Archive for the ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ Category

Captured returned, Faiz’s daughter backs Indian pilot’s return By Rashmi Talwar /Kashmir Images


Post Pulwama : INDIA-PAKISTAN

Captured IAF Wing commander returned

Faiz’s daughter backs Indian pilot’s return to home country  

Rashmi Talwar

Wagah-Attari (Amritsar) March 1, 2019-



Rashmi Talwar can be reached at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

 

 

Tral bursts in Bhangraa in Kashmir’s militancy hotbed / Rashmi Talwar/ Kashmir Images 


Screenshot JP Wedding Tral Kashmir 30Oct17.jpg

Follow Up

Tral bursts in Bhangraa in Kashmir’s militancy hotbed /

Rashmi Talwar

Wedding venue at village Dharam Gund of Tral district sounded terrifying. Tral, in Pulwama District of South Kashmir, a hotbed of militancy, raised not just worried eyebrows, but a verbal outrage in my family. Tral was home to militant commander Burhan Wani, whose house was merely 8-Kms from the wedding venue, and who’s killing by army triggered mass protests and brought several more to their graves, in a bloody aftermath since July 2016. Tourism to Kashmir remained at a standstill, ever since. The region was reporting armed militant-army encounters almost daily in the media.

However, the ‘Open Invitation’ by Jatinder Pal Singh (JP) a Facebook friend, had stirred senses. The Invite, encompassed entire FB world seemed- daring, lofty, imaginative and unimaginable.

Bashir Damna, an adventurer of Jammu-Kashmir expressed on JP’s FB wall “Open Invite has gone viral and become the talk of the town. So many guests will create law and order problem and authorities were thinking of imposing restrictions.” To Which Drcm Seth, a friend, jestingly wrote “JP has invited everybody including militants. For three days militants can enjoy marriage party and then can start their routine activities.” The last comment was not so funny anymore.

But the thought of a -‘village wedding’, virgin landscapes, living a part of village life, to participate in quaint rituals and the ‘Bhangraa in the Mountains’ was extremely enticing. JP had loftily assured all security, but it had to be experienced yet. Call it divine-infused guts with an open mind.

Throughout the flight, apprehension gripped, till final touchdown at Srinagar airport. The weather was lulling and the last of autumn flowers bloomed all over in the city of the Dal Lake and Shikaras. “Though the weather seemed to calm my frayed nerves, but the flowers – got me thinking – ‘Maybe I too shall become the last of the autumn blooms!’.

Srinagar to Tral

Bundling into a waiting vehicle, we zoomed alongside rock quarries of Pantha Chowk onto Awatipora.

On the way, enormous ruins of Awantiswami and Avantishwar Temples, a kilometre apart built by King Awanti Varman (AD 855-883) glorious specimen of rich Kashmiri Architecture, described as in colonnaded peristyle, dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu respectively, fascinated me. In a gesture of folded hands I prayed for safety and peace in Kashmir as well as in my home, even as antics of dolloping Jhelum River in serpentine cuddles, flushed with Chinars and pines on its edges, tried to charm me.

My mind remained occupied with thoughts of shootings and bombs as we neared the venue village Dharam Gund, 50 Kms from the airport. Passing through Tral Township, someone pointed out – “That’s Burhan Wani’s house!” and I turned my face away, not to look at the home of the poster boy of militancy in Kashmir, and instead thought about this beauteous region that had seen immense suffering.

Countryside

Glowing sunlight turned soft as we arrived in the countryside. ‘Aa gaye Gaon’! The driver exclaimed and I noted- Kashmiri Sikhs call it Gaon not Pind as Punjabi Sikhs refer to villages. Dharam Gund spreads across 60 hectares of rich walnut belt and tilling fields. “Trees here touch skies at above 70 feet, and produce choicest walnuts”, I am told. Cutting through fields flush with ripened Dhaan or shelly or rice crop, I was to see – tiny charming traditional haystack-barns called Goyen (Kashmiri) Thipree (Punjabi Kashmiri) or Musal in Punjab field-scapes, dotting the charming Tral countryside.

The harvested fields, sentried by Wasturvan Mountain range of Himalayas, through which silently flowed the Lam Nallah, a vast spread of river fed by snowmelt and rainfall, bringing in the charming scenic romance. It seemed the busiest month at harvesting, threshing, drying, stacking, rolling to make Giddis and Thiprees to stock grain and fodder simultaneously. Families pitch in, tiffins seen arriving from home, feeding sinuous homeworkers and women bulwarking the threshing. The Gaon is charming, a hamlet of about 500 souls sheltered in 94 homes.

Traditional Welcome

We reached JP’s home through an incredibly beautiful tree covered village and the scene changes – the groom’s grandmother rushes to the door, grabs a fistful, circles it around my head and let the sweet sugar-coated gram fall in a shower over me, hugs and announces – “Jee aya nu” – “Welcome In!” Seeing my surprised look, someone comments- “This is sweet stone-pelleting Kashmiri-Sikh Ishtyle.” And a round of laughter makes me a warm part of Jatinder Pal Singh’s wedding. The welcome ritual – is a sadka of keeping evil spirit at bay. It was one of the most beautiful welcomes, warming the cockles of my heart and served to successfully banish the hesitation and family teasers back home.

My family fatigued over not making me see sense in travelling to Tral had alternately tried a different tactic – “Begani Shaadi Mein Abdullah Diwana” and another –“Praii Janjh Ehmak Nachey” a refrain oft used in North India, meaning: Getting upbeat or crazily cherry in the wedding celebration of an unknown person! Indeed, I had ventured for the Wedding celebration- at an unknown place, of an unknown person, among unknown people and add to it -an unknown fate.

Traditions and Rituals

During my stay, I learned that many traditions among Kashmiri Sikh community are a mixture of Kashmiri and Punjabi culture. However I gauged, that village rituals and customs had a unique depth. Anticipating new life from conjoining a new couple the wedding rituals seek to blend the Human with the Glorious Creator through the medium of Mother Earth, praying for newlyweds to lead a life intertwined with environs and its values.

At dusk, the dhol beats resound through the mountains ushering a call. A signal and everyone hurries. Ceremony of Mitti Khodna is about to begin. At the wedding home, the groom JP- a software engineer, is himself creating the traditional basket with tinsel and LED light strips around it and a matching tinselled tiny spade. Someone comments –“Get LED lights for Shivala di pagri!” (Groom’s turban) everyone breaks into giggling merriment. Incidentally, Punjabi Sikhs refer to the groom and bride as Laraa and Voti, among Kashmiri Sikhs the couple is referred as Shivala and Boti, while the sarbala– young boy accompanying the groom in Punjabi weddings, is the ‘dost’ in Kashmiri weddings.

Dharam Bhen, walnuts & rituals

Dharam Bhen’ or sister by faith- Komal GB Singh with another friend Inderjit, lifts the LED embellished twinkling basket filled with walnuts, on her shoulder leading a procession near village Gurdwara. Soil is dug and put into a container with crimson Gulal water. Alternately, five walnuts are placed into the dug soil and covered. “It is an offering of walnuts to Mother Earth to succour them to sprout. Somebody shouts to the walnuts- “Tuhade vicho ek zaroor phutna chaida hai, Changa!” (One of you walnuts should sprout, Ok!) Hinting at fertility of the newlyweds, drawing chuckles around.

Boisterous Bhangraa follows and I am surprised to see Muslim families too join the dance. The procession then proceeds to the Gurdwara and Sikh symbol is written on a foundation wall using the Gulal soil with a twig, seeking blessings for the wedding. Basket is carried to a lower room where again the Sikh symbol is written on a placard with dates and names of the couple as a keepsake called Chappa –hand impression.

Rajbeer Singh, pursuing his PhD in Folk culture, explains to a curious me, the significance of some rituals- “In case of a mishap for groom or the bride, the Dharam Bhen or Dost are bound to take on the mantle of spouse of the survivor.” He also explained another mysterious ritual –“When a Bhabhi or brother’s wife applies Surma to the groom’s eyes, she indicates to draw a line of black, henceforth breaking all jesty relationships with her brother-in-law to emerge as an equal owner in the household”,

Teaser beats

As the deep tangerine sun vanishes behind the bluish mountain line, it leaves streaks of orange hues blazing on the greying skies. JP’s house twinkles with strings of fairy lights, and the Shamiana or Kashmiri tent, shimmers. The two Jammu Dholis start teasing with niki niki (soft, soft) beats, the boys step in, beats take on vigour, and the Bhangraa starts. Women rush to the in-lines of the Shamiana, to reserve the place with the best- view on the carpeted floors. The Bhangraa now is in full steam, rips and rattles, moves and shakes and women are pulled in, with whacky Punjabi bolis and tappas, to become one joyous night.

High sex ratio

In Sikh faith, women are known to participate in work and pleasure equally alongside men. So is the scene here in Tral, where 88 residing families out of 94 are Sikhs. Even the six Muslim families assimilate and happily join in the Punjabi dance with equal heartiness. Religious taboos are less visible. It is not surprising that Population Census 2011 boasts of high gender ratio with 930 females to 1000 males, in Sikh dominated village Dharam Gund. Boys in the village are increasingly shunning Dowry offers, thus creating an equal playground for the female gender. The work coordination amongst genders is equally distributed.

PS: Its night and we need to return in groups- reason: “If not the militants, you can surely be mauled by a Bear attack, if you venture alone in the dark,” a stark second biggest threat in this tree laden valley.

Sunrise and plentiful

I open my eyes the next morning, in the beautiful house of Ishpal Singh, an orchard landlord, agriculturist and a teacher, his lively wife Dali Kour, endearing daughter Kiranpal and son Rajbeer are my lovely hosts. Theirs is one of the most enviable homes in the village. A home with a fabulous garden outlined by a rivulet of pure spring water encircling, a quaint little cow-shed and home entirely self-sustaining with umpteenth vegetables, apples, pears, vegetable oil, milk, ghee, butter and even home produced honey with indigenous earthen honey-hives on its terrace and of course loads of walnuts.

The host allows me to pluck the day’s apples, and choicest vegetables- Collard Greens, Brinjals, green chillies. The house is already stocked with pickles, onions, potatoes, garlic, and a host of unkeep-able list of stocks including dried vegetables from last season. In less than half an hour delicious dishes of Haakh, Bringals and Achari Allu with special Kashmiri walnut and radish chutney are ready. Noon Chai or salty tea is a preferred concoction to ordinary tea.

Paani and Kangan

Today is ‘Pani Bharna’ ceremony and water is filled in a Ghaggar– earthen vessel, also titled as Garooli rituals in homes of Punjabi Sikhs. The groom bathed with this water drawn from the Gurdwara considered nectar, is applied turmeric paste for an extra glow. Kangan ritual performed with the groom worn a Gold Karra gifted by bride’s family.

The bride in her home, simultaneously is undergoing the same rituals with her multiple braided hair being un-braided with a lilting song – Mera Siraa na kholyoo mindri, mera ehi kunwariyaa da bhes” (Do not untie my braids, this is my unmarried appearance) apprehensive to enter into the married life of responsibilities and duties. She too is worn the Kangan or bangles, Jhumkas and Chunari – earrings and veil, gifted by the groom’s family.

A Chawal-Giri Prasad (soaked uncooked rice and nuts food offering) is distributed to all guests, while in Punjab Karra Prasad is the norm made from semolina-wheat ghee and sugar.

Public Reception

Earlier, a huge reception lunch is hosted for the entire village and outstation invitees. With music of hit Punjabi numbers belted out by a DJ arranged from Jammu, synchronized with Dhol beats, Bhangraa troops in full blast. Close family menfolk lovingly serve a sit-in Wazwan or the Wedding treat, in individual thalis or plates to baraatis, contrary to Kashmiri Muslims weddings – where Tramis – a large plate shared by four, is used to serve Wazwan on carpeted floors. Special guests are given the sadka welcome with modern candies or fistful of dry-fruit as in Kashmiri Muslim weddings.

Missing Wanwun

However Wanwun or Kashmiri songs for auspicious occasions are missing. These songs to the accompaniment of folk instrument Tumbaknaer or the goblet drum of Kashmir are sung at auspicious occasions in Kashmiri Muslim and Pandit households including in weddings. Somebody tells me-“In recent times the Wanwun seems to be sullied, sung as it was for funerals of killed militants”.

Militancy & Education

The thought of Wanwun, brings back the topic of militants. Shobha Singh, a village elder, also the village’s pride as first matriculate in 1960 and first engineer of the village in 1964 from Kota, Rajasthan, on a query, as to what do villagers do if militants forcefully seek shelter in their homes, tells me- “Militants enter homes of sympathizers or someone they know and feel secure in, they never enter Sikh homes or villages with Sikh population. Also, at every 6-8 Kms is an army camp which is also a source of strength for us. Basically Sikhs are peace loving and self-sustaining and hardly pose any threat to militants even though Sikhs are traditionally a martial race.

Sikh population abounds in Chattogam, Saimoh, Ladybal, Basantpora, Gulshanpora, Gaddpora and of course Dharam Gund among the 24 villages of District Tral,” he adds. On the side, Shobha Singh tells me, there was never an incident of civilian killing by a militant in the village. This bit of information, gives me a huge reprieve from the fear psychosis.

However, I notice, migration is evident. Many Sikh families have built homes in Srinagar for job convenience and easy access to educational institutes. Many young ones have taken flight due to education in other states and subsequent jobs in big cities. – Surprised over many village children pursuing higher studies, Shobha Singh who started the trend, nods – “Literacy rate of the village is an impressive high at 71.2 %.”

This is true, although the figure dates back to Government Census 2011; a high literacy factor is soundly legitimatized, as any girl-boy from the village, I meet, is pursuing Masters, MBA or PhD. It a comforting feeling of villages getting educated, yet migration arouses deep concern.

Mehandiratt – Night of the Henna

Turning back to celebrations, the same night ushers in the celebration of Mehandiratt or Maanziaraath or Night of the Henna, a tradition, amazingly followed by all hues of Kashmiris- Muslim, Hindu, Pandit or Sikh although with slight difference. Among the Sikhs here, the groom is applied Mehandi or Henna on hands and the impression is left on the keepsake. Then he is publically applied Mehandi on hands and feet with a large currency garland around his neck. The shagun or gift of rupees is stuck on his pagri with pins, by relatives and friends. This ritual is hardly seen amongst Punjabi Sikhs and moreover considered feminine.
Boisterous Bhangraa again follows and this is the third night of Bhangraa that shows no sign of declining, rather being the last night, dancing carries through midnight. Interestingly, as we walk to the wedding venue in the dark with our mobile torchlights, the group knocks on all enroute doors not only to go together as a bigger group but also due to the larger fear of bear attacks and not militants.

Wedding

On the fourth day the wedding procession or Baraat heads for Srinagar in a cavalcade of cars, with select people. The groom’s car is decorated and reaches the Alluchabagh Gurdwara. Except for dhol no music band plays, no mounting the horseback. With milni or hugging introduction, of close relatives from both sides, the wedding ceremony of Anand Karaj begins and is a solemn affair. The couple circumbulates the holy Sikh book Guru Granth Sahib four times and after offerings, the couple is announced man and wife.

Shobha Singh tells me of the times of his grandfather –“In Kashmir during my grandfather’s times, the Hindu Pandit used to perform Sikh weddings with circumbulation around the holy fire to the chanting of Sanskrit Shaloks, decades later, Sikh tradition of Anand Karaj was brought into practice”.

JP’s take on the open invitation

JP’s idea for an Open Invitation was -“To bring people who want to visit or love Kashmir, on an all paid visit. I offered to host as many as those who can traverse and dare to come for this ‘cultural -adventure’.

Call it a service for my Kashmir which has hardly seen any robust tourism, as it used to be. Lately, tourists of most hues are mortally fearful of visiting Kashmir, affected by adverse reports in popular media. However I am happy 13 friends and 70 more outstation baraatis came from different areas including from parts of Jammu, Kashmir, Delhi and Punjab”.

Last Take

JP’s grace didn’t let him single me out but among all invitees, I was the lone unknown face. Days in the lovely valley had banished fears of militant attacks.

The scenic charm of the countryside was something to die for. Lofty mountains like guards over rippling riverside, running hens and roosters, grazing horses, climbing high on the trees and shaking them for a walnut shower, lolling on the boulders near the waters, trekking along the waterways. Each one those times became so special.

On the way back, holding tight memories and bags of walnut gifts, one by a poor domestic help of Ishpal’s home lovingly called Begum Fikri (One who is gripped by worries) whose dimpled smile and ever ready dancing, showed no signs of any worry, I felt, a part of the Gaon clung on to me, complete with its warmth, its love shower and its sweet stone pelleting.

Rashmi Talwar is an Amritsar based Independent Writer, can be emailed at: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com 
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Kargil-V Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum, A Walk Into The Past/By Rashmi Talwar/ Kashmir Images


Screenshot Munshi Aziz Museum Part VDATELINE KARGIL PART V

Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum, A Walk Into The Past 
Rashmi Talwar

The sun became milder taking on a tangerine halo. As we returned to Kargil, I was to learn a Hill-folk jugaad- Reversing the vehicle deep into a waterfall on the road, gave a fabulous car-wash! The trade through silk route was etched along waterways and rivers; Munshi Aziz Bhat was one such towering Silk Route trader, a pioneer, visionary, social entrepreneur and above all a collector.

Sarai- a treasure trove

Along the gushing Suru River, Munshi Aziz Bhat built a Caravan Sarai in 1920 and a wooden bridge over the raging river. The three storied Sarai besides serving as an Inn for travellers and traders from Kashmir, Tibet, China, India and Central Asia, had seven shops set up by Bhat. The ground floor used as stable for rest and feed to transport animals and a comfort zone for exchange of goods, cultures and news. Rich and precious wares along with commodities were bartered or bargained. A treasure trove of these collections was accidently discovered by Bhat’s grandson Ajaz Hussain Munshi. “We were about to raze the old Sarai building but ended up curating its treasures into –‘Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum of Central Asian and Kargil Trade Artefacts’.

The story went like this – “A mason chanced upon a sizeable turquoise in the Sarai building and informed us. My father, who was ill at the time, told us about many such possessions and goods lying in the basement of the Sarai. Around this time a researcher Jacqueline Fewkes came looking for us, she had letters in her possession from my grandfather. That was a turning and starting point of the museum set up in 2004,” Ajaz, its curator tells us, and adds “ In 2005 the museum that was then supported by India Foundation for the Arts and Roots Collective, attracted researcher Latika Gupta to Kargil as its curator. The result was a building designed to look like a thriving old market, above our home!”

Walk into History

I walk the trail to the museum, which is just a few steep steps ascending, shadowed by leaves of fruiting ripe apricots and still-green baby grapes. The view from here is spectacular of mountains overlooking the Suru River.

