on 1st, October, 2017. 🙂
Wedding is planned at a beautiful picturesque village in Kashmir and will be a mixture of kashmiri-Sikh and Punjabi rituals/traditions.
It would be a 4 day event {28-Sep(GANDIAAN-A kashmiri Sikh marriage Ritual and ladies Sangeet), 29-Sep(CHAPPA-A kashmiri Sikh marriage Ritual and ladies Sangeet), 30-Sep(Lunch + Mahendi) and 1st-october (Baraat to Srinagar City)}.
It is an open invitation to everyone. Please ping me if you want to attend. If you know-me/have-met-me or NOT, it hardly matters. Please confirm your availability; I and my whole family would be more than happy to host you.
Lodging, Boarding and your safety will be our responsibility. 🙂
PS: I am telling you, do not miss this. It would be worth it. Our Village Dharam-Gund is 46km’s away from Srinagar International Airport and 20kms from Awantipora(National highway connecting Jammu and Srinagar). If you want we can pick you from Srinagar Airport or from Awantipora(If you are coming by road).
PSS: This LADIES SANGEET function is 10% of Ladies Sangeet and 90% of BHANGRAA! 😜 🍻

%d bloggers like this: