Posts Tagged ‘RASHMI TALWAR’

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…

Advertisements

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…

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harbour of Communal Harmony – The Balti-Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lone Hindu family

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

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

Together in wartimes

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

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

Woman who broke glass ceiling for girls’ education

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

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

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

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

Footnote

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

Photos : Hosan-Ibn- Khalo

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

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

Afghan Girl Exposes the US/ Rashmi Talwar/ Rising Kashmir


ScreenShot Heela Faryal Afghanistan

Brave Afghan girl exposes the US

Afghan girl exposes the US 

Rashmi Talwar

No veil, no dupatta, not even a scarf, Heela Faryal (not her real name), in her early twenties, came wearing a buttoned Purple long sleeved Kurta and straight black pants with silver slippers. Curious Karachi college girls went up to Heela- Afghanistan’s lone woman participant in a conference on women, but the latter swiftly turned, avoiding any selfies with the excited girls. It was not for her to exchange phone numbers or emails. She remained quiet even as her glowing face with a halo of dark curly hair on her shoulders failed to hide her youthful enthusiasm.

Heela, appeared stoic, as the only international speaker other than me from India, but her eyes were soft and smiling, choosing to get photographed only with speakers who had been informed to avoid any publication of her photograph owing to threat to her life.

Real time yardstick of a progressive nation comes from how their women are treated. The land of Heela’s forefathers in Afghanistan had been so unforgiving; it made her highly strung and secretive. Losing trust in human beings and simple humanity can be very, very shattering. This was Heela Faryal member of secret action group for women RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan).

“No, I can’t tell you my real name,” she pleaded even though I was an international speaker like her. “No, I cannot even give you my phone number, please”, she supplicated, when I asked her.

She traveled to Karachi from Kabul, Afghanistan for the “‘Hum Aurtaen’ – No more Violence” programme by Tehrik-E- Niswan, a woman’s cultural action group based in Pakistan, headed by its stunning danseuse, actor and director Sheema Kermani.

Heela, a Muslim, yet didn’t feel one with those in Pakistan- who had freely come to attend the conference. In her country Afghanistan women were ensconced in the home space, treated brutally and worse than any other nation.

On stage, UK-read Heela, delivered her written content in English, without flinching she stirred the youthful women audience, with the unfolding of instances of Afghan women laid silent by horrendous torture and heinous killings over minor aberrations.

She introduced herself as a member of RAWA- oldest organization in Afghanistan that fights for rights of women, social rights and freedom while taking a stand against the Afghan fundamentalists and their international backers.

Naturally she was on their hit-list!

Heela related to the audience about Afghanistan’s most horrific crime ever committed against a 26-year woman in 2015. – “It was not inside the darkness and closed doors of her husband or father’s home. It was in broad daylight, in central Kabul, under the nose of local policemen and government, when Farkhunda, a young Islamic studies student, was encircled and lynched by a mob who accused her of burning the Quran. Brutally kicked, her hair yanked, spitted upon, punched and stomped, veil ripped off her face, bludgeoned with stones outside the mosque, the mob then dragged her motionless body some 300 meters into a street and her corpse was run over with a car and set afire. Her bloodied clothes couldn’t catch fire and the men threw their own clothing topis and scarves to burn her. The hideous remains were thrown in the dry Kabul River. Farkhunda’s crime: She had argued with a mullah, who then falsely accused her of burning the Quran.”

The audience was deathly silent and attentive. It was a chilling account.

It was on record, that a number of prominent public officials turned to social networking site Facebook immediately after Farkhunda’s gruesome killing, to endorse the act. The Deputy Minister for Culture & Information Afghanistan -Simin Ghazal Hasanzada approved the execution, wrote- “Working for the infidels.” The official spokesman of Kabul police Hashmat Stanekzai wrote “Farkhunda- thought, like several other unbelievers, that this kind of action and insult will get them U.S. or European citizenship. But before reaching their target, they lost their life.” Zalmai Zabuli, chief of the complaints commission of upper house of parliament, posted a picture of Farkhunda with this message: “This is the horrible and hated person who was punished by our Muslim compatriots for her action. Thus, they proved to her masters that Afghans want only Islam and cannot tolerate imperialism, apostasy, and spies.”