The museum proved an exceptional glimpse into the Indian and Central Asian trader-culture of 19th and early 20th centuries. Collection of artefacts and mercantile, exhibit the enormous range, apart from services, jingling their merry ways, on many maritime and overland trajectories of Silk Route, by traders. Adding on to the story –“The traders were as varied as their buttons ! – Punjabis and Kashmiris, Afghanis and Persians, Chinese and Tibetans, Spaniards and Somalians, Egyptians and Italians rubbed shoulders, broke bread and bartered and bargained for goods with Dardis, Argons, Baltis, Bohto, Purkis, Tajiks and Uzbeks. One can imagine the loads and varieties of goods that arrived here.

Many such items were stored in the Sarai. We found some 4,000 pieces dating back to 1800s, and set up the exhibits along with my brother, Gulzar Hussain Munshi as Director and Muzammil Hussain Munshi as its outreach programmer,” the Curator of the museum fills in.
Interestingly, “Munshi Aziz Bhat, was once the official petition drafter for Maharaja of Kashmir, before he ventured into trade which was mostly then controlled by Punjabi Sikhs and Hoshiarpuri Hindu Lalas. Kargil Khazana, Resham Raasta and the Sarai, encased the narrative of life in Kargil- a melting pot of trades.” Ajaz explained –“Kargil is a nodal point, equidistance from both Leh and Srinagar, in addition to links with Tibet, China, through Gilgit-Baltistan to Afghanistan, gave it an enviable position in Karakoram ranges lower than Himalayas comparatively being an easier passage for traders,” Ajaz pools in, while showing us horse saddles from British times, bridals, drapings, camel trappings, horse foot nails from ‘Mustang & Sons’ and equine accessories of yore. Besides polo sticks and balls, helmets and gloves.

Plant that preserves

I lift up a dry twig, placed in every glass enclosure of artefacts, clothing, paper testaments -everywhere– “what is this?” “It’s dried Khampa twig to prevent critters, moths, beetles, termite, silver fish and every other bug”, and I learn another hill folk nuskha – prescription.

Memorabilia

The mercantile turned memorabilia is an enduring peek into lives of merchants, horsemen, herders, pilgrims, artisans, nomads, travellers and farmers that despatched and received essentials and the luxurious. Besides this, the path saw many a wayfarer, besides potters, weavers, jewellers, blacksmiths, cooks, porters, even pimps, prostitutes and Princes. “The overland and sea silk routes were famous during the reign of Alexander the Great and Han Dynasty in China and became a transcontinental thoroughfare for goods transported using horses, mules and donkeys, to camels and yaks, besides on foot”, feeds in the curator.

I am completely astonished by packets of chemical dyes of Batakh brand from my hometown Amritsar, from late 19th century, the brand carried through 60s and 70s too.
Munshi holds one of the three jade pieces –“This is a ‘Zehr Mohra’ cup that detects any poison by changing colour of the brew.” Then removing his ring, he pulled a whole yarn of Dhaka Malmal’- one of the most prized fabrics produced in Bangladesh, and made it pass smoothly through the ring.

A gramophone of 1905 by Columbia, a lantern dating to year of Indo-China war of 1962, German petromax lantern, huge stone cauldrons and giant ladles used during festivities, samovars and bukharis from Bukhara, a pair of colourful socks from Yarkand, opium snuff-boxes from all over and their dainty cases are all here.

“We even have documentary proof that the King of Hapur in Skardu owes 6,000 in silver currency to my grandfather,” Ajaz laughs showing us a rare Russian 100 rouble that made its way to Kargil measuring 48 sq inch rectangle.

The artefacts range is extensive, Nanakshahi coins and currencies of the world, jewellery, carpets, hosiery, utensils, clothing, armoury to paintings and manuscripts. Assorted caps – Kashmiri, Karakul, Tajik, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Mangolian, Turkish, Balti and Glass Shades from Yugoslavia, Germany and England too are displayed in the Museum.

Trends and Happiness quotient

Many types of merchandise set up trends for the elite. If one was to serve Hookah, Yarkand ones were considered the best. If rugs were to be bought they had to be the Kashgar ones, thus silks from Khotan, buttons and combs from Italy, “every item hides a story of its travels” the museum director Gulzar Hussain Munshi believes. Similar were the inclinations for food- as in salt from Akshai Chin, spices from Hind, Rice from Kashmir. It was thus fashionable to serve Tea from Tibet and Apricots from Skardu.

Kargil’s large heartedness is evident in their hospitality, in not over-charging tourists and visitors, their Happiness quotient thus, is high, which manifests itself in the fact that many additions to the museum were free contributions from the local populace, for instance, a recent gift of hand-written Koran along with precious Tibetan manuscripts claimed by owner to be about 600 years old. Ravinder Nath and his wife Madhubala the lone Hindu family of Kargil gifted the family’s prized possession – a “Passport” issued to Ravinder’s grandfather Amar Chand – which reads – Lala Amarchand resident of Jahan Kalan, Hoshiarpur, issued by the order of ‘Her Majesty Counsel General at Kashgar’- British Subject by Law”. It may be one of the rarest of passports. Once the museum attracted attention, the tourism department too promoted it and along with that came the trust. Thus, locals who were suspicious of antique proxies started contributing voluntarily. “No one has ever asked me for money,” Ajaz beams with pride.

Photographic memory

The photographic display of Italian geographer and explorer Giotto Dainelli taken in 1904, of rows of caravans of camels, mules and horses – carrying traders along this historic route, did set the stage for documenting the precious history of the bubbling cauldron of trade. This is amply supplemented by Rupert Wilmot’s collection -‘The lost world of Ladakh Early Photographic journey 1931-34,’ as a feast, to draw and delight generations.

On Heritage track

The incredible wheel of trade may have been clogged by war-boundaries, but the trodden paths have left in their tracks, a treasure chest of exquisite heritage that Kargil sits on, waiting to be explored and showcased for the world.
The scorching heat melts, dipping into light cirrus clouds, the smouldering light of the morn, curls and spirals into a dramatic sky theatre before curtains call. Unquestionably, tomorrow is just a wink away when silk rays will again draft a new Horizon; every snowflake will reveal its story. To inquisitive tourists, descending upon this region to peek into Kargil’s glorious past of Emperors, Kings and Queens, of palaces and forts, sculptors and faiths, savouring its surreal tales and exquisite beauty.

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

URL:http://dailykashmirimages.com/Details/149180/munshi-aziz-bhat-museum-a-walk-into-the-past?

Photos : KT Hosain Ibn Khalo

Kargil–IV: Preserving History above 8000 feet- ‘Unlock Hunderman’ /By Rashmi Talwar/ Kashmir Images


Screenshot Hunderman Museum corr Part IV.jpgDateline Kargil –IV

Preserving History above 8000 feet- ‘Unlock Hunderman’

Rashmi Talwar

If history be the subject, Museums blaze a trail of past.

August-September are scorching months in #Kargil. Yet people wear full sleeves, even winter attire, unresponsive, unmindful of weather changes or probably wanting to lock the heat and save it for seven months of icy winters. They draw apart curtains and soak in the sun, its warmth succours weary bones from the onslaught of frosty temperatures dipping to -40° C.

Leaving the sizzling sun of the valley, ascending along the hopping Suru River- a tributary of the Mighty Indus, we head to India Pakistan’s LoC (Line of Control), to the first museum in a ‘ghost’ village of ‘#Hunderman Brok’. The ribboned road along menacing cliffs, which once heard and heeded to war clarions, ominous evacuations, sirens, bombs and displacement; manoeuvres a taxing steep gradient to the village.

“Drive along the mountain or we’ll get blown away”, I shout remembering the Sydney skywalk with a handcuffed hand and the chain moving along a railing keeping one safe from being blown off. The hill-folk guffaw at my fears. Suddenly, signboards appear-“Mine Area – Don’t move away from road edges”. It is explained as –‘When India captured these heights occupied by Pakistan in 1971 war, the departing army laid mines’. Deep below, along the river, snakes a thin track of the ‘old silk route’- that connects Gilgit-Baltistan, Yarkand, Tibet and China. It was once a bustling trade route traversed by Kafilas – caravans of horses and mules, Bactrian camels (double- humped) and donkeys that fetched treasures, bartered or bought.

Nearly at the top, we come across MTS (Maggi & Tea Shack), a sure-shot sight in any mountainous remote area of interest. This MTS is different; it has four pairs of binoculars and acts as a guide to peek at LoC peaks and a Pakistani village. No one can stamp the validity about the topography, however, excited tourists spend more than an hour discussing ‘which one’, ‘this one’, ‘that one’ till the fragrance of freshly brewed tea and Maggi instant Noodles wafts from the shack and suddenly everyone is famished. The shack owner knows it.

Just a few yards ahead, village Hunderman Brok, the last forward post on the LoC, appears like pigeon-holes beaded into the mountainside. From 1947 Partition to 1971, the tiny hamlet was under the control of Pakistan, and wrested by India during 1971 war. Many villagers fled to Pakistan, while few who were visiting other parts of Pakistan could never return. Having never seen a moment of tranquillity, a sizeable population from what was left, shifted to upper Hunderman.

According to Muzammil Hussain, co-founder and president of Roots Collective (Non-Profit based in Kargil) who collated oral histories to bring the war-locked territory into the limelight with -‘Unlock Hunderman—Museum of Memories’, people here call themselves ‘Samgrongva – belonging to three places – as they came from Poyen and Karkechu in Kargil town and habituated to Hunderman. Estimates put Hunderman, to be 500-year-old Purgi settlement; however its inhabitants believe it to be older than British and Mughal empires. The village in ruins lays out the perfect foreground to the museum, of life of villagers on the LoC before 1971.

Manipulating a steep trek descending and then ascending, I wish there was a rope bridge slung across to connect the two mountainsides to give tourists an added feeling of ingenuity of mountainous regions. A café added with village preparations and a shop-let to sell indigenous produce, something to bring back home, could be an additional attraction. Setting aside my thoughts we make our way balancing on thin mud tracks built over skeleton of tree trunks beneath, and hunch to enter the dwarf-doorway of the private museum. It looks like a museum within a museum, curated by Muzammil Hussain and co-curated by Ilyas Ansari in Ansari’s ancestral home. “The initiative and support for museum comes from Roots, and CEPT SWS University of Ahmedabad’, Ansari answers our query.

But before the entry, framed prints of a letter in two languages-English and Urdu, penned by Ghulam Hussein, Ilyas’s uncle, to his family, slung with jute strings, catches ones eye. It’s homage to a lost one. Hussein was not in Hunderman when it was conquered by Indian forces. Stuck in Skardu, capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, when all roads to his village were locked, one night, he died a lonely death in 2005 pining for his home and family. His only letter to his sister Hamshira, written in April 1985, from Brolmo village – a mere four kilometres apart, from Hunderman arrived years later. The letter is a pointer of poignant stories of pain of many families of this village, torn apart by war.

The museum itself is a rediscovered story woven with artefacts and memorabilia of a life of two big families before many fled during war in 1971. Ansari takes us outside and points – “You look at that poplar tree; it became our demarcation line for adjoining homes of two brothers who first set foot here and their families spread out in parts of Hunderman and Brolmo, now divided by the LoC. There were then about 200 people within 10 homes. The village has witnessed four wars in 70-years with hundreds of skirmishes and inconceivable moments of horror.

The exhibits are incredible with time wrapped around them, with the background equally fascinating. It opens with a ‘shangkulik’ a unique locking system to ‘unlock the Hunderman’. In the 1960s, Ansari’s grandfather worked as a porter with the Pakistani army. Displayed are-an army helmet for porters, blue-lined white metal cups in varied sizes, a diesel metal canister, an army belt and an all-purpose belt for long hauls with pouches to hold water, dry-fruit and tobacco, along with a kerosene lantern.

Recreation through Stuakpachi – played with twigs and pebbles, Michou-played with cattle bones, along with a hookah, were their indigenously crafted games and pass times. Routine things like painkillers, eye drops, matches, soaps made in Pakistan, and an expensive bottle of perfume evokes wonder. “A Polson’s tin of French coffee was such a prized gift that it remained sealed for years. A coral necklace, unfinished embroideries, exhibited the hurry in which the flight of inhabitants took place,” Ansari describes.

Pakistan manufactured Cobra and cherry blossom boot polish, shared space with army trunk, battle shells, shrapnel, and a tiny box that reads- ‘100 detonators for high explosive’ of Thistle brand, made in Great Britain. Indigenous stone slab and pestle to ground oil of apricot nuts, agricultural tools and clippers, kitchen utensils, spinning wheel shuttles, knitted caps and garments, wicker baskets, wool balls, horns, a large and medium churner and vessel for preparing lassi- sweet buttermilk and butter, large stone cauldron, are aesthetically displayed in nooks, walls and corners of the tiny rooms. An Avlet safety razor made in England, malachite crystals made in Germany, a foot-powder from Karachi, a bow, quiver and indigenous arrows are notable. A tight mashaq – water pouch and a wooden cask stand near the hearth. “It looks Roman in design”, Ansari shakes his head in a ‘I-don’t-really-know’.

I noticed the strategically carved out skylight in each room. “These provide natural light in summers and are used as spouting holes for bukharis – indigenous heaters, in winters”. Pointing to an hidden elf-door within the room, Ansari shows –“This was used to house tiny and new-born kids or billies and lambs to save them from winter’s snows and dropping mercury. These babies were also used to hug for warmth and served as natural Hot-water-bottles,” he laughs.

A number of identity cards of people who once lived there are displayed including Ansari’s grandfather’s first identity card issued by the Jammu and Kashmir government that reads “Permanent Resident of Protected Area”. “Even today, for the small number of villagers left, agriculture, animal rearing is domestically sustaining however portering remains most popular and well-paying. Loyalty to the Indian armed forces is strong. While in 1971 they fled, few who decided to stay, found caves that proved to be bomb shelters. “During later exchanges and especially during Kargil war in 1999 we set up homes in the caves, while our boys rendered portering services to the Indian army”, Ansari explains pointing to caves far away in the mountainside.

Wars and a Major

During the 1965 war, for a period of four months Hunderman was virtually cut off, and assumed the status of ‘No Man’s Land’ owing to a standoff between the Indian and Pakistani armies. The Pakistan army returned to the region after the Tashkent Agreement- when both countries agreed to pull back forces to their pre-conflict positions.

The scarred and scared villagers, who had heard stories of Indian forces impaling children with rocks; when they actually encountered one Major Mansingh of Gorkha Regiment of Indian army, were comforted by his kindness. He is believed to have said –“We are no devils, we are also humans like you.” On the following day, free rations of rice and kerosene were distributed. “Villagers who were agro-pastoralists and provided portering services to the Pakistan army till then, saw and tasted rice for the first time”, Ansari tells us excitedly. “In honour, the village suffixed Mansingh’s name to the village, changing it from ‘Hundarmo Brok’ to ‘Hunder-Man’ Brok. A road in 2005 and electricity in 2006 with medical clinic, school, and aanganwadi centre, sealed a lifelong bond with Indian armed forces for this village, neglected under Pakistan,” the former resident adds.

Dry pit and stadium

Few Hunderman women gathered near the small rivulet between the crags were too shy to talk. However when I pointed to a place, they said it was a dry pit. The toilet is spread with a sandy soil mixture and has a hole below which is a three-walled enclosure. On the excreta, a soil spread ensures faster decomposition and six months later before sowing, the decayed excreta matter is spread in fields and around trees for a lush harvest.
Interestingly, The ascending houses become a virtual stadium as cricket shots resound during winters when the lower field is filled with snow and is flattened, hardened by trampling, turning it into a cricket pitch complete with jeering clapping and applause.

Rupee note

A “one rupee” currency note, in the museum is astonishing for a layperson. “Most such notes are called “Over-Prints” because Pakistan did not have its own Mint in 1947,” a top RBI officer told me once.

The note holds three countries together, it has –“Government of India’, ‘Government of Pakistan’,-‘Hukumat-e-Pakistan’ in Urdu and a stamp of ‘George VI King Emperor’. Interestingly, the year mentioned is 1940 on it, when Pakistan didn’t exist. The explanation goes –“The note was probably minted in year 1940 and superimposed in 1947/48 in Pakistan. These notes consist of Indian note plates engraved (overprinted being a misnomer) with the words ‘Government of Pakistan’ in English and “Hukumat-e-Pakistan” in Urdu added at the top and bottom, respectively, of the watermark area on the front only; the signatures on these notes remain those of Indian banking and finance officials.

#IndiaPak Watsapp group

Families in Skardu (Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan) and Hunderman and other border villages in India and Pakistan have kept in touch through a Watsapp group “Hum sb kb milenge (When will we all meet), that serves as a lifeline through an erratic internet. Founded in 2014 by Skardu-based journalist Musa Chulunkha, members converse mostly in Balti language”, Hussain Ibn Khalo Editor of local cable channel ‘Kargil Today’ a Balti himself adds with a smile. “I too am a member of the 110-strong group”.

PHOTOS: Hosain Khalo KT Hosain Ibn Khalo

URL: http://dailykashmirimages.com/…/preserving-history-above-80…

Kargil-III Glimpse into the life of Pure Aryans/By Rashmi Talwar/Kashmir Images


Screenshot Aryans Part III.jpgDateline Kargil III
Glimpse into the life of Pure Aryans

Rashmi Talwar

(CONTINUED)

Road to Double way traffic

• The traditional pastoralists have given up on rearing goats and sheep, and now seek employment in military services; thirty percent of them are still into farming, which spells huge economic dividends for the population, owing to the road network. Since 1947 Indo-Pak Partition, army gradually developed an outpost which provides income opportunities to villagers. Many villagers are increasingly opting for education and have taken up jobs in Kargil, preferring to remain within the state or in neighbouring Punjab. Tsering Dolker has applied for a police officer’s job. Another girl, by the same name Tsering Dolker, has done her Masters in a Miranda House College of Delhi University and is a headmistress at ‘Rigjung Public School, Kargil’. Tsering Sonam Garkon is a teacher in Kargil.

• Telecommunication is the poorest here; a lone satellite connection works with assistance from the army. One Tsering Sumphal Garkone (65) and his son Sonam ferry local artists and others during cultural festivals in Kargil, Leh, Delhi and elsewhere and organise festivities in village during visits of important guests. Brokpa villages are famous for scenic splendour, ensconced greens and colours amidst menacing rocks, combined with a unique sense of dressing and quaint tradition and culture. Both Men and women wear colourful hats embellished by joyous looking flowers earning them the sobriquet of ‘Flower People of Ladakh’. It is this very unique culture that fascinates the world and their cultural exhibition has become a huge tourist attraction. They are seen to join in festivities and occasions in Kargil as well as Leh due to road networks.

• Road connectivity has given a fillip to local economy in a big way. While in ancient times Apricots were mainly bartered for salt from Changpa nomads brought from Chang-thang and Aksaichin in Tibet. Now, lucrative trade fetches around Rs 35,000 annually from each apricot tree. Besides apricot fruit, over-ripe apricots are dried and sold and those that fall to the ground are soaked, cleaned for nuts to be consumed or used for extraction of pure apricot oil. Walnuts, apples, grapes, pears besides vegetables especially tomatoes and barley are its other produce, supplied to outlets in Kargil, Leh and Srinagar, apart from fulfilling home needs.

• ‘Payu Pa’ owned by Tashi Lundup is a guest house in Garkone while in both Dah and Hanu villages, few guest houses and home stays are available as tourists are welcomed.

Purity of the Pure

Many scholars have been fascinated with the deep obsession of Aryans with purity and purifying rituals. Tsering Sonam says –“We Aryans adhere strongly to the concept of purity and feel cleansing oneself with the smoke of a smouldering juniper as the ultimate purification. When the home needs to be purified, it is smoked with juniper. Utensils too get the boiled water juniper douse especially on the occasion of ‘Gunla’ or when new agricultural cycle or livestock is sent to pastures as also on ‘Losar’ or New Year festival.” For Aryans, certain trees, flowers and animals which inhabit higher regions and some particular colours are symbols of purity.

During New Year celebrations not only individual homes but entire village is cleansed with the villagers carrying burning juniper torches to cleanse the atmosphere. So much is the obsession with the cleansing and properties of juniper that when I asked about few old ones having very dark faces, I was told it was due to the ancient practice of not washing the face with water in fear of losing barkat or original charm, but purifying it with the smoke of smouldering Junipers. This has however been forsaken and many vibrant faces of women can be seen.

Women when sexually neutral in old age are considered pure while men are deemed pure throughout life. Women are forbidden from approaching the juniper shrine at Dha Brog.The priest who takes fruit and flower offering to the deity or sacrifices and brings these offerings to the village for distribution has the power to enhance purity. The shepherd who comes down from the pastures is seen as imbued with purity. The sweet smelling flowers from higher valley are saturated with purity and deemed to purify. Whosoever goes to the pure regions of mountains and glaciers acquires purity as well. Achieving of higher purity is also through anyone completing six cycles of ‘Losar’ (each equivalent to 12 years).

Though cremation of all corpses is outside the village, at the lower end or impure part of the valley, worship of ancestors takes place within the village. A crevice in the rock is made called ‘Munal’ where the bone of the ancestor is placed to which offerings are made in the ‘Mamani’ festival devoted to ancestral worship and food and juniper rituals are performed. I saw many Munals with blacked rocks and was told that juniper is burned beneath the crevice to purify and every household possesses its own Munal.

Purity factor is dominant in households and social customs carry it forth, hence, it was a custom of holding a smouldering juniper over the head of an outsider, before entering the village and no outsider was allowed to approach the hearth, no one was allowed to cross over the chimney in fear of causing impurity to food. So much so, no one could carry back rations from a journey back into the village; food meant to feed other communities was brought from the kitchen and served in the receiver’s own utensils. If one were to meet someone in the village, he would call out his name and meet him outside the village. This was considered the wish of the protecting deity of the village.

Locals tell us- “In 1955, The German Hindukush expedition was reluctantly allowed into the village with all purification rituals’. A daughter too has to follow norms – A married daughter cannot sit on the left side of the hearth in her natal home where the women sit. She must sit near the central pillar where grandparents who are sexually neutral or children with un-reached puberty sit, and must thus maintain lineage and ethnic purity. To maintain purity about 80% of the marriages are conducted in their own village and 20 % from other Buddhist Dard villages.

However many of the customs are forsaken now and many are relegated to be observed during festivals only.

Environment, Culture and Traditions

• Aryans worshipped Lhamo goddess before converting to Buddhism and partly to Islam, now Buddhism is dominant among them, seen from Buddhist prayer wheels and temples while still retaining their ancient culture, rituals and traditions.

• Married women support braided hair. Few old ones have dark faces; it was due to the ancient tradition of not washing the face with water but purifying it with the smoke of smouldering Junipers.
.
• Sattu (barley), yak butter, yak cheese, apricot oil are extensively used in traditional food like Kholak, Papa, Marzan, Popot, Thukpa. Now most homes make vegetables in light curry and Rice. Momos are new additions, along with packed commercial packets of chips, Maggi, etc.

• The villagers make a variety of wines – ‘Chhangg’-Barley wine, ‘Gunn Changg’-Grape-wine and ‘Bras Changg’– Rice wine.

• Generally abstaining from eating chicken and eggs, Aryans eat meat mostly of goat during important festivals. They do not drink cow’s milk and milk products though they do own cows, bullocks and yaks for agricultural operations. Goat’s milk is used in tea preparations. Buddhist Dards observe the custom of not consuming cow meat. It’s a taboo; hence neither the flesh of cow nor its products are consumed. Traditionally, goat milk is used to make salty pink tea. However, at present cow’s milk too is being used in villages along with butter, ghee and curd.

• I saw no monkeys or dogs in the village; neither did we notice flies and mosquitoes.

• Terraces are used to dry apricots and rocks used to dry grass for fodder.

• Aryans use a dry pit for a bathroom spread with sandy soil with a hole, called ‘Chakraa’. Faecal matter collects in a three-walled enclosure below the hole. Soil is continuously added for faster decomposition. After about six months, before the sowing season, the matter is lifted and mixed with animal manure and spread in the fields. Each household uses its own ‘chakraa’ for its own fields.

• The custom of marriage is also unique, where the groom pays the bride price and women have rights of divorce. “We are free to seek divorce, but must return the husband’s property which includes silver jewellery. There is no taboo on changing partners”, says Dolker.

• Every year Losar, which is a New Year festival, is celebrated on the first day of the luni-solar Tibetan calendar, which corresponds to a date in February or March in the Gregorian calendar. On its seventh day the children prepare a feast for elderly of the village. The elderly in return sing hymns to the children about evolution of the world.

• Aryans’ flamboyant head dress, “Kho” embodies their spirit, studded abundantly with flowers and exotic rows of coins, some even antique, with bright ribbons or wool strings. Married women wear the Monthu Tho in their head dress and support multiple braided hair, signifying marital status. They also adorn themselves with silver ornaments. Traditional Goncha– attire of Brokpas is made of sheep’s wool. The signature flower hat of Brokpas is considered a prized possession and is not for sale.

• Brokpa villages were divided when Kargil became a district in 1979, Garkone and Darchik thus fall under Kargil, Dah and Hanu come under Leh district.

• The world’s obsession with Race as a marker of identity and nobility, and an additional promise of an Aryan experience, sees tourists from all over the world flocking to these villages. Tashi Lundup, owner of ‘Payu Pa’ guesthouse says tourists from France, Iceland, Austria, Japan, Korea, Poland, Israel and of course Germany visit these villages.

• Located deep in the valley along the Indus, the Aryan villages remained safe during the Kargil war 1999.

Last Word

Seeing, optic cables being laid on the way from Kargil to Aryan villages, I pondered, about the double onslaught of road construction and high end communication of mobile connectivity and internet, of the modern world on their lives, how long would Aryans remain an elusive people?

Much as their quaint existence and practices fascinate, it is not long before inter-marriages would take a leap in numbers, with children seeking education in mainland towns and cities and intermingling with the outer world. Soon the Pure-Aryan gene pool, if ever there was one, is bound to pass into eternity. The little village children are already adopting western wear of Jeans and T-shirts and reciting ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ and ‘Humpty Dumpty’. Time is not far before they fly into the world and make their own decisions about careers, marriage and lifestyle. Customs of poly and group-marriages, free sex may also become things of the past owing to Education.

However, I am comforted by their ancient ways for sustainable living, agricultural practices and their lands possessing divinity for fertility. Human Faecal matter is one of the best soil nutrients, I had long ago learnt in my Bonsai class. The value Aryans attach to their vibrant cultural heritage including their signature glorious flower-nest hats, resplendent attires, musical hymns and splendid festivities has already become their ‘Unique Selling Point’ for world tourists. From average, it will soon assume a greater earning avenue. Being bang on the LoC, military services come to them as a geographical choice.

A recent article in India Today –‘Aryan wars: Controversy over new study claiming they came from the west 4,000 years ago’ by Razib Khan -a blogger geneticist at UC Davis, quoted recent research, wherein the ANI (Ancestral North Indian) DNA is quoted to be different from earlier studies. However it’s the treasure trove of a unique culture of Brokpas which would ultimately define their inimitable identity and live on for eons on the wings of time beholding an astonished world, as long as they hold on to the many colourful threads that make them matchless.

—————————-BOX——————————-
Tashi, Hero of Aryans and unkempt promises 
If Tashi Namgyal had not blown the whistle on intruders in the mountainous heights, the Kargil war of 1999 would have had different connotations for both warring neighbours India and Pakistan. On May 2 1999, Tashi Namgyal went up the mountains to Banju Top to search for his yak. He owned two, out of which one was lost. Using binoculars he combed the mountainside and saw about six people moving rocks and making bunkers. “I kept scrutinizing for nearly 10 minutes and then rushed down to my village Garkone to inform people, including a teacher Tsering Sonam Garkon. We went together to inform the army post in Batalik. The officer there was astounded and retorted –“Tashi if your information is incorrect- you and your family will suffer” he said menacingly. “But if it is correct, action will be taken and you shall be rewarded.” But Tashi stuck to his stand, three soldiers accompanied him to the heights and were stunned to see the activity as Tashi vividly described it.
The army men suggested calling for reinforcements to neutralise the intruders. Tashi and Sonam declined being part of active offense, but assured provisions of food and water to troops as well as logistic support.
Sonam believes the intruders hunted at least 10-12 of their yaks for food. During the Indian strike on the intruders, Tashi mobilised villagers to help in carrying ammunition as well as food and water to soldiers. “They carried everything in hind-baskets. The village also helped to bring back injured and dead bodies of Indian soldiers. “At least 4-5 bodies and about 20 injured were brought by us.” Tashi remembers vividly about helping to retrieve the body of Major M Sarvanan, of 1-Bihar Regiment, and was hailed by top officers.
“In 2002, I found the body of a soldier of 1-Gorkha Rifles on Kukarthang ridge, which paved the way for compensation to the martyr’s family”. Displaying pictures of his parents with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and his own pictures with Minister of Defence George Fernandez, Tashi remembers “I was overjoyed to receive Rs 50,000 by the Div Commander of 8-Mountain Regiment soon after the war. The Div Com in Batalik told me that my name has been sent for a National award and my children would be provided government employment. But 17-years later all promises lie broken. I have educated my children and pray for help in getting government or army jobs for them to improve their lives. This is all I ask for rendering service to my nation.
————————————–BOX-END————————————–
PHOTOS : Hosain Ibn Khalo and Tsering Sonam Garkone 
KT Hosain Ibn Khalo 
Rashmi Talwar is an Amritsar based Journalist, can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

URL : http://epaper.dailykashmirimages.com/10920…/newsdetails.asp…

Kargil-II Glimpse into the life of Pure Aryans / By Rashmi Talwar/ Kashmir Images


Screenshot Aryans Part IIDateline Kargil –Part II
Glimpse into the life of Pure Aryans 
Rashmi Talwar

Looking at the stars I wonder how many souls would have passed this way, a hot-bed, a melting pot, of central Asian trade, the mysterious silk route that carried communities, seeds, men and material; animals and stuff and forked them to mainland. A land where finest of caboodle, made their journeys, yet some remained unalloyed, basking in the glory of their embryonic purity for thousands of years. Indeed the prospect of meeting ‘Pure’ Aryans remained overwhelming.

Snuggled in our tiny car we set on a 70 Km tour, zooming past village Apachi to Hamboting-La pass perched at 13,202 feet, falling in Kargil’s North-East. Dearth of oxygen cohabiting wind chill, nearly gives me a head-swim. Through astonishing rugged stonescape, protruding rock-hills seemingly scratched by giant paws, along lilting streams, deep gorges, leads us to Batalik sector, bang on LoC ‘Line of Control’ between India and Pakistan.

Amidst serene mossy banks, River Indus (Sindhu River) careens along in hopping waves, like an excited child jumping along an elder. Pockets of greenery lie hidden with contrasting greens hallowed by light coffee coloured rockeries as valley touches fresh glacial melt of freezing sapphire waters of Indus below, lending a romantic aura.

Seeing us, Tsering Gamphil, a ‘Brokpa’ – Brok- mountains; pa- inhabitant; meaning a highlander-approaches, his triangular turquoise earrings bobbing on loose lobes, blue eyes glinting in scorching sun, his heavy moustache lifts to flash a toothy smile. He juts out a rough hand in recognition to my friend Hussain-ibn-Khalo, Editor, Owner of Kargil Today, a local TV Channel, accompanying me. I smile, at the 65-year old Gamphil’s black cap embroidered with “BOY”, and notice a single safety pin holding a bunch of dried flower buds. “Yes I am in Garkone- the professed Pure-Aryan village!”

A cluster of four villages claims to hold a bastion of pure bred Aryans—presumably pure, the last, un-muddied, un-adulterated by outside gene pool. Gamphil, a Surna artist, Surna-musical instrument likened to-Shehnai, is invited to every festival to play to melodious hymns and rhythmic dances of Aryan Brokpas. “I even played Surna on J&K Tableaux on 26th January Republic Day, parade in Delhi,” he tells us. There are seven other artists in this tiny village inhabited by more than 1200 people.

Darchik and, Garkone are lesser known, falling in Kargil sector while Hanu and Dha Aryan villages nestle in Leh- are more frequented due to air connectivity and a greater tourist inflow.
At the confluence of rivers Shyok and Indus in District Kargil, village Darchick claims- “Welcome to the Abode of Red Aryans” emblazoned on a semi-circular gate flanking the entry. I wonder if ‘red’ was a sign of caution! Gamphil tells us –“Some outsiders were refused passage in Darchik recently. They followed their ancient tradition”.

However Garkone village ventures us a welcome with a large swirling Buddhist prayer wheel in midst of the entrance whirled by two young giggly girls. Foreigners are presumably disallowed or allowed only by special Inner Line Permit (ILP) from District Commissioner, in this highly militarised zone. On the way, we see, the battlefront, a portion of Batalik post was wholly destroyed in Kargil war of 1999, there now stands a Mata Rani Mandir and an Evil Subjugation Stupa, built by army on local beliefs of divine call for warding off aggressors. Inhabitants of these Aryan villages are known as ‘Dards’, local parlance – ‘Brokpas’.

Garden of Eden

Garkone, with its splatter of grey rocks flecked with black spots, along pathways and gnome doorways, is a welcoming hamlet, visible as a virtual oasis amongst dull rugged cliffs. An artistic rockscape slanting across as the river meanders between and beneath, enhancing its beauty as swathes of fertile lands break the severity of rock to croon a melody for colours, music and dance, like a mysterious merry ring.

Like Garden of Eden, a stream of crystal clear water swaggers through the village, overhanging grape bunch’s criss-cross branches, constructing natural green tunnelled pathways that run along a stone trail, flanked by rockeries on one side, that hold elf-doorways to elusive homes and habitats of Aryans. Alongside, running rivulet swings lush fields of barley and assortment of luxuriant vegetables. “Our Tomatoes are the reddest”, says Londhup Nawang Dolker owner of ‘Payu Pa’ guest house. “It seems to be a garden of bounty”, the gardener in me responds admiringly.

On the sides of the fields, trees stand laden with ripe orange apricots, green apples and unhardened soft green walnuts. It’s a riot of colours, predominantly orange hues – symbolic of colours of dawn-dusk, the carrot shade of perennial Monthu Tho adorning doors, finds pride of place in Brokpa hat-nests of flowers and the tangerine light of apricots. Garkone is a fertile, warmer, water surplus area, ensconced in lower rock crevices, in an otherwise rainless Ladakh. Primarily being agro-pastoralists they own yaks, goats and sheep, harvest world’s most luscious apricots, varied vegetables, extract oils and seemingly remain uncluttered.

Brokpas

The Brokpas, believed of Indo-Aryan stock, descendants of Dards, settled along Indus River, centuries past and are an enigma for the world’s imagination. Their claims of pure Aryan descent are of deep interest to anthropological research, ethnologists, scholars and backpackers. A popular belief carries of Brokpas as progeny of remnants of the army of Alexander the Great that came to the region over two thousand years ago.

Another strong belief traces their descent from Gilgit (Pakistan).
University of Heidelberg, Germany’s seminal research by Rohit Vohra on Aryans in his book ‘The Religion of the Dards in Ladakh’ and ‘An Ethnography – The Buddhist Dards of Ladakh’ quotes Roman Historians Curtius and Justin who claim invasions of Alexander the Great, along Kunar river in Chitral (Pakistan).

Interestingly, he notes –“The Kalash of Chitral have Caucasian features-sometimes with blonde hair and blue eyes-which gives some credence to their claim, that they descended from five warriors in Alexander the Great’s army. There are only about 4,000 of them and they have remained pagans- religion based on reverence of nature, including origins, history, rituals, and devotions- despite being surrounded by Muslims in Pakistan. The Kalash, relate a story of Alexander’s bacchanal with mountain dwellers claiming descent from Dionysus. They worship a pantheon of gods, make wine, and practice animal sacrifice.”

Aryans, settled along Indus meandering through bedrock, claim to be inhabitants of Gilgit, a region close to Chitral, sharing much of its history and culture with Gilgit- Baltistan in Pakistan. There are numerous similarities between the Kalash and Aryans, including the latter’s facial features, pagan traditions, despite having majorly converted to Buddhism, they have retained their ancient roots. Both communities have prominent blue eyes, colourful attires; once pagans making wines, the concept of animal sacrifice is common to both. The Chaumas festival of Kalash is learnt to be very similar to the Bonanah festival of Aryans, including the finale of spiral dance bidding farewell to the Deity.

Vohra writes- “One of the early migrations, about which there are oral traditions, relates to the arrival of brothers Dulo, Melo and Galo in Aryan-land”. During weddings, the door of the bride’s home is knocked and the wedding party announces “We are from the family of Dulo, Melo and Galo”, who locals believe were from the army of Alexander.

That they are settlers in regions of one of the oldest civilization along the elusive froth of River Indus connected with Indus Valley Civilization, adds sheen to their claims of being ancient Aryans. Incidentally, Dards or Aryans, their pedigree known from the ancient Sanskrit and classical Greek literature, draws besotted German Women- to seek Brokpas for racially pure progeny. Germany has a chequered history of Hitler’s obsession with racial superiority and the master race of Aryans.

Tsering Sumphal Garkon (65), an elder in the village with two sisters as his wives admits-“I know of seven German women, and out of them at least five were thus impregnated by Brokpas to carry the presumable elusive Aryan gene pool to their country.” Munching on a biscuit with his tea, he adds, “The government has banned the practice but still smitten German women pilfer in present times, seeking an elusive pure Aryan seed,”

Film: The Achtung Baby

Indian filmmaker Sanjeev Sivan made a documentary in 2007- “The Achtung Baby – In Search of Purity”. In it, he investigates stories of German women seeking to impregnate themselves with what they consider pure-Aryan sperm in Aryan villages of Ladakh.
Andrea, a German girl in the film, feels she is doing it as a gift for her grandfather who studied Aryans and hinted at an organized system behind the transaction. “I’m paying for what I want.” A village Darchik Aryan- Tsewang Dorji, her paramour, an apparent simpleton claims to have impregnated three German women thus, and is hoping his children would seek him and take him to Germany someday.

Sex is Pure

According to marriage statistics for three subsequent generations, average of 80% marriages were from within Aryan villages. Only in exceptional cases, inter-village marriage in Garkone, Darchik, Hanu and Dha were seen as recent as about 10 years back. “The types of marriages amongst Aryans are numerous, -Monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, endogamy but also group marriages of varying form”, reveals Vohra. “The most common group marriage was of two brothers marrying two sisters where all partners had access to each other”.

Quoting Goldstein: 1971, Vohra writes “An exceptional group marriage was of a father and son sharing a wife. Such were in Katangpa and Auduz households; or an uncle and nephew sharing a wife. Also, if a mother died prior to the children’s marriage and father took a wife then father and son shared the wife and this was a bi-generational marriage.”

Opening up to the world however has brought new connections and about ten Aryans of this exclusive pure population have ventured to marry beyond the Aryan boundary. “Where even Leh Buddhists are least preferred as spouses, Garkone’s Paskit married a Muslim from Nubra Valley; Yangay married a Hindu Nepali driver who converted to Buddhism”, revealed Tsering Dolker, a Garkone girl of marriageable age.

Ajaz Hussain Munshi, curator of ‘Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum of Central Asian and Kargil Trade Artefacts’, a virtual encyclopaedia on Aryan’s ways says –“Since many of the Aryans converted to Buddhism, they were able to retain their culture, practices, rituals etc. While, those who converted to Islam, lost their heritage as Islam is a forbidding faith for music, singing, dancing, idol making. Hence, ancient pagan rituals of Buddhist Aryans are still intact and are followed.

Among Buddhist Aryans sexual rituals are freely exhibited at Bononah festival (Big Harvest Festival), celebrated annually, each time in a different village. The celebration in Dha is followed by Garkone and then in Ganoks (Pakistan) but after the conversion of inhabitants of Ganoks to Islam, the celebrations there were discontinued, thus the year of Ganoks’s turn falls vacant. During festival, a barley (sattu) wine brew (Changg) from still green grains holds a vital place.

Strong Sweet- smelling, flowers Thizim Kaliman being the most essential, are brought from pastures to decorate hats of men-women and hymns of the origin of the world are sung to melodious music, following the second crop’s harvest and threshing. Additionally, it heralds the return of shepherds from glacial heights.” Huru, a dish made with roasted barley or Sattu cooked in hot water or namkeen (salty) chai to form dough with yak’s butter, has an intoxicating effect when fermented for a day.

During Bononah, dances in memory of ancestors are performed and along with hymns of happiness, prosperity, bounty, are sung hymns with sexual connotations and accompanying amorous dances. Singing competitions are held between group of women and men and obscene questions-answers are exchanged.

Men kiss women they like and the husband or father is not to take offence. The festival is closely guarded; permitting no outsider into the village during the celebration, as the village is purified. Free sex is practised. Sexual hymns in riddle form are sung between groups of men and women. These are supposed to release forces and heighten the atmosphere of the festival. Dances with sexual movement heighten the same effect. Hymns of sexual connotations are sung addressed to Aryan deity Yanding along with dough figures, decked walls, balcony & pillar drawings as a part of fertility cult. Corresponding Hymns and songs are a secret not to be revealed to an outsider…… ( TO BE CONCLUDED )

PHOTOS: Hosain Ibn Khalo & Tsering Sonam Garkone 
Amritsar based writer can be emailed at : rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

http://dailykashmirimages.com/…/glimpse-into-the-life-of-pu…

Amritsar Based writer can be contacted at email: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

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
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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
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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! 😜 🍻

The pain will be ours alone, Kashmir ! /Rashmi Talwar/ Daily Kashmir Images


snapshot the pain kashmir imagesThe pain will be ours alone, Kashmir !

Rashmi Talwar

O the pretense of strength, of willpower, fervor, sacrifice
Peep in my empty womb
Am I hoping for sunshine?
Will rainbows hug me?
~unknown

“Mama I have a head-ache, a tummy-ache, a tooth-ache, ear-ache!” Mama would pop a tablet, kiss me, say –“All will be well” while stroking my forehead. The fake-ache was for a pesky teacher, a test, punishment, home-work or just about anything to skip school.

Soon she’s busy in daily chores and peeps. “Are you better?” –“No!” I lie gleefully and let out a suitable groan, till well past school time. I lie in bed. TVs are nonexistent, radio is a spoiler, comics and novels are under censorship. To speak, to move out, even to look out the window, all my fundamental rights are curtailed. One little lie, and a vast abyss of nothingness- agony, insanity, unbearable.

Another time, an accident: Bystanders gather on the spot, exclaim their –‘Hawwws..! And Haiiis..!’ Call up my husband’s pager. At the doctor -“We’ll have to plaster the ankle, it’s a hairline fracture, but the wrist can be just bandaged,” I insert -“No, Doc plaster my wrist too!” –He winks at his assistant – “Two plasters!” I am excited–“Now, I really look like an accident victim!”
Relatives visit, inquire, listen to my story, and exclaim -“Oh how terrible!” I continue – How a woman trying to pick her child in the front seat drove right across and bolted my rickshaw- “I felt as if I was flying, and landed with a thud, you know!” And adding a little spice – “You know, I checked my neck, I also checked my diamond ring, only after checking, I, started howling loudly, Hee Hee!” “You are brave!” one says. I have turned my adversity into an opportunity, I pat myself. I glow in the make-belief glory of compliments. They write something cute on my plaster with pierced hearts, smilies and leave. Fourth day, there are no doorbells. I look at my plaster, read the messages all in a minute. Only one minute passes in my long road to recovery. My pains, my helplessness all get magnified in my solitude.

Another accident: I slip from the stairs; the shattered glass embeds in my hand and punctures a blood vessel. Blood spouts like a tap, running down the stairs.
Sitting on the stairs, my head swims due to blood loss, I calmly hold my bleeding hand and ask my house help,–“Go, get all the ice in the refrigerator and a towel!”
He stands staring. I urge –“Hurry, don’t look at me!”
Rushed to a hospital with blood all over, a nurse presses the bleeding punctured vessel, the bleeding stops as the glass shard blocks the blood flow. The cutting foreign body drives excruciating pain the whole night. Next day I am operated, but the wrongly pressed shard has cut my nerves too. The same evening driving a car managed with a plastered hand, I reach The Tribune office for work. I brush it aside as a cut, when colleagues inquire. I am able to function better without self-pity and borrowed strengths now. I work from that day onwards with one hand, my focus only on work and on recovery. It takes six months and physiotherapy to get the hand to function.

Another time, I am advised for urgent surgery. “Report back in a week and we shall operate!” the doctor says emotionlessly. “It can be delayed a little, plus we don’t have patient space” the doctor at Ganga Ram Hospital Delhi, adds.
I return to Amritsar that evening. In a week I arrange all my daily wear, toiletries, towels, others, keep a neat guest room downstairs to take me. I even place a walking stick.
My house help assists me for two days. Third day she’s in a hurry, fourth, she skips. By the fifth day I have learned to manage everything- the pain, the chores, indigenously working out solutions. People visit. My Mum admires-“You are brave”, I take it casually. Now, only focused on recovery. I am back in good health in no time.

These may be minor incidents but what stayed with me –“You have to bear your own pain, all alone!”

“O Mother, O Kashmir, my pain was just a scratch, yours- Mammoth!
Listen to my little prayers.
They shall come, pay sympathies, some justifying, some calling exalted divinity, some soothing, some listening, some talking memorials, some anger- revenge, some lullabys.
The broken promises, history, anger, restrictions, all, meaningless.
In the dark cold screaming silences- Mother, you’ll wonder –“Which piece of mother-land demands a price of your children.”
No fruit, sweet; no sound, soothing; no rainbows, – Only raw, clutching, solitary, tearing, pain.
The pain will always be our own. To Bear, All Alone!”

chinar leaf

Photo by Rashmi Talwar

The writer can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN DAILY KASHMIR IMAGES ON AUGUST 10, 2016
http://dailykashmirimages.com/Details/117243/the-pain-will-be-ours-alone-kashmir

Gulmarg- Land of Lord Ghorawalla ! /Rashmi Talwar/ Rising Kashmir


gulmarg ghorawalla.jpgGulmarg- Land of Lord Ghorawalla !

 Rashmi Talwar

 

“Helicopter service in Gulmarg; flying you on top of the world;

Places where we fly: Mont Apharwat, Frozen Lake, Sunshine, Tosa Maidan and Srinagar Airport.

Rs 7500/ per person.”

 

Much as I was elated by this small red billboard, I noticed on the way back from Gulmarg, Kashmir, owing to my senior citizen parents – not in the best of health, who could see some exotic places if they so desired, it got me thinking about the place Gulmarg –the famed ‘Meadow of flowers’.

Gulmarg waters do not speak. They take side lanes, quietly dolloping down from crevices and flow silently downstream, moistening lush undulating daisy slopes, embellished with hues and shades of wild swinging flowers in the softest breeze. Rolling hilltops are a fairyland where children would love to roll downhill and play antique games of L-O-N-D-O-N —London.

‘The meadow of flowers’ appears to open as a large cine screen after a Deodar tree-lined ribboned road enters a passage cut through the hills. I feel immersed into the spectacular beauty of the vista of Gulmarg, that appears like Switzerland, where no condescending boundary walls rupture the beatific scenery perched at an approximate altitude of 2650 m and located merely 56 km north of Srinagar- the Capital of Jammu& Kashmir, a simple 90 minute drive.

However, after a day and a night stay at Gulmarg, I realized that other than the exotic flowers, Gulmarg can boast of the best talkers and fighters in the region. They are the famous Ghorawallas or Horse owners of Gulmarg, whose fame spreads throughout the Kashmir valley.

1 gullmarg ghoda.jpgThe verdant greens, sugary air and exotic flowers of the valley have done little to sweeten their moods, disposure or decency. Hence like the naturally growing pitcher plant – or insectivorous plant on Gulmarg slopes and crevices, the famed Ghorawallas of Gulmarg have learnt to trap their prey by fear, falsehood or fallacy.  While the pitcher plant may remain a silent spectator to its squirming prey, this variety is highly advanced. It is loudmouthed, threatening, ready to turn anything into a big street brawl, capable of mob terror, fleecing, uses Pakistan slogans to instill fear and even resorts to violence with ‘Kashmiri’ drivers from other regions besides tourists.

One wearing pheran or loose cloak, kohled eyed and henna reddened beard and hair, possessed a rare knack of odd combinations. Seeing the Poop litter in this scenic valley, I suggested poop bags could be used for Ghoras or horses like in European countries to keep the place clean. The smarting Ghorawalla took it as a jibe–“The dayyy Poop bags will arrive in Gulmarg, Kashmir will go to Pakistan!” he declared.

Interestingly, although Government claims a stronghold on the Gondola services of Gulmarg, the Ghorawallas have the real say on plying to the Gondola site. If access to gondola and everything in-between feels so cumbersome in Gulmarg where the lords and Masters are the Ghorawallas, a shake of the grey cells should be of priority to Helicopter Service in the region, for a hassle-free, better and more lucrative business turnover. Perhaps the Heli services which has found few takers till now, and Ghorawallas should sit in a bilateral meeting to chalk out the strategies for the smooth operation, with Ghorawalla as a shareholder of the profit.

After all, the Ghorawallas in Gulmarg have united and created a solid vote-bank of the sitting Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and therefore are supposedly given a free rein to loot the tourists while whispers abound that the  police and bureaucracy are told to lie low and quietly collect their ‘cuts’ for being cooperative in ‘smart’ deals.

If you wish to use the circumbulation road of this scenic window of flowers – “Either you hire a a horse or Ghora or pay for a Snow Vehicle PVC,” a Ghorawalla literally barks to incoming tourists. Interestingly, like local warlords many of these Ghorawallas own both these modes of transport.

Perchance if you were able to push in a currency note as a chai-paani into the rough hands of the loudest protesting Ghorawalla, as a clearance to use your own taxi for the roundabout road, he will give you a free show of his stained toothed smile, even pull out his gruff hand to shake yours most vigorously, salute you and will assure you, there would be no Ghorawalla to stop or hassle you.  The next, you know, another Ghorawalla, a short distance ahead will stop your vehicle, put his hand out for a bakshish (bribe) and dial a number on his cellphone to tell the next Ghorawalla about the welcome and protocol to be meted to you for plying your own vehicle. By the end of the route you could be lighter by a few hundred currency notes, for having indulged and navigated in a drive around.

Tourists on a day tour, a one and a half hour drive from Srinagar, are in for the best theatrics. If they decide to hire none of the above transport modes, they will be made to feel like a celebrity as the Ghorawallas will stalk them throughout their trek. They’ll urge them for a free test ride on the horse and then hold out their hand for the price.

By chance if you do settle a deal for a horse, marking out the territory of the ride, another surprise awaits you.  Ghorawalla will refuse pointblank that he was a party to this deal and may ask two to five times more. If you feel strongly up for justice, and are not ready to give up without a fight, you’ll witness the speed with which tens of other Ghorawallas surround you and curse your riches for holding back payment to a poor Ghorawalla! Until you decide to call curtains.

When I requested a security man to let me pass by the barricade by paying a fee of Rs 50, as was mentioned there, because my parents could neither climb a horse nor take the PVC or snow vehicle, the police personnel asked me to make a deal, a deal with a Ghorawalla! The Lord Ghorawalla stood with his foot on a rock and picked his tooth staring at me. If there is the slightest of feelings that flits past you, that there is any rule of law here, please feign a memory lapse. The best recourse would be to equip yourself to beg or cry or whimper. These emotional froths just might work.

Two barricades in the circular road cuts a road through the stunning valley. Only if you are on night stay showing your booking on the cellphone, would you be allowed to ply your vehicle or taxi in the area. But this too has a clause and your night booking is ‘not yet’ a lucky ticket!

“You are fortunate if you booked a stay inside the barricaded area, else all those booked in hotels or huts or guest houses outside the barricade are barred from passing and treated at par with  other day tourists.”

Once a Ghorawallas told me to take the horse instead of the Gondola, up the hill on the Gondola Kangoori route as I had failed to purchase an online ticket. “It is a big blunder,” He shook his head and continued-“Why didn’t you buy ticket online and now Gondola ticket counter is closed for three days, until previous bookings are cleared”. He told me he could extricate few tickets in the black. He also suggested that going on his horse was the best adventure I could have, would cost less than Gondola and the views would be breathtaking by the royal horse ride. Adding,-“Many a times the Gondola develops faults mid-air, and was hardly safe.” I decided to check and found readily available Gondola tickets not only for Phase-I but also Phase –II for one fourth the price and an assurance that breakdowns are rarest of rare cases. Ghorawalla during our conversation had also explained that I might like to fill the tummy of his animal as a sadkaa or offering to the Divine, with an extra for horse-feed as his ‘poor’ horse did not relish mountain grass on this slope.

This takes me to the red billboard for Heli services –“Are the tourists visiting Gulmarg being freely allowed access to the Helicopter service or will they have to kowtow to the Lord Ghorawalla in the land of bloom showers?

For all you know, the Ghorawalla may just find another story using his trading skills, to strike a deal with a naive tourist claiming his horse has wings! “So you don’t really need a helicopter at that cost when it flits away so quickly, you miss all the beauty na, and the views are stunning from my flying horse!” he may add.

Author can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR
URL:http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/PopUp.aspx?8ZkljZ_ppDowoQ4O6jlOjc6Q_ep_ep

 

Of an enflamed horizon, ruddy Earth and the air between/ Rashmi Talwar/ Rising Kashmir


Jammu Lit Fest –

Book Review

RED MAIZE BY DANESH RANA 

Red Maize screenshot RK-1

Of an enflamed horizon, ruddy Earth and the air between

Rashmi Talwar

Danesh Rana’s debut novel – Red Maize, is a shout, an expose, on men, machinery and

machinations. It uncovers a unique cocktail of intrigues to lure, entrap, mutilate and torture. It’s about selling your conscience for plum postings, self-claimed leadership, medals and badges, even a marriage. It’s about bed and betrayal, money and moolah, faith and faithlessness.

‘Red Maize’ is a searing cry of Jammu and Kashmir, of a bloody horizon, the ruddied earth and the air between, that threatens to puncture the water veins and infuse it with blood of innocents, bringing forth a harvest of red maize.

The book is set in a humble hamlet of Morha Madana in Doda district of Jammu, a mountainous region surrounded by snow peaks, its rich soil bearing bountiful maize, life flowing sonorously like the melodic poetry of river Chenab. Then comes a time when the languorously grazing village, being an ideal hiding place for stealth, is quietly invaded by a market of blood shops- selling human flesh and death.

Morha’s insulated location, in the lap of snow peaked mountains and inhospitable jungle terrains, makes it an ideal abode for spreading religious radicalism. The radical wave swiftly turns into virtual reality, giving birth to the meanest, ugliest forms of indoctrination, where stakes are high, contrasting between–Soldier or Militant, between -‘A Heaven on Earth! or ‘A Heaven in Afterlife!’

It is a story of how a venomously planted thought mercilessly snatches youthful sons and pretty daughters and pushes their mutilated bodies into ignoble graves. Where mothers like Kausar Jan or Fauzia’s mother stand trembling, knowing little difference between an unbearable life and a living hell! It sucks your innards as they carry forth their fractured existence, brought by mindless ‘men’ in their lives.

In this death street one of the shops –‘Tanzeem’ – sells its merchandise of Jihad – holy war. The village gives it, its first indigenous militant commander, Shakeel Mujahid, that changes the destiny of the entire village. Shakeel, a loving jobless youth and the love of his widowed mother Kausar Jan. Basking in the sun on green slopes, while his goats grazed, fascinated by cricket matches and antics of militants, Shakeel follows the bloodhounds and falls for their gruesome playground of guns and gore.

Gul Mohammed’s is another such shop, of ‘mukhbirs’, craftily tri-timing at various opportune times – village folk, army and militants alike, sacrificing his daughters in this horrifying game of chess.

His lifestyle reminds one of stashed wealth, grabbed, usurped and stowed away by many such flourishing shops, blessed by political dispensations. The proof of this are mushrooming luxurious bungalows in cities and towns and hundreds of them scattered along remote villages and the countryside in Kashmir and Jammu. The ‘region of turmoil’ surprises many a visitor with some of the finest upcoming and completed bungalows. Not only did such money fund plush homes, it was weaned into high priced education in foreign countries of children of influential families, jet-set politicians, heads of high decibel organizations, radical and separatist associations and religious councils.

While their own wards are ensured to be safe and privileged, street youth are instigated, charmed, compelled and coaxed to pick up the gun or turn into a ‘sangbaaz’, the stone throwers, whiling away their youth and lives in jails or playing hide and seek in dangerous jungles and snow peaks with guns and bullets as toys. Where mothers like Kausar Jan are crushed under the dual extraction of dues from both militants and soldiers, besides becoming pawns in the hands of unscrupulous greed.

The third shop is that of the army- which no doubt kills, blows up, exterminates in the name of the country but is also a beneficiary, with AFSPA and PSA cushioning them from prosecution. Many trophies, medals, badges, promotions, peace postings, besides atrocities, tortures, killings, rapes, fake encounters and unmarked graves have stories with threads connected to the army.

Danesh has woven a story of intrigues sparing none – the army, locals and the militants. Shakeel Mujahid, in the story, is the manifestation of youth lured. His brother Khalid- the payer for his brother’s deeds by helplessly turning into a militant and his youngest brother- an easy dispensation for trophies!

Major Rathore comes across as manipulative, essentially less-ugly in his interaction with Kausar Jan, the mother- but brute, intimidating and cunning in the name of fighting militancy in remote areas. Rathore also has a match – a super ego demon unleashing nameless atrocities and creating killing fields.

How a NTR (nothing to report) is recognizable to villagers as a moment of relief; the rookie ‘kaapi’ (cadet) indoctrination to carry out everything to create Hell for a Promised Heaven, is revealing. Use of words such as ‘Passementerie’ (essentially embroidery on military uniforms) for adornment on the local salwar kameez of a Kashmiri girl gives a clue on the writer, a police officer. A Kashmiri’s typical reaction to situations like singing of Wanwun -the wedding songs on the death of a Mujahid is etched observantly. The reality of children in Kashmir playing ‘Encounter-Encounter’ with cricket bats as Kalashnikovs makes it well researched.

The book seems to be written in the times of early 1990s as Agra’s failed -walk the talk- steps in much later.

The writer’s use of Kausar Jan as a metaphor for Kashmir — the coveted vale of conflict, of lust and love, of mujahids and soldiers, being wooed and humiliated, of millions of blooms strewn with deadly thorns, Jannat and Jahannam, a nuclear flashpoint, a laboratory of death, is truly a wake-up call for the administration, politicians and the armed forces.

‘Red Maize’ calls for the protector to take the first humane step and not turn perpetrator. It calls for vigilance and healing, a touch marinated in much love and compassion. Perhaps AFSPA should be removed or replaced with a less draconian law, much as most of Kashmir believes the militancy is a Fassad and not Jihad (mischief and not a holy war).

Perhaps, the new political dispensation of Mehbooba Mufti develops a vision to erase some of the stains of political, police and public manipulations, and close few of the blood shops, with a touch, albeit, a woman or a mother’s healing touch, that may bring some comfort to Kashmir, is an awaited wish.

Writer can be emailed at: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON FEBRUARY 3, 2016
URL:http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/PopUp.aspx?3sDiTh_bsXH2wtZADHif2tpQ_ep_ep

India-Pak PMs Meet/ And then they came…/ Rashmi Talwar Rising Kashmir


snapshot IndoPak PMs meet jan2016.JPGIndia-Pak Meet

And then they came ….

Rashmi Talwar

India-Pakistan’s bonhomie has always spelt good tidings for Kashmir. It was on Christmas this time. Christmas –a special day just for family, like Diwali and Eid. Yet Christmas of 2015 leaped on to script history, with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi diverting his sleigh (Air orce One) to neighboring Pakistan and his surprise Santa-isque-halt in Pakistan, on this festive day. Only three other Indian Prime Ministers have visited the perceived belligerent neighbor in the past.

In the spirit of jingle-bells, the PM’s reindeers didn’t mind bypassing the capital city of  Islamabad, instead, cozied up to vibrant Lahore in equal comfort. Modi extended birthday and wedding wishes in the same breath, to a Grandfather-Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and his granddaughter- Mehr-un-Nisa on her wedding day.

Just a week later India faced an attack at Pathankot, allegedly by terrorists deemed to belong to Pak based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, controlled by Maulana Masood Azhar, who was released in lieu of hijacked Indian plane IC-814 on Christmas day of 1999.  Many pawns and paws have come under a cloud and an alert has been loudly sounded in Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and Delhi. This comes as third in the series of attacks with the first in Udhampur, then Dina Nagar in Gurdaspur and now Pathankot.

Only a week back, India and Pakistan were warmed over the Indian PM’s visit and media threw up interesting Santa Clauses between India and Pakistan- Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Nawaz Sharif share birthdays on Christmas. Dr Manmohan Singh, former Indian PM’s desire to straddle the three regions of Kabul, Islamabad and New Delhi, all in a day-trip for his three daily meals, was recalled but it was Modi’s unusual step that took the limelight, touted as –‘dreams come true for those who dare’!

Just after inaugurating the new Parliament House in Kabul, initiated by India in 2007, Modi

spoke to Nawaz Sharif and conveyed his greetings on the latter’s birthday. Nawaz responded in typical Punjabi heartiness- ‘Since you would be flying over my country, why don’t you drop by and also bless my granddaughter Mehr-un-Nisa at her wedding’. Modi accepted spontaneously. The Christmas bonhomie lived up to its name and the spontaneity of India-Pak PM meet, appeared to have thawed some snow back home in Kashmir too. Post this visit, Kashmir’s perceived icy -‘Radical-Modi’ gave way to momentary warmth for the PM. Warmth that helped tiny tendrils of a new sapling to emerge from under the sheets of snow in Kashmir, due to thisout-of-the-box approach seen as– path-breaking, unconventional, strong and decisive.

Following the India-Pak Christmas, Pak Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhary briefed the media – “As a part of the comprehensive dialogue, the foreign secretaries of the two countries will meet in mid-January 2016”, he said. Some peace doves on both sides called it “a coup of sorts by the two leaders away from the media glare and the highly polarized domestic politics”.

The impromptu visit of PM also left Kashmiri separatists wide-mouthed. Separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani shook his head and said ‘we have no issues on better ties between India and Pakistan’. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Hurriyat Conference’s Chairman took on positive note -“It’s a good development that leaders of two nations have started meeting and talking. We welcome it,” Mirwaiz told a Kashmir based newspaper. “We now hope that the two countries show political will to resolve all pending issues, including the core issue of Kashmir.”

Omar Abdullah, former chief Minister Jammu & Kashmir, posted on a social networking site twitter – “Indo-Pakistan relations have been plagued by knee-jerk reactions and a lack of consistency, looking towards two prime ministers to correct this, this time”, he tweeted.

All this, even as intelligence inputs had already put forces on alert, on a possible terrorist attack with a fresh infiltration from across the border, even before the PMs Meet.

Modi’s Tarzan-visit maybe a cause for cheer and be termed a diplomatic accomplishment in Indo-Pak relations, but has also caused a flutter. ‘Will it be stamped as a walk on haloed steps of predecessor Vajpayee, so popular with Kashmiris and Pakistanis, or will it become just a flash in the pan?’ cynics wondered and waited on both sides.

The cynics were not entirely off mark as the Pathankot attack was aimed to scuttle the nascent goodwill engaged in by both countries. The continuance of hostilities between the two neighbors serves the vested interests of many in both countries including Pakistan Army, the terror groups on one side and the Hindutva brigade on the other.

Political observers opine – ‘The Indian PM’s visit somewhat negated the growing clout of Pakistan army chief -Gen Raheel Sharif, who compelled Pakistani political leadership to change the discussion agenda decided at the Ufa joint conference and forced to make Kashmir the number one agenda point.’ Many however assert the General’s involvement in giving clearance to Indian Prime Minister’s flight in Pakistan, however reluctant it maybe, was tacit, and enclosed the blessings of his recent US hosts. But the slight to the Pak general’s growing clout, with the nation’s political leadership taking its own chances, couldn’t have gone well with the army chief.

Pathankot Attack may thus be listed as captive sketch of recent events. Many feel the attack, though a handiwork of ultras on the forefront has the implicit support of Pak army. Indian involvement in harboring and plotting the attack too cannot be ruled out. When PM visited Pakistan, a lobby in India was silenced, that of Sangh Parivar, who indulged in political rhetoric, communal and anti-Pak statements unmindful of the caustic harm to India’s foreign and domestic policies. But with Pathankot attack the Sangh found another nail to hit.

Modi’s acceptance of Nawaz Sharif’s invitation, greetings, personal reception, the Jhaapis and a Heli-visit to Sharif’s Raiwind house, may have created goodwill for both leaders in Pakistan and India, but had an expected spillover. Precisely for this reason, the impromptu option was exercised. Because, had the visit been announced and then implemented, a terror-attack would have been timed to coincide before the visit. If nothing at all, the visit still stamps the peace overtures of India and puts the ball in the court of Pakistan to respond suitably and with equal vigor.

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh told ANI: “Pakistan is our neighbour and we want peace, but any terrorist attack on India will get a befitting response.” Indian analysts take this as the Home Minister showing restraint and indicating Delhi’s will to continue talks with Pakistan. Every time a peace process is about to start, the same pattern of attacks are seen. Dr. Ajai Sahni, Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management, Delhi opines –“It (the attack) may lead to a momentary pause in the peace dialogue and battering from the opposition for not pursuing a harder line with Pakistan, but I don’t think it will have a long- term impact.”

“The moment Modi touched down in Lahore (and probably even before), something like this was doomed to happen,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert in Washington while confiding to a newspaper. And added “At this point, there’s sufficient goodwill in India-Pakistan relations to weather this attack. Saboteurs won’t win this one.” Given the history, geography, regional and global geopolitics, India and Pakistan have little choice but to remain engaged even in conflict situations, just as during Kargil war when engagement at political and military level continued.
All this, while Kashmir awaits the next move, wondering whether it will have to shiver in icy weather this New Year or will the warm jingle belled Kangri under the pheran ward off the chill between the two nations? It’s still hard to say.

The writer can be reached at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

URL:http://risingkashmir.com/article/and-then-they-came-/

April Fool Cheers ! / By Rashmi Talwar


Caution: Those who do not possess the kidney for Macabre Humor may please turn to the next page on this blog or visit a Toilet ! 

April Fool Cheers ! 

aprilRashmi Talwar

Honestly April 1st has something queer about it or can it be called gay! Provided, we stick to the lingo of just-a-decade  past. Coz, in the present age, gay and queer would both be construed as straight or with same-sex twisted leanings, unlike the gay’s dictionary meaning simply -cherry and queer meaning odd.

Please don’t drag my father’s birthday in this. He was a disciplinarian as also an open minded, adventurer. Much as I would  find it crass to crack an April fool prank by the dawn of the first day of April owing to it being the sacred day of my Papa’s Birthday, but by late afternoon, my resolve would inevitable be crushed as my hibernating talents of a prankster, would emerge out of their forced burial.

This time, though, people on my FaceBook list who profess to be my friends and relatives were tested to attend my mourning ceremony. No I had  not ‘expired’ (like a bank cheque) completely,  just yet, but have supposedly become a  wannabe ‘passed away’.

So here I started to count how many would sincerely appear for myshokh ceremony or bereaving hour or the ‘chautha’ ‘as Hindus call the ‘prayers-for-the-dead’ after immersion of ashes in Haridwar or  Bal-Ganga.

I knew some people would be shocked and reprimand me, but, sincerely, my joke was very serious, so the search could not be abandoned by mere anticipated scowls or scoldings .

 

The post on Facebook  went like —–“Beauties and Handsomes of FB … Kal (tomorrow) I am leaving hopefully for Heaven ( or Hell !) I don’t know … There’s no Facebooking or Twitter or email or WATS- UPP there..(.wink emoticon). Might be away for the time I enter a new Soul… till then…. Remember me with smiles, giggles, laughter and Happiness And —-Be good !…. I shall be watching you from Above !! … And all those Fakes will be rewarded who think life is a cake walk and there’s nothing wrong with me !! ( smile emoticon)”  .

 

Believe me there were 68 likes on the subject of my anticipated death. Some of them admonished me on this silliest, stupid, prank and there were others who ventured a reply – ‘April Fool, Hai Na’ . Still others thought I was in a suicidal mood and rang up my daughter – “Is your mom ok? Jao dekho kia hua hai unhe.” My daughter was flabbergasted and asked me rather politely what did I ‘now’ post on my facebook status that four friends of hers had already called and one had inboxed her a message to be with me in this hour of supposed  melancholy.

Now this had turned into a serious research project.

Babita Narang Kochar wrote in my inbox “I hope it was joke or r u in some trouble? Please feel free to share with me . I may help,” and promptly vanished from FB. Ghost ! Ghost ! I practiced soundlessly after her vanishing act. After all there would be much more ghastly mists up there. I presumed she was a fellow friendly ghost, only trying to familiarize and play buddy buddy with  me.

Akhilesh Misra an opinion writer was aghast and indignantly wrote “What is this?” Sharad Tripathi pleaded from Lucknow to call it an April Fool joke and admonished never to play such a joke. Abrar Hussain, a senior officer in the  J&K state Electricity department, asked,  what was wrong with me.(He expected the usual Power failure, that leads to Marr-gaye! Mitt-Gaye! protests in fragile Kashmir!).

MP Singh,  connected with organ donation organization ,  thought he might get a new brain, for my transplant   and wrote –“ It ( post ) cannot be liked! This type of joke is never expected from such a mature person.” and to tone down, added-“Please don’t mind madam.” .

Shamsher B Singh, a former journalistic colleague and friend, softly reprimanded as if to a child “mana aaj April fool day hai par mazak kuchh aur bhi ho sakta tha. Please reconsider ur decision.”  (Admitted that today is April fool’s Day but jokes could be something else too) And added soon after -‘Hume malum hai apke post ki haqueekat lekin, dil ko behlane ke liye khyal achha hai ! ‘ (We know the reality of your post, but to amuse oneself, the idea is good )

By the fourth comment, an hour or two later the post was exposed completely  as an  April Fool joke .

Autar Mota, a fabulous writer on Kashmir’s tangible and intangible heritage who never misses a chance to tag me in each of his brilliant posts, simply wrote – “April Fool”  I am anticipating he must have written this with his fingers crossed .

Suneet Madaan, a class website designer, worryingly posted“ Rashmi, do you need company?”

Bansilal Kuchroo, a longing, veteran soul who feels that after losing ones lands in  Kashmir,  nothing more drastic could befall him,  wrote in sadness “I am a real FOOL so I believe all.” He really jerked the tear glands and succeeded to shame me. To sadden a person, who is already dealing with the separation from his lands for decades and longing to touch ground zero, indeed mortified me. However comments continued to pour in.

Islamabad based Indo Pak fellow peace votary, Zahoor Ahmed announced –‘Aje tohanu jan nain dena’(We won’t let you go, just yet !) Made me wonder whether he will create chicken tikkas or gurdey- Katurey –  a speciality of Lahore – Before he lets a portion of me go to the skies.

Few dainty ones followed the comment strip with Amnah Khalid, of ‘Save daughter, Save nation’ campaign fame . Who used her light flouncy tone to write –“ Are u going to a Spa or China or North Korea?? !!” She must have surely dealt with looneys who raised false alarms and had a wit or two ready  with retorts to gun me.

Sheikh farooq Ahmed – a hotelier whose intention apparently seemed to be  to follow me to the travel journey into space probably looking for tourists clientage, gurglingly wrote  — “Enjoy there,… we will be reaching soon!!” as if I was going to a casino in Los Angeles!

Saeed Ahmed a self- professed lover of ‘mad’ who  enjoys ‘schools of fools and illiterates’, in his cherry tone   cheered me off with –“See you there!”. I could imagine him waving his hand and blowing good wishes for a safe journey.

While Arun Gaur,  a fellow Amritsari, brushed aside my speculations of Heaven and Hell and firmly stated – ‘Wat nonsense ! U will always go 2 heavens’ and added ‘ just try once”.

A fellow journalist Bindu Singh, was effusive –“ Love u n hugs…Rashmi,…. Pl…. Dear….. Do not break my heart  (pierced arrow heart emoticon),  its as delicate as u r…. Sweetie…. Stay blessed…..( a wide smile, a smile, a heart with stars and a whistling heart emoticons ).  I raised my hands in prayer, atleast someone displayed some good etiquettes!

Social worker and activist Shabnam Hashmi rung the alarm with –“ Rashmi Talwar please call if there is a crises and this is not an April 1 prank. Requesting Rashmi’s personal friends who have her number to call her to ensure things are fine.” She must have surely seen a number of such realtime  looney cases.

Neeta Tripathi, an office bearer of  congress party’s grievances cell in Mumbai  could not stand the jest , lest, she said –“Rashmi,  tum bhi na. aisa mazak acha nahi haii”(this is not a good joke ).

A Manager at  ITC Welcome Group of hotels and businessman in Tourism sector of J&K calling himself IIqaa Tours  called out  loud –“There may not be twitter, Whatsapp or other services, but perhaps telepathy…” and made me feel like a crystal ball running after me for the vital tele link.

Yoginder Nath Tikoo, a Peru,  based Kashmiri who once worked in a Spanish company had this advice –“Visit my Tea Shop for a quick, crispy samosa plz.” as if his stall was located at the entry of gates of hell or heaven  and I would need some refreshment,  post the exhausting journey from Earth.

Veenu Kadd, restaurateur and  my good friend in Amritsar … hit it with a simple –“April fool banaya”

Krishna Kumar D Paval – guessed ‘So, Are u going to Srinagar ?’This was promptly picked up by Dr Naresh Chawla , who lost no time in doing a quick post-mortem and concluding  within a span of an hour –“ I think she is visiting Srinagar.. So read her status again… its Heaven..she said, hell- bcoz floods are dere.. its at a height so watching from above!!” I concluded he surely was a good doctor cum  lawyer rolled into one.

My good friend and RTI activist from Delhi Daljeet Singh who has often peered at  my ‘queer’ posts, blurted out -“ Afeem acchhi thi.  Thodhi jyada lai layi lagdee.” (Drug overdose !)

Anoop Lather a lawyer and a political activist from Kurukshetra the land of the great war, seemed to have  put up a board – “Please no such Pranks.” It sounded like Bugle announcing –“No Toilets in sky!”

Roopa Ghosh a quick witted senior school mate snapped –“Talk to us about the weather from there !  ” I guess she knew her school mates well enough.

RK Arora seems to have a fool –proof source there and informed me –“For the first time being there is no vacancy ..in Heaven or Hell .” Guess I should be prepared to languish in the long  ration queue.

Vijendra Rawat showed me  a wine glass seeming to call  a toast  for the onwards journey. Avi whom I know as a fabulous mimic of a Kashmiri wazu and a great cook, all other talents aside, decided to suggest to take my surname ‘Talwar’ everywhere when I go on ‘the’ journey. Yes Avi just like the tools of Mimicry you carry everywhere, I shall take the tool of war with me. Salutes !

Gurmeet Anand, a witty whack himself is strangely annoyed for ‘selecting  ‘them’ to make  fools,’ made me think,  I wish I had a choice to search for the right kind of candidates for my irrational pranks. Canada based Manju Sharma, who is into diamonds business warmly cooed so lovingly “God-Luck !”.

How can PM Modi be missed in any conversation at present, that takes place on the Indian Terra ferma . Jeevan Preet Singh or Jack Kairon promptly asks — “Leaving on Modi’s Bullet train?” after all Kairon  is a lawyer who always is  on a lookout for issues involving litigations –For supposing I fell off the train! .

Mahender Singh cautions me against going to Earth’s paradise Kashmir and says the Heaven there has turned to Hell. ‘Hell or Heaven, Kashmir is Kashmir’! I retort.
Meantime Journalist Narinderpal butts in “We have people in Heaven and Hell with fake IDs”. As if I am gonna expose a trillion dollar scam in a multi sting operation wearing spy cameras in the pockets of my soul. “I don’t want any tehalkas with me for company Mr Narinder Pal Phaajee,” I tell him.

 

Awww my friends know me too well so Neeta asked –“Haw ! (mouth-open)  Kahan chali ..Srinagar ?” I can imagine her eyes wide and her lower lip pulled-in locked with teeth in a tight grasp, as she tried to wish this deathtrap away. Another good friend Indu Aurora assuming that I was going to Kashmir advised – Rashmi, Heaven has become Hell once again after September. God bless ones who were struck by this calamity . Take care and God be with you all.”

A Pakistan based motor company’s manager Tanvir Ahmed Siddiqui  commented –“Excuse Me…would You… Hang On Please?” As If I was holding a noose around my neck .. and wanted to snap -‘Oh No,  Puleez!  Let me quietly & painlessly  attain die-hood’.

Balvinder Singh, a Heritage conservator and friend couldn’t hold any longer and blurted “Ki ho gaya?” wondering which ancient wall has fallen upon me. While a HC lawyer prayed –“Be with us always” . Am I omniscient, I thought for a minute.

A former bureaucrat with Jammu & Kashmir government Ramesh Mehta checkmated  with a smiley–“ Waiting for your soul to return on April 1st Next”

Amrit Mannan from Amritsar didn’t believe it was the first of April joke or joker.

Kirit Desai a former bureaucrat put is succinctly – “ A day is never enough for such an auspicious journey where the Moon , stars and the mighty Sun aligns for a day to fool everyone. Have a good one ” And Vee Kay Sharma a senior journalist wrote –“ Don’t worry, on earth we have Facebook and Twitter, But up there , there is Fake book and Bleeder and the  Third eye to peep and see what is happening on the Ground floor.”  And DK Sharma just laughed Ha Ha April fool .

What absolutely zapped me was who would share such a innocuous post but someone indeed did. It was Atul Mehra a known artist of the city who  strangely commented –“So True” . Atul is surely gonna be the next one to be crucified like me . Today I went to an exhibition and several of my friends made a face and reminded me of the April fool post and said they hated it. Well, So be it .

00–00

 

Sorry, But I couldn’t resist writing this. Please read it very objectively 

When cars opened gates, shoes stepped out and television sets followed.. /By Rashmi Talwar/ RISING KASHMIR


When cars opened gates, shoes stepped out and television sets followed..

Rashmi Talwar

snapshot flood story RK

Trepidation gripped me this time as I hurriedly packed for Kashmir. Every time I had carried a little bit of Amritsar to Kashmir. It would be ‘anardana wali mathhi, dry golgappas, aam-paapar, even wadiis that Kashmir had no taste for. Friends accepted them with love and even asked for recipes. I know hospitality is drubbed in the genes of both Punjabis and Kashmiris and thus the inevitable closeness.
My daughter pointed to a clear cellophane bag in my suitcase. “What is this?” she asked. “These are flower seeds”, I replied. “Why”? “I want to spread some cheer in Kashmir after the floods!” She hugged me and I hugged the thought of these pink and yellow crocus-lilies that would emerge without much care and multiply like rabbits, throwing off their seeds and spreading joy. In the past I had carried so many Chinar, fruiting and flowering saplings every time I came back from Kashmir, shared the saplings with some ardent gardeners, resolved to make a Char-Chinari, the namesake of an island in Dal Lake that once boasted of four massive Chinar trees, in the part of my garden christened as ‘Kashmir’.

My pen feels shaky to write the firsthand account of mass devastation of Kashmir, when all I had written were paeans about its glory, the serene loving waters bobbing with shikaras, saluted by intricately carved houseboats in the backdrop of Pir Panjal range of Himalayas and emerging tall firs, pines, willows, their paths sprinkled with exotic multi-hued, multi-shaped flowers and umpteen fragrances lazing in its winds.

The floods of the intervening night of 6-7 September in Jammu & Kashmir had virtually given me hydrophobia, even as I remained safe hundreds of miles away, in Amritsar. I looked askance at the running tap-water – ‘Oh my cool, mild, serene mannered elixir of life, could you have been in such a rage so as to wreak havoc in your own paradise?’

Creepy creatures, spider-webbed foliage, creaky doors and windows and strange happenings, horror movies often use these symbolisms. Imagine something emerging from reel to real. In the early days of October, nearly a month after the catastrophe, motor pumps were still draining out water from heavily flooded localities of Raj Bagh, Jawahar Nagar, Indira Nagar and Shivpora in Srinagar. As water receded, muddied monstrous bungalows emerged out and the once manicured blooming gardens, now laden with mud hung menacingly.

The typical arch gateways festooned with flowering climbers in gardens, tall pines, rose bushes, all looked lopsided, disfigured and drooping, displaying burnt decay lines to show water levels that rose to nearly 20 feet and more in some of these areas.

If I had ever compared Kashmir to world’s other touristy places and pointed out that boundary walls were jarring and obstructing its scenic beauty, please forgive me. I had meant no harm; least of all wished the terrible vanishing of these walls, which became the first casualty of the ferocious waters. Cars were seen crashed on second floors, television sets hung on walls and tree guards, windows and doors splashed out on overhanging wires.

Abdul Rashid (45) shudders and recalls “We helplessly watched on the morning of September 7, as our car bobbed outside the first floor, boxed open the main gate and our shoe-rack with all slippers and shoes kept in the front veranda tip-toed behind it. Slowly we saw these touching power wires and horror gripped us. In just an hour we hurriedly threw blankets on the upper floors as waters rose speedily with nearly one meter inundated every hour.

Rashid’s wife in tears, talked about the three dark days before their rescue, “We scrimped and scrapped to feed our two young children, as we had very limited stocks and could not retrieve much from the ground floor”. Another couple in Lasjan, who slept on their second storey, found creeping water dodging their beds as if gnarled hands were about to choke their throats, got up in terror and waded through the water to window sills and then to the upper storey.

A senior bank officer dragged himself and his wife to the third floor of their house in Indira Nagar only to notice a huge beehive below the slanting roof. Recalling the terrifying moment, he said -“I thought if somehow we escape drowning, the bees would surely make us their meal.” Both climbed to safety from second floor windows into boats with just the clothes and shoes they were wearing. Sumit Talwar a trader from Amritsar was air lifted by helicopter and then left to fend for himself near the airport. “After three days, aboard the free flight from Srinagar, I ate like I had never seen food before”.

Bharat Bhushan Bhat, president of Zeashta Devi Prabandhak Committee held his head in his hands and told us about 7000 people including 23 newborns and their mothers who took refuge in the ancient Zeashta Devi temple premises on September 7-8 and some on the third day too. “People came from all sections and communities as the temple is high up on the hill on the site of a pure water spring. The new mothers were all Kashmiris from Lal Ded Hospital and some had had caesarean sections. We covered their enclosure with soft thermo-sheets that are laid underneath carpets for insulation in Kashmiri homes. People slept on stairs and begged for a cardboard to keep below their bodies, young children slept on the bellies of their fathers or mothers and we fed them the entire ration that we had stocked.”

Even as loud wailings were heard throughout the Kashmir valley and people gripped and grasped to safety with the civil administration remaining completely paralyzed, partly due to fury touching them too and partly by choice, neighbours helped neighbours and the thieves had a field day, as humanity simultaneously put its best and worst foot forward in face of the colossal calamity.

My so loved, Maharaja Partap Singh Museum, Tourist Reception Center, Government Arts Emporium, housed in a heritage building, lay critically injured and nearly dead. Plastered with sticky silt, most of the city houses, shops, business establishments were awash with mud, algae, fungus and water that hardly discriminated between a tap and a sewer. Toothbrush too needed to be washed with mineral water as also the last rinse after the muddy water bath.

Rafiq snatched two thermo-sheets from floating waters rolled them up, balanced a wooden ladder and used a wooden plank to row it. He took whatever anybody could pay and also took many to safety for free. More innovative ideas with plastic drums helped to rescue several lives. People were pained and aggrieved about rescuer’s selectively choosing tourists over them until it was explained that non-local population is the first to be rescued in such calamities to arrest the number of casualties. “Locals know the topography of the area, have food stocks and a support circle. They can sustain for a few hours more but tourists are vulnerable and completely rudderless.”

Sajid Farooq, MD of Comrade Inn, a luxury hotel in Rajbagh, whose hotel roof top was used to save hundreds by chopper-rescue operations, was probably the lone buoyant soul around the depression debris and deluge. “Two storeys of my hotel were completely submerged in water and are destroyed. But I will remake them better than I made them back then.” I was dumbfounded by this optimism and silently prayed for this spirit to scatter its blooms in the mud, for Kashmiri lotuses to emerge once again.

A young Kashmir University student Hafiz who gave me a ride from Srinagar airport as taxis were not available, sounded me to be careful during distribution of relief material. “In our locality not a drop of flood water entered, yet many neighbours left their houses in the morning and returned in the evening with blankets and dry rations”. Mohammed Amin, the truck driver who carried our relief material for flood victims from the air cargo in Srinagar, not only charged us nominally, refused any tips and refused to accept even a single blanket or a kilo of rice that we offered him –“Please give it to someone needy. By the Grace of Allah, my family is safe.”

Habibullah, a shikarawala, looked up at sunny skies, days after the disaster in thanksgiving, with his hands raised in prayer and mercy. Suddenly he turned vitriolic — “This is just a ‘missed call’ given by Allah!” he boomed, “If Kashmiris do not set right their paths, Allah will give the ‘Assal call’ for the ultimate disaster and teach a bigger lesson”. I was shocked. I have listened when Kashmiris revealed their inner feelings in hush hush tones and hardly took it seriously because inevitably they sang a different tune in company of their own, out of fear or conviction. But little could I imagine a Kashmiri introspecting or even castigating and rapping his own people, that too openly, fearlessly. It was jaw-dropping and hard to digest.

Satisfied over the relief distribution, I saw how locals helped outsiders, neighbours helped neighbours and everyone pooled in resources, yet the terror was such that those who returned to relief camps after visiting their destroyed homes turned nearly dumbstruck with shock. The catastrophe was raw, rough and rotting. I went about like a zombie, looking at half drowned houses, wading through contaminated water, inspecting trees and plants, walking on muck roads till the time came for me to return.

During my departure this time, I smoothly passed through the baggage check, there were no Chinar or  flower or fruit saplings accompanying me this time, to invite ire and objections of airport security , only plastic tulips bought at a store outside the airport that came under no objection and I wondered when the cheer will return to Kashmir again.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON SEP 28, 2014
URL: http://www.risingkashmir.com/when-car-gates-opened-shoes-stepped-out-and-television-sets-followed/

Sign of blessed tidings, water is milky at Kheer Bhawani…/ Rashmi Talwar


Photo & Caption  by Ravinder Kaul: Taken at a Tea Shop, at Mata Kheer Bhawani, two elderly gentlemen deeply immersed in an intimate chat, completely oblivious of the Mela or the world. I returned to the shop after two hours and found them sitting exactly in the same posture. I clicked their pictures but they did not come to know of it until I told them. One a Kashmiri Pandit another a Kashmiri Muslim were former colleagues and neighbors and were meeting after 25 years. Looking at them I felt-“There’s still hope in this world”.

Photo & Caption by Ravinder Kaul: Taken at a Tea Shop, at Mata Kheer Bhawani, two elderly gentlemen deeply immersed in an intimate chat, completely oblivious of the Mela or the world. I returned to the shop after two hours and found them sitting exactly in the same posture. I clicked their pictures but they did not come to know of it until I told them. One a Kashmiri Pandit another a Kashmiri Muslim were former colleagues and neighbors and were meeting after 25 years. Looking at them I felt-“There’s still hope in this world”.



Sign of blessed tidings, water is milky: Kheer Bhawani

Rashmi Talwar

‘Naabad rang Poenye’! ‘Naabad rang Poenye’! (The color of water is Mishri- crystallized sugar) Kashmiri Pandits exclaimed in subdued glee. Kashmiris are hardly boisterous unlike Punjabis who would break into a Bhangra or Buraaaah, Jhappis and Pappis to express their delight. Yet their sense of bonhomie is apparent.

It is a different matter that on this very day, swords came out and lathis were freely used, blood spilled, amongst Sikhs in the premises of Amritsar’s revered Golden Temple- the seat of Sikhism, in the presence of Holy Book- Guru Granth Sahib, while observing a mourning for those who died in Op Bluestar, 30 years ago.

Coming back to Kashmir, the color of water of the sacred spring of Kheer Bhawani on this day, is symbolic, the milky tint, signifying good tidings for the year ahead. Mata Kheer Bhawani bestows her blessings, was the cheer, seen in the smiles of thousands of Kashmiris. Kashmiri Pandits from all parts of the world converge to this sacred spot, 27 Kms from Srinagar, every year to celebrate Jyeshtha Ashtami, the eighth day of the Jyeshtha month of Hindu lunar calendar.

It wasn’t as if the Pandits alone felt blessed by the water’s light tinge, Kashmiris in general, especially the older generation, too seemed to have prayed for pastel colors for the spring waters. Kashmiris can hardly forget the reddish and blackish hue of the holy waters in early 90’s that left them tattered and shattered, destroying almost everything they possessed, even the cravings for grasses and greenery, fruits and hills, scents and fragrances, home and hearth as well as trust and faith. They talked amongst their own, but weary eyes looked fervently in search for someone familiar from their happy past.

Elderly Kashmiri Muslims too come here with the same searching eyes, looking for their neighbors, friends or childhood buddies who had migrated in the early 1990s. Since migration, many cried a million tears over the tearing separation from friends, from beloved homes, the elixir waters, scented winds, fragrant flowers, juicy fruits and chirping birds while those left behind cried the same for lost warmth, friendship, kinship, sharing, camaraderie, heart to heart and especially Kashmiri Pandit Master Jees and Behan Jees, in schools.

Ganderbal District’s Tulamulla Mela reverberates with temple bells, beckoning Muslim neighborhoods to take a peek. Fascinated children, gather around the cooling shades of dozens of Chinar trees and muster up the courage to talk to Pandits, to ask them about their rituals, customs, their whereabouts and even why they don’t come back. Mostly they are too timid and would run away even with mere aim of cameras, but someone from them does come forward and the rest giggle.

Red ‘chunaris’ take on the wind and fly with their ends tied to the bark of a tree, reminding the reigning deity ‘Ragnya Bhagwati’ of a promise made by a devotee or a gift pledge to another. The scents of agarbatti or incense, dhoop, colorful Puja thalis with flowers, milk, ‘kandh’(bar of sugar), Kheer- rice pudding offered as Prasad, the thali also consisting of mauli- sacred thread, tilak- anointing saffron sandal paste, fresh water and other pooja saamagri or worship kit, that flows easily from devotee to devotee at stalls and shops owned and run exclusively by Kashmiri Muslims outside the shrine. Thousands of ‘Ratandeep’ (ghee-filled diyas), glitter bringing with them hope and cheer for devotees wherever they dwell.

Interestingly, Jai Gopal, a Pandit, conducting rituals at Kheer Bhawani says, “The Puja thalis are paid for only after the thali is returned to the shop keeper”. “This is tradition and has continued for eons and there has never been a chance when a devotee made off with a thali or evaded payment thus”, the shrine Pandit adds. This is indeed true, when I last visited the Kheer Bhawani shrine during an off season detour, I was surprised about this matter of faith and trust of post payments, that is perhaps seen no where in the world.

Fragrance of Hawan ‘saamagri’ or fire-offerings consisting of dried flowers, leaves, stems and roots collected from surrounding forests and other assorted material has a mandatory inclusion of lotus seeds (Pambuch) known to ward off evil spirits. At 32 degree centigrade, the holy environs here remain cool with the canopy of Chinars, some of whose branches touch the cooling waters nearby.

Ravinder Kaul, a freelance journalist, clicked a photograph of a Kashmiri Pandit and Kashmiri Muslim engrossed in conversation for hours at the Mela, unconcerned about the colorful revelry and melodious ‘Bhajans’ that soothed the air. This photograph posted on the FB, received over 1000 likes and comments and more than 245 shares, thereby emerging as a fountain of hope, of ties, of heart strings, impossible to break between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, despite troubled times of the past.

Governor of the state NN Vohra took a stroll and Yasin Mallik a politician advocating freedom from India, Congress leader Saifuddin Soz as well as PDP’s senior leaders were seen in bear hugs with fellow Kashmiris, urging them to return to the beauteous Valley. No one seemed to be convinced even as stalls by most political parties the PDP, Congress, National Conference dot the venue. Also true to the festive spirit were stalls by Kashmir police for assistance, RBI and J&K Bank for financial awareness programmes, Civil Defense, Traffic Police, Health Services, Tourism, Medical and others. The spirit of brotherhood however lives on with Broadway Hotel, Civil, Secretariat employees and Swami Vivekananda Mission, Nagdandi providing free food for all devotees.

Some reminiscenced about good times when families lived in houseboats for a week to participate in the grand fair. They all join in “puran ahuti” or the final offerings and “saamoohik aarti” or collective prayers, knowing fully well that chances of their return were hardly bright. The fair gives this alienated community, a chance to touch roots. For a day, the spirit soars high and faith keeps its beauteous moorings all through the year,

The writer can be emailed at: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com
FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON JUNE 11, 2014
URL: http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/PopUp.aspx?RVuQxlx8PdnfpjhWvdz_ppAQ_ep_ep

Kashmiris cheering Pakistan Cricket Team../Rashmi Talwar / Rising Kashmir


Kashmiris cheering Pakistan Cricket Team

Kashmiris cheering Pakistan Cricket Team

Kashmiris cheering Pakistan Cricket Team

Rashmi Talwar

I have read multiple view points emerging about the recent Kashmiris cheering Pakistan episode. Of special mention is the article ‘Of Sedition and Cricket’ by Shujaat Bukhari. It is well written and the writer has brought all aspects of the mindset of Kashmiri youth. However, it fails to make inroads into the mind of other Indians and the reason for discriminatory behavior towards the youth of the valley per se.
My personal view is the government has been unnecessarily harsh on Kashmiri students, with 67 of them booked under seditious charges, who also faced suspension by a Meerut University.
It is hard to dig deep into the heart of any Kashmiri by others in India every time he or they commit a faux pas. Dictionary defines a faux pas as a socially awkward or tactless act, especially one that violates accepted social norms, standard customs, or the rules of etiquette. “People only see the overt face value!” is what the world says. They have little time to spare to dig into your psyche, your history and your compulsions to understand and condone the acts.

Say for example – If, I was to shout at my wife in front of train passengers. Everyone will hold the view that ‘I am a bad tempered man’. They will not dive for reasons why I displayed such behavior publicly no matter how right I may be and how wrong my wife may have been.

Coming back to sports – can an American cheer for a Russian team in a match between the two countries? I don’t think even multicultural Americans, who hold civil liberties and freedom close to their heart and call themselves a civilized nation, can digest that in their country in an open platform against their rivals. It is difficult to explain to the rest of India why Kashmiri students cheer for Pakistan against India. When I queried about this cheering, a Kashmiri youth once told me ‘It is tradition in Kashmir to cheer for Pakistan.’
‘Aap nahi samjhoge’ (you’ll not understand). I asked him an explanation, he had none.

Another significant point, Shujaat’s article raises, and this may find resonance in Kashmir too; he writes, “One interesting thing has come up after the Meerut incident. Some of the students who are studying there have gone under Prime Minister’s Scholarship Scheme, which means that their study is fully funded. But even that has not helped them change their ideology.”

To this, I respectfully ask, “Why do the students accept the largesse if they detest the benefactor of these benevolent schemes. Do they have it in them to reject such schemes or not to apply for them?”

This pattern, reminds me of a recent case of Rachel Canning, an 18-year-old from New Jersey, who sued her parents. The parents said that their daughter Rachel voluntarily left their home after refusing to abide by the house rules. Rachel’s dad Sean told New York’s CBS 2-. “There’s minor chores. There’s curfews. When I say curfew, it’s usually after 11 o’clock at night. She does not want to abide by these rules or pitch in for house chores” In the lawsuit, Rachel asked a court to have her parents pay the outstanding dues for school; pay her future living and transportation expenses, her legal bills etc.
The judge shot down her plea and stated “Do we want to establish a precedent where parents are living in constant fear of establishing basic rules of the house?” Judge Bogaard said in the hearing. “If they set a rule a child doesn’t like, the child can move out, move in with another family, seek child support, cars, cell phone, and a few hundred grand to go to college? Are we going to open the gates for 12-year-olds to sue for an X-box? For 13-year-olds, to sue for an i-Phone?”
In other words, Rachel wanted all rights without any duties or responsibility. In the current scenario, do we as self-respecting individuals need to introspect that duties, responsibilities and rights go hand in hand.

It is my opinion that not only in India but in any country it would be a digression to see any local or others cheering for an arch rival against the home country. And here in India, cheering a country with a long history of enmity and hatred in a public place is hardly becoming.

People visiting Kashmir from other states can be taken aback when they see Kashmiris cheering for Pakistan in Kashmir during sports matches, but if Kashmiris were to repeat this sentiment elsewhere in the country in public, it could hardly be expected to find favours.

Not just India, but in any other developed countries too it would be hard for the local populace to tolerate even a tourist cheering for his own country team in their country or worse if a tourist cheered an enemy country against a home country team in public. One has seen many fights erupting in sports stadiums world over even though groups are cheering their own home teams.

Somewhere cheering for Pakistan is the result of a deep rooted mindset, in Kashmir valley. Even a small scuffle or heated word by security forces or police may raise hackles in Kashmir. The fact that the security forces have been harsh in public dealing in Kashmir cannot be denied. Hence, a mere security check is looked down upon as an affront, with little understanding that it may not be construed as humiliation but as a preventive measure for public safety. And, it is not as if the minor episode is confined to the particular point, the opportunity of weaving stories around it and making it into a full fledged magazine article is never lost. Many conflict zones exhibit this trend.

I have seen this pattern in Pakistan too. There too a minor episode is blown up with a disturbing and bechara aspect thrown in to create an emotive issue.
In the current scenario much of Pakistan’s public, especially, its dominant Punjab is strongly in favor of solving their home problems and moving forward on other issues with India without the Kashmir issue being a of core value. Time and again few Pak politicians raise the Kashmir issue for effect. Even Nawaz Sharif, the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, did it sometime back but it caused more of a flutter in India than in Pakistan, a media person from across the border confided laughingly.

Noted columnist and Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Friday Times’- Najam Sethi, who became a caretaker Chief Minister of Pakistani Punjab during general elections, bluntly states in television interviews that Kashmir has ceased to be a core issue for Pakistan.

Nusrat Javed, a famous Pakistani journalist and anchor for Aaj TV says Kashmir issue is no more an emotive issue that cuts any ice with the Television channel audience and carries very little interest amongst the Pakistani public. The Pak public today is more concerned and perturbed over their own grave problems of daily bombings and killings besides dealing with the Taliban on its western border and frontier provinces with Afghanistan.

Hereby self-respect has become the moot question for Kashmir. There is a country that hardly lays any store about past intimacy and here is one who cheers, holds and harps on about a romance refusing to believe it is lost.

Author can be mailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN ‘RISING KASHMIR’ 14 MARCH 2014
URL:http://www.risingkashmir.com/why-the-silence-all-these-years/

Real story behind the burning of Tydale Biscoe School, Tangmarg, Kashmir…/ By Rashmi Talwar


Tyndale Biscoe School Tangmarg, Kashmir after  fire by a Fanatic Mob

Tyndale Biscoe School Tangmarg, Kashmir after fire by a Fanatic Mob

Real story behind the burning of Tydale Biscoe School, Tangmarg, Kashmir

Rashmi Talwar

Christian schools have been popular throughout Kashmir since late 1800’s when the first Church Mission Society (CMS) named as Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson Society, CMS was established first at Drugjan and later at Sheikh Bagh Srinagar. Formal modern schooling with a dynamic spirit of service was introduced for the first time by this school. Despite earlier resistance for Christian Missionary Schools and especially the strong opposition to the education of the girl child, Kashmir emerged as one of foremost regions to adopt, adjust and follow up a holistic pattern of educational ideas alien to its culture by Tyndale Biscoe and come out tops. Even today Christian-run schools are seen to have maximum aspirants seeking admissions in the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as in other parts of the country.

Then what really took place that led to burning of Tyndale Biscoe’s rural school located in Tangmarg?

Shocking disclosure, of allegations against Tangmarg’s MLA Ghulam Hassan Mir alleged to be in cahoots with army and charged the winds of rebellion to oust the democratically elected government of NC- Congress headed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, has been an open secret for most Kashmiris. Allegations of the MLA having accepted money, to incite innocent villagers from his constituency and intensifying violence leading to a crazed mob’s torching of rural Tyndale Biscoe school is a stark reminder that there is a surface calm in Kashmir that can be triggered by the tiniest spark. The school’s burning stands as an example of ‘emotions on an edge’ even today.

Tyndale Biscoe School, a rural branch of Srinagar’s main branch, close to Gulmarg–catered to students from nearly 150 villages imparting valued added modern education.

When Omar Abdullah, the young Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, had faced a question from a perturbed Christian delegation in 2010, post the burning of this school – “Does your government want to see Christian schools in Kashmir anymore?” The troubled CM had replied, ‘More than half my secretariat has grown up and studied in the Tyndale-Biscoe and Mallinson School’. ‘Is this a question!’ he had growled.

The CM of one of the most troubled states in India had never forgotten that his father Dr Farooq Abdullah now Union minister in UPA was an alumnus of this august school as also J&K’s respected Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed besides producing some of the best and brightest students who have created a niche for themselves in the country and abroad. Of course Omar’s Grandfather Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah’s deep regret at not being a part of the school during Biscoe’s time was strongly etched in Omar’s memory. The Sheikh, upon the death of Biscoe, declared it as a personal loss besides a terrible loss for the people of Kashmir.

The question to CM was posed in relation to the torching of Tyndale Biscoe School in Tangmarg by a mob in 2010 following a clip by an Islamic TV channel showing a white man in US, burning a book attributed to be the holy Koran on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 attacks. “In the school fire, seven copies of the Holy Koran too were burnt,” contended the Church of North India (CNI) Diocese’s Bishop Rev P K Samantaroy who controls CMS institutions in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

Post this incident of arson, government promised compensation of Rs 8 crore to the Tangmarg school – named after Rev Cecil Canon Tyndale Biscoe and Miss Mallinson- but after a mere preliminary sum of Rs one crore, and some pre-fabricated modular huts to run the school, they hardly took the redressal to its promised conclusion, contended the Amritsar based Bishop and Srinagar based Parvez Samuel Kaul, Director- Principal of Tyndale Biscoe & Mallinson society, Srinagar, who were part of the Christian delegation.

In year 2010, a wave of fierce stone-pelting and retaliatory deaths had botched up the beautiful vale and then came this horrific torching of a rural school by a mob of hundreds in Tangmarg.

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Charred trees and modular huts of Tyndale Biscoe school after fire by Fanatics

Charred trees and modular huts of Tyndale Biscoe school after fire by Fanatics

Reduced to Ashes

On Saturday night, 13th of September 2010, the building of Tyndale Biscoe in Tangmarg was torched.
Hundreds descended to vent their ire on this innocent school building after watching an Iranian channel broadcasting about a white pastor, seen burning a page from a book, purportedly from the Holy Koran, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11 attacks in New York, by terrorists.

News of this spread like wildfire and the majestic school building, in the lap of wooded greenery where many a village child found his/her education, went up in angry flames. A distraught Principal Rajinder Kaul of Tyndale Biscoe School Tangmarg, who headed the school from the millennium year of 2000 while showing the remnants of destruction at Shajimarg in Tangmarg rued. “This happened two days after the commemoration of 9/11’s 10th anniversary on September 13, 2010”.

“Ferocious flames engulfed and gutted the entire structure in an area of 19 kanals in which the school stood, built with aim of elevating the standard of education amongst rural children. “Even though a CRPF picket was close by, help came too late”, cried Sabina Yasreen a school teacher, who saw the school grow, adding classes, the library, the laboratory for 13-years, and then saw its total destruction. Tears rolled down her cheeks as well as those of some senior students, as they talked to this writer in the school premises amidst ghastly trunks of 40 charred Deodar trees that helplessly watched as humans turned wild in a fury of destruction.

Bishop Samantaroy in Amritsar , said, “On hearing this devastating news, I immediately set off for Tangmarg from Amritsar, keeping no track of time and reached the next morning, despite stringent checks and halts throughout J&K. It was a volatile period of strife in the valley. The security forces had fortified the church building in Gulmarg which was also under grave threat”.

“The news of Koran burning turned the angst against the Christian institutions that had nothing at all to do with the actions of one insane man from America,” commented the Principal-Director of TBM Parwez Samuel Kaul, to this writer in Srinagar, who later sent a detailed report to the government which led to compensation promise to the tune of Rs 8 crore.
“Though the officials were informed prior to the attack of grave possibilities and requested for security they paid scant regard. The mob even stopped the fire brigade from reaching the spot,” revealed the Bishop. “I was heart-broken as I was involved with the Tangmarg School right from the time of land selection to its start in 1996, seeing it grow and flourish. With beaming Kashmiri children, the School was more like a beautiful fairy garden. To see it turn to ashes was killing.”

“The Tangmarg school’s safe status was assumed as students from 150 villages studied here, ensuring its security. That strategic neglect by government and security caused grievous damage as the school turned into a soft target and the fire reduced it to ashes”, a Kashmiri bureaucrat said on conditions of anonymity.

Trees more than 40-70 feet tall surrounding the school, stood witness to the terrible insanity that night that set a place of learning alight and also gutted nine other government buildings including tehsil headquarters.

All records everything was burnt, everywhere were ashes and soot that flew around as the wind blew. However, the arsonists were unaware that seven copies of the Quran kept in the school were also burnt, when they set it afire. Mustaq Ahmed Dar – a teacher for seven years says his copy of Koran was one of the seven that were reduced to ashes. Hardly any pictures other than those that were in the main TBM branch were left as the reminder of what the original school looked like.
Socio-Economic Development Project (SEDP) president Daniel B Das, also a member of the Amritsar Diocese, said they had earlier thought of withdrawing from Tangmarg which is a rural area. However, it would have sent a wrong signal to the forces which were inimical to the pluralistic character of Kashmir.

Children came the following morning, each of them crying and holding hands of their teachers and hugging in that terrible hour of tragedy. Senior students and teachers took turns to douse the remnant ashes that were simmering and causing more damage to ground below.
Undeterred by the tragedy, the school authorities from Srinagar and Amritsar restarted the school the very next day , shifting it to Dobivan village hospital with not even a pencil or eraser, but plain guts and resilience, in a move to save the academic year of 500 girls and boys. Principal Rajinder Kaul proudly tells us that the same year students who appeared in the matric board exams produced a cent percent result with three students making it to the merit list of J &K State Board of Secondary Examination for year 2011.
The school was shifted back to the same site and now carries on in modular or pre-fabricated huts provided by the government for which the school built base plinth foundation from the one crore with the preliminary compensation released by the government.

Tyndale Biscoe School, Tangmarg, Kashmir before Fanatics set it on fire in 2010

Tyndale Biscoe School, Tangmarg, Kashmir before Fanatics set it on fire in 2010

Compensation for arson

Director and Principal of Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson society had written to the Jammu and Kashmir government a detailed note about Rs 8 crore in compensation, but nearly two and half years later only the initial compensation of Rs one crore was released.
On 4th May 2013, the local Tangmarg Tehsildar with a team of officials marched to the school to dismantle 25 pre fabricated by the Divisional commissioner’s office. The officer left after being confronted for a notice or communication by relevant authority.
The school with 500 students had started functioning in 25 modular huts that were released by CM for temporary reconstruction of the school building, till the time permanent structure of the school building was constructed, according to an official communication.

How Tyndale Biscoe changed the character of Kashmir?

In Srinagar you may pass a sign outside a tall gate in the midst of a Sheikh Bagh bazaar, that reads “In all things, be Men” with an emblem of two crossed heart shaped oars. Most would fail to get the import of this motto and emblem that stands to symbolizes ‘Face all challenges with courage and a gentle heart’.
With the first school started under Church Mission School CNI under Diocese of North India (DNI) whose foundation was laid in Lahore, Pakistan, the entire character of Kashmiris took a U-turn. Those who chose to put their wards under the wings of Cecil Canon Tyndale Biscoe felt the drastic change, some opposed it vehemently while few tolerated and fewer were visionaries to appreciate the new calling. Where Patshalas and Maktabs were run by Pandits and Maulavis respectively, the first Christian school established in Kashmir in 1880, to usher in widespread changes in channelizing attitudes, talents and spirits posing a challenge to traditional lifestyles and acceptable dogmatic rituals and superstitions.

If not for Tyndale Biscoe –

The Mighty Pir Panjal range would have stood virgin with no one to show a ‘V’ sign for Victory after the toughest climb.
The bluest waters of Kashmir would have never rejoiced with Aquarian sports and regattas (boating competitions).
No trophies would have been won in competitions of footballs, dancing, boxing, boating, mountaineering, trekking, rock climbing or swimming or possessing the rare “Pluck” to dare.
The Wular Lake would still be in wait for swimmers given the belief about its demon-like qualities and a fiery temper
If not Famine, Floods and Fires; certainly Cholera would have erased the names of many Kashmiri families, which traces its origins to the late 1800s or beyond.
Surely, Kashmir would have been turned into a dump yard with no lessons of –‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’ learnt and girls would have remained illiterate and sodomy would have still ruled as a bullies would roam the streets.
Arrogance and devilish Taboos would have ruined many a woman- the embodiment of life.
Citizens would become stingy and selfish or would have run away in the face of disasters. They would have never learnt the spirit of service or performing civil duties of firefighting, street cleaning, preventing cruelty to animals, rescue operations during floods and epidemic of cholera breakouts.

Modern-day concepts of marathons, Peak treks, camping, excursions, and service above self were a part of school curriculum way back in 1890s in Kashmir. “Secularism was visible when this Christian school houses were named not after some Christian saints but after mountain peaks of Kashmir- Kolohai ,Harmukh, Tattakuti ,Mahadev”, says Mr Rajan Sandhu estate supervisor of Tyndale Biscoe

Children from villages study in modular huts after Tyndale Biscoe school was gutted in fire by Fanatics

Children from villages study in modular huts after Tyndale Biscoe school was gutted in fire by Fanatics

Kashmir’s rays shone at International Sufi Festival .. Rashmi Talwar


Kashmir’s rays shone at International Sufi Festival
Rashmi Talwar

Art Pixs Intl Sufi Fest_RK_2

Jaipur, the land of ‘forts-palaces-‘daal-bhaati-churmas’ pugris and upturned royal mustaches, in its cherry elegance shone brighter with the crimson blush of Sufism. The shimmering rays of a culture, preaching seamless, formless, undiluted purest love, during the “46th International Sufi Festival” added more color to the erstwhile ‘shaan’ of Diggi Palace of this pink city. As morning grew and fell into glowing evening lights, Sufism dominated three days of revelations and thoughts for a saner world. Governor of Rajasthan Margaret Alva as chief guest and Dr Bina Kak Minister for Art, Culture and Tourism, performed the inaugural honors.
Performances of Sufi world opened in the twilight to showcase the richer and truer path to the Almighty and the inner core of a being. In all this, as Kashmir picked its precious saffron strands, the brilliant legendary Kashmiri poetess Lal Ded stood as a tall example of Sufism and the poetry of contemporary Kashmiri poetess Tarannum Riyaz added the radiant color of kesar to the conference attended by sufi scholars, poets, academicians from more than eight countries of the sub continent including Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar and others.

INTL SUFI FEST AT DIGGI PALACE, JAIPUR

INTL SUFI FEST AT DIGGI PALACE, JAIPUR


“Didn’t Rahi Masoom Raza, write the dialogues for TV serial ‘Ramayan; Wasn’t Sia Mian Mir asked by Guru Arjun Dev to lay the foundation stone of Golden Temple in Amritsar? Did Kabir ever claim to be Hindu or Muslim, yet both communities adopted him and the holy Guru Granth Sahib incorporated Kabir’s dohas”, were some of the striking examples quoted by Saeed Naqvi author and senior journalist, of those, who rose above petty nooses of religion to hold forth and share thoughts of a cosmos in absolute unity.

Exquisite frescoes brightly painted walls and niches, antique pieces of furniture of this Jaipur palace, became all eyes and ears to the likes of Punjab’s poetic great and Padam Shree- Dr Surjit Pattar, who laid bare the raw reality of the world -“Chann, na tarey, na suraj na chirag; Sirf Khanjarr reh gaye lishkan lai” (No Moon, no stars, no sun or lamps, only swords left to glitter). It resonated with the present day inferno of heightened emotions of anger, hate and violence. A complete antithesis to this was Manmohan Singh ‘Mitwa’, a jolly comparer who kept the audience enthralled with a mix of his wise cracks, and his poetry that was like a gust of wind -“Ye kesi kamaal hai Guftagu, yahan mein nahi bas tu hi tu, Tumhi se chal, tumhi talak; meri justajoo meri arzoo. Na koi jism hai yahan bas ruh hi ruh. (What a fabulous dialogue it is, that it is none of me and all of you; Emanates and ends with you my search and desire, here lies a body-less soul and just soul).Zebo Ismailov Uzbekistan_1

Ajeet Caur, the founder of FOSWAL –Foundation of SAARC writers and Literature since 1986, a warm host, in her take on Sufism described it as a composite culture, secularist belief, of love, of tolerance, of compassion, having continuity and relevance even hundreds of years past its history. A former diplomat and VC of Punjabi University and an avid writer and thinker Dr Jaspal Singh presented a unique paper on a hypothetical dialogue between Kabir and Guru Nanak Dev, born hundreds years apart, yet coming together in cosmos on a common platform, dipped in the same color of Sufism.

Sheika Cemalnur Sargut (Turkey), a living guru with the largest Sufi following, spoke about the art of being human beyond a degree of sainthood or a Guru; Prof Mohd Nurul Huda (Bangladesh) spoke on the ‘Sufi meet with Emre and Lalon’ along with famed Pakistani poetess Fahmida Riaz, who exalted about the exquisite poetry of Lalon; Rakshanda Jalil’s Sufi Kalandhars and Nepal’s Parkash Subedi’s ‘madness in Sufism’, young Afghani Zohra Zahir’s ‘turning the world’ wherein she recited ‘I have a crooked leg and a hand that tries to write..’, indeed turned the insides out.

Whirling, singing, Sufis

Amongst nearly 17 performances, the ancient Rabab from Afghanistan by Mojibollah and Farid Ahmad on Tabla, stood out; they were invited for double encore during the cultural extravaganza and adjudged amongst the finest performances of the Fest. A 21-member ensemble from Turkey, disciples of the Sufi Murshid Sheika Cemalnur Sargut, sang and swayed to the accompaniment of instrumentalists. Kabir and Sheikh Farid’s ‘bani’ by Jodhpuri Jee’s raagis from Amritsar resounded with kirtan from Guru Granth Sahib- an embodiment of Sufi thought.

Wahid Bukhsh, Pakistan

Wahid Bukhsh, Pakistan


Shah Hussain ‘Mazaar’ in Lahore, Pakistan’s whirling dervishes in black were seen in trance to rhythmic dhol beats. A refreshing feel came with the graceful Zebo Ismailov from Uzbekistan in three shades of dance depicting early morning, mid-day, and night. Her exquisite beauty matched her swaying delicate movements and added shimmer to the nights that really became a treat not only for local Rajasthanis and participating audience but also for a number of foreigners to this quaint state of cultural bloomings.

Amrita Kak Jhunjhunawala’s melodies of Nusrat and Farida Khannum’s – ‘Aaj janey ki zidd na karo..’ and a female ‘malangini’ ‘Meena Sadaf’ from Pakistan was a treat to watch. Two groups of Rajasthani -‘Manganiyars’ or folk performers, one by Sawan Kumar Manganiyar another by Shakoor and Idrim Khan Manganiyar, graced the stage and presented climactic strains of folk instruments with the 17-string Kamaycha, the Dholak and the naughty Khartaal.

As sun set the yellow colored palace stood drenched in orange hues of spirituality, the bird songs and chirps grew silent and thence emerged a new fragrance in the madhumalti’s abundant flowers, a scent that soaked the universe in the divine colors of Sufism.

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Sufism

The beauty of Sufism, for us in Asia, lies in the centuries-old philosophy of Advaita, and the two thousand five hundred years of philosophy of Buddhism, and the beautiful merging of Bhakti Movement and Sufism.

Sufism is a great philosophy, a thought of deep, infinite feelings, but it is not a religion. One can be a Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jew, yet be a Sufi too, because Sufism is an exalted state of mind where love and peace resound like a soft melody, echoing and re-echoing in the depth of one’s soul, creating a fresh state of mind overflowing with love !

Sufism and Bhakti were two parallel movements which grew and flourished in the sub-continent almost simultaneously, grew out of the native soil, spoke in the mysticism-tinted language of the masses, and gave a healing touch to a turbulent and violence-ridden society. Guru Nanak, Mavlana Jalal-Ud-Din Mohammad Rumi, Sant Kabir and Dadu Dayal, Hazrat Usman Ali Hajvery, popularly known as Data Sahib (its most revered shrine present in Lahore), and Sian Mian Mir, Sheikh Nooruddin and Lal Ded, Shah Hussain and Sultan Bahu, Bulley Shah and Sheikh Farid, Lalon Faqeer and Amir Khusro, all of them had more or less the same vision.
Sufism is love, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, the voice of sanity, of secularism, of connectivity, of compositeness and tolerance is its shining armour.
To love the Almighty is to love His creations in all its myriads forms and essences.
Anyone who walks the path of Sufism is a lover, a beloved, a seeker, a fulfilled yet a thirsty being. Sufi is a melody revealed not to everyone, but a chosen few and not all can dance to the rhythm of silence.

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Tarannum Riyaz ’s poem on Kashmir

CHHUTTIYAAN

Pahaadon ki dhoop chhann ke aayi
Gulon ka paton se lams laayi

Rupehli shaffaaf teen ki chhat
Yeh qausia zeena aus shabnaum

Ghaney chinaaron k saaye gehrey
Safedon, bedon k oonchey pehrey

Safed magnolia ka boota
Ye baed ki tehnoyon ki kursi

Chamaktey chaubi makaan se uthtee
Ye varnish ki sugadh bheeni

Ye paawon ko gudgudaata qaaleeN
Dabeez sofey, maheen pardey

Ye bann k phoolon ki mast khushbu
Sehar pukaaren ise, kih jaadu

Ye sard mausam ka narm bistar
Ye janglaon men paley kabootar

Ye narm ru baad e rooh parwarr
Ye patton ki raazdaan si sarr sarr
Jahaan bunaa qumriyon ne hai ghar

Ye dil kusha dil nasheen manzar
Nazar se oojhal karen to kyunkar

Abb aur chuttee manaye kese
Ye chhorh kar Dilli jaayen kesey
Ye chhorh kar Dilli jaayen kesey.

Holidays

Hilly sunshine sieved through and
brought the touch of flowers

The silvery clean tin-roofs
The arched stairway, the morning dew

The deep dense shades of mighty Chinars
The tall guards of Populars and Willows

The white Magnolia tree
The perch made from a branched Willow

From a glistening polished wooded hut
arises the light scent of fresh varnish

The soft, sole-tickingling carpets.
The deep sofas and sheer curtains

This chilled weather’s cozy bed
The jungle bred wild pigeons

The forest bloom’s mesmerizing fragrance
Should it be called magic or miracle?
This gentle soul refreshing breeze

These leaves whispering secrets
Where doves have woven nests

This heart warming fascinating scene
How to let it fade away from my vision

How to extend my holidays
How to leave and ply to Delhi
How to leave and ply to Delhi

-Tarannum Riyaz

Translated by Rashmi Talwar
The author can be reached at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN ‘RISING KASHMIR’ ON NOVEMBER 6,2013

URL:http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/EPaper.aspx?SBszeUgZBl_bsJxv2AE_ppl9Gw_ep_ep

Kashmir, Punjab addicted to DRUGS… By Rashmi Talwar/ Rising Kashmir/


ADDICTED

ADDICTED

Kashmir, Punjab addicted to DRUGS 

Rashmi Talwar

SEPTEMBER 2, 2013 7:11 PM

The staccato of guns, the ear-shattering explosions, crinkling shattered windows and wailing screams of the near dead, half dead, the dying, the crimson streams of blood, have taken their deadly toll on both Kashmir and Punjab, leaving behind a trail of tears.
The next big challenge for Kashmir is the drug menace that Punjab is already fighting. Will drugs become another Frankenstein for the conflict zone triangle of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan? Do the perpetrators realize that those peddling or turning a blind-eye may themselves have their homes lit with the dark fires of drugs and end in a slow death, most miserable?

Having exhausted even the short change from American-Dollars received for sending arms and ammunition into Punjab and then Kashmir, the sly borders are indulging in alternate infiltration – fake currency and Drugs! These are the gen-next lethal weapons pushed into both these border states from across the semi-porous borders and even through legal trade routes.
While fake currency hits the economic health, deadly drugs destroy entire families- “Naslain ki naslain tabah karne ki saazish” (conspiracy to destroy breeds and breeds of humankind) pointed out Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, recently in Amritsar- the city that was a hotbed of terrorism in the 80s. Referring to monumental proportions of drug seizures, the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Azad, is not off-the-mark. Punjab’s countryside of wheat, paddy and mustard blossoming border villages is heavily infested with drugs.

Massive seizures of drugs from drug cartels busted in recent months worth millions of dollars in international market, have crossed the barbed and dragon wire-fencing in Punjab, creeping in the dark into villages lining the border belt between India and Pakistan. “On an average, illegal drugs worth over Rs 2,000 crore ($365.8m) are routed to Indian Punjab annually,” Punjab’s State Minister for Health and Family Welfare Mohan Mittal had asserted.

Punjab, once in the grip of terrorism and separatism, is fighting a losing battle with drugs this time. So too is the fate of scarred Jammu & Kashmir, now in the grip of drugs for last more than a decade. Even west Punjab, especially capital Lahore on Pakistan’s side, is not left untouched by heavy dose of deadly drugs. In Afghanistan, the ready and cheapest cure for any type of pain is opium. The battle–weary population in Jammu and Kashmir, owing to low internal income generation in the past two decades of militancy, has taken to drugs. Many speculate this to be a way to blind away the realities of dealing with death and destruction or joblessness. The emotional angle is merely an excuse for escapism, some experts believe.

Infiltration routes on Indo-Pak border, that once saw heavy arms and ammunition trafficking, are now witness to additional baggage of banned drugs, heroine and others. No religious sermons have been successful in weaning away this wasting crop of sprightly youth from drugs and substance abuse in both Punjab and Kashmir. Even if normalcy does return to Jammu and Kashmir, the state is heading towards a bigger challenge of a monster of drug addiction, like Punjab.

A psychiatrist in Srinagar says, “Drugs become a cocoon to tide over emotions of seeing daily dirges and wailing mothers. “One shot and he/she is yours!” is the funda of drug dealers, who start off as users themselves and to fulfill their personal supply, graduate to the dangerous world of drug peddling.” Hundreds of youth in the once robust countryside of Punjab and now Kashmir have turned into junkies. ‘Junky’ literally meaning turning into junk; ‘Drugs have junked our youth’ admit civil society and politicians across the spectrum of Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.

Mohammad Faiyaz Farooqi, IG BSF for the entire border of Punjab and Jammu says ‘in last few months a massive seizure of 200 Kg of heroine was affected by BSF alone. There are many agencies that are on the lookout for drugs as they pass through electrocuted fencing, cobra wires, goods, human couriers, and other covert channels. Even security personnel have not been left untouched. Many police, BSF and other personnel have been lured and are under treatment for drug addictions.

There was an instance of a popular publishing house in Amritsar, once caught sending drugs to Canada through courier, by cutting out the holy Guru Granth Sahib to hide packets of heroine. In another case, a Punjabi couple got their friend to gift new suitcases to his aged parents heading for America. The aircraft was cruising along the runaway when ordered to halt. The old couple and their baggage were both downloaded. “The new suitcases were lined with scores of packets of heroine!”

Jammu and Kashmir presents a dismal scenario. The United Nations Drug Control Programme Survey identified nearly 70,000 drug addicts in Kashmir. The long waiting list running into hundreds, for de-addiction center run by the police control room (PCR) in Batamaloo and off shoot centers in Anantnag and Baramaulla are just the tip of an iceberg. It wasn’t without cause that Azad accused Pakistan of pushing in the drugs in the border region to spoil entire breeds of families in Punjab and Kashmir, nor was congress party Vice President Rahul Gandhi merely bragging to showdown the opposition when he declared that 70 percent of the youth in Punjab are into drugs, the statistics of drug addiction is indeed alarming.

Joblessness, frustration and other pressures are cited as reasons for the high incidence of drug addiction, but doctors says addiction is a chronic disease like diabetes, blood pressure and if the habit of being addicted is not channelized, it can take the destructive route. Dr JPS Bhatia, Director of Hermitage Drug Rehab Center in Amritsar reveals that he gets 50 patients every month out of which five are females. “Every third house in Punjab has a drug or alcohol addict. As much as 80 percent of those admitted in his rehab center are heroine users.

Arif Magrabi Khan, working with addicts from Hyderpora locality of Srinagar, says the figure in Jammu and Kashmir for addicts is close to one lakh including use of psychotropic drugs. A UN survey had discovered around 6000 women addicts. The female count is much more, says Arif, as stigma, keeps many women mum, while Kashmir’s countryside is flush with cannabis addiction that grows wild there.
The infiltration of High grade drugs is easy in Kashmir owing to tedious mountain passes, snow, water and fog that help easy thoroughfare for drugs both from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Lax vigilance, high corruption, in cahoots with security at border and police makes a good supply-chain to other states in the country. Disgruntled youth – once fodder for militant groups – are now drifting into addiction, spurring a social problem of increasing gravity. Because of this, even in international forums on drug addiction, Punjab comes into stark focus and now Kashmir too is taking center stage.

While palaces were built by politicians and others on the tears of both Punjab and Kashmir, drugs were offered to assuage the devastation. During elections, political parties have graduated from mere alcohol sops to drug distribution to garner in votes.

It was strange to notice that the Punjab chief minister urged Ghulam Nabi Azad to take up the issue of drug addiction in Punjab with the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and asked him to impose a blanket ban on poppy husk, which was selling freely in states like Rajasthan. Are Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir governments not responsible for their own youth? Or will the menace of drugs completely consume the children of Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab, before politicians wake up and see that the Frankenstein monster of drugs has entered their own backyards while they played vote bank politics!

The author can be mailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com 

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON September 1, 2013

URL: http://risingkashmir.in/kashmir-punjab-addicted-to-drugs/

 

Will the peace candles reach Kashmir one day?/ By Rashmi Talwar/ Rising Kashmir


Will the peace candles reach Kashmir one day?

Wednesday, 31 Jul 2013 at 08:44 PM

By Rashmi Talwar

Kashmir peace candles
Keen to harvest the huge expanse of benefits of friendship, the glow of peace candles from Attari- Wagha border in Amritsar-Lahore have carried their radiance to another international venue, this time to be lit on the Rajasthan –Sindh border.The flickers of these innocent candles of peace are ready to touch Pakistan’s Khokhrapar and India’s Munabao rail linked borders in Sindh and Rajasthan respectively for joint celebrations this time, on the midnight of Independence Day between both countries. These little glow lamps are expected to be harbingers of peace and would also beckon the establishment of trade, travel, people to people exchange besides other favorable ties between the two countries after decades.

Preparations are afoot and people from both sides have realized that the route to prosperity is through the path of peace and friendship. The dry or fresh dates from either side have to go through long circuitous routes of Attari and Wagha border in divided Punjabs and perish on the way. Why can’t ‘our’ borders be opened for direct trade or for travel they call out.

Opportunities in this sector also lie in security infrastructure to the proposed pipeline installations through neighboring countries. The proposal and agreements for a joint celebration have emerged from various quarters of People’s SAARC Regional Secretariats.  Netra Prasad Timsina, Coordinator, People’s SAARC Regional Secretariat, Kathmandu is keenly promoting and broadcasting the proposal that would in some ways affect the programmes and agendas of People’s SAARC, from becoming less Indo Pak centric, given the resolving of some outstanding issues. The joint Celebration between India Pakistan is expected to usher in bonhomie and would be a step forward to tone down hostilities and pave the way for new engagements.

India Pakistan issues dominate all SAARC conferences and meetings and thus efforts to solve the affront between the two would ease the way for more meaningful and targeted approach towards other countries that make up the SAARC region and having their own pressing matters to solve. Most of these matters get dissolved in the din created by matters relating to India and Pakistan.  Various organizations from both India and Pakistan are interacting on this new initiative which would also involve cultural programmes from the dusk of Independence Day of Pakistan on Aug 14th   to culminate on the dawn of Independence of India on Aug 15th.

Beena Sarwar a writer and journalist told Rising Kashmir that in her talk with Rana Hameer Singh, head of the Hindu Sodha Thakur Rajput clan in Pakistanhe had commented We in Pakistanwere stuck and unable to move forward. My country had taken the position that Kashmirhad to come first and that no dialogue was possible until that issue was resolved. Then the idea of people to people contacts initially came from the Indian side. Besides better sense has prevailed wherein outstanding issues have not been enslaved to emerge only on the condition of resolving a single issue, which has seen no breakthrough for the past many decades . Rana lives in Umerkot, former capital of Sindh also the birthplace of Mughal Emperor Akbar.

Shaque Soomro of the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research (Piler) contends, the initiative was aimed at encouraging people on both sides of the international border to help reduce tensions between the two nuclear rivals. Members of civil society in Rajasthan and their counterparts in Sindh would be fulfilling all the formalities of this initiative for peace and friendship.

It is Interesting to note that information technology played a major role in bringing rival states closer to each other and turning them into friends. This view was endorsed by many on either sides of this stringent borderline of Rajasthan and Sindh.

Indo Pak partition had torn apart many families on both sides, who have little chance of meeting again as tourist visas are non existent between the two countries. People have close relatives on either sides and are keen to strengthen these bonds. Opening of trade and travel in this sector would be a historical step towards bringing both major countries to make meaningful strides forward.

People’s SAARC Secretariat India’s Rakhi Sehgal expressed the view that serious efforts for peace overtures were missing since the rail link was made operational in February 2006, between Khokhrapar and Munabao after more than three decades. The rail link was snapped following the 1965 Indo Pak war.

Is it possible that one day these little glow lamps of peace may reach the Aman Setu or the ‘peace bridge’ between both sides of Kashmir?

The author can be mailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

URL: http://www.risingkashmir.in/news/will-the-peace-candles-reach-kashmir-one-day-52473.aspx

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