Pausing and taking a deep breath, Heela took up for another 19-year- old Rukhshana, stoned to death in a mud pit by a Taliban kangaroo court in a Mullah-dominated western province of Afghanistan, for eloping last year. “Her screams echoed as an angry crowd of Taliban threw rocks at her, ending her in a stoned silence”.

“Treatment of women in Afghanistan would put even cannibals to shame”, some whispered in the audience.

She spoke out about women in Afghanistan crushed by several demonic forces including – the US and its allies, Jehadists, Taliban, and now the ISIS.” Coming down heavily on America she contended- “The US used women’s rights as an excuse to invade my country Afghanistan and continues to kill innocent women and children and conduct their terrifying drone attacks and chilling night raids in all parts of Afghanistan. The biggest crime the US has committed is the installation of fundamentalists in a puppet government.”

Without a blink, she pointed to the alleged black sheep in the government made with US support- “Afghanistan’s National Unity Government is headed by long-time CIA mercenaries-Ashraf Ghani (current President of Afghanistan) and Abdullah Abdullah (CE of Afghanistan), after US Secretary of state-John Kerry brokered a deal.” And added-“Abdullah Abdullah is one of the leaders of the most infamous fundamentalist parties of Afghanistan, Shoraye Nizar.”

She further accused–“Afghanistan’s current government, Parliament, and judiciary are all occupied at highest positions by criminals, heinous fundamentalists and warlords implicated in grave war crimes, and enjoy unconditional backing of western powers”. Adding more names to the alleged black list she pointed out – Mohammad Noor (Governor of Balkh Province ), Karim Khalil Dostum (former Vice President of  Afghanistan), Mohammed Mohaqiq (a politician), Sarwar Danish (former Vice President of Afghanistan), Ustad Murad, Ahmad Khan, Alimi Balkhi (Minister of Refugees& Repatriation ), Taj M. Mujahid.”

The names except for Afghanistan’s present president Ashraf Ghani didn’t register with the Pakistani audience much, but most understood they were one of the top crème of the government in Afghanistan.

Taking a piercing dig at the Afghanistan Parliament, Heela lamented-“In 2009 Afghanistan Parliament attempted to legalize marital rape!”

The question in many minds arose –“How could they even ‘attempt’ such a law with the US looking over their shoulder?”

The audience was clearly reminded of a recent protest against the new Pakistani law called the ‘Punjab Protection of women against violence, Act’ that saw a coalition of 30 religious and political parties declaring the law un-Islamic and an attempt to secularize Pakistan- a country evolved on theological lines.

Heela meantime, quoting a UN report said -“According to United Nations, the Taliban’s reach is widest today since 2001. The suicide attacks by Taliban, and constant war with Afghan government has made life hell and civilian deaths in 2015 were highest, majority being women.

While public executions, stoning and amputation are widespread, the Taliban are welcomed with open arms to join the government instead of putting them on trial,” she trailed off in a stoic voice.

I am sure it was not hard in Pakistan to understand how their political dispensations segregation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban to further their agendas in many countries, had aggravated the situation beyond control in their own backyards. The Easter attack in Lahore killing 72 and injuring hundreds was recent incident hard to ignore.

Heela took on the ISIS with the same venom, and said –“If this was not enough, the branch of ISIS in Afghanistan has begun taking root and already started committing atrocities.” And asked  “What was the conclusive result of US and its allies, long presence in Afghanistan?”

She only saw blank faces as no one knew the answer.

And continued –“Afghanistan is under the thumb of four brutal forces-The USA and allies; Jihadists; Taliban and now the ISIS. The prime victims are always women.” Castigating foreign funds for inhuman use, she vented –“Islamic fundamentalism comes in many brands and forms and killers are created by misogynists or women-haters, and almost always funded by foreign sponsors to further their interests in other countries.” Afghanistan’s with its $60 billion dollars in foreign aid, is 3rd most corrupt country and has devoured all its Aid and funds.

This was not far from the truth, as a well-documented fact had surfaced that US Pentagon auditors were perplexed over the missing US military equipment worth $420 million in year 2013. The report also stated that between 2006- 2010, equipment valued at nearly $240 million could not be accounted for.

Heela struck the USA’s warped policies, due to which an alarming rise was seen in narcoticproduction in Afghanistan –“Thanks to US invasion; Afghanistan has risen to become a narco-producing state of more than 90% of world’s opium. Women have not escaped the effects of this drug production and about 890,000 out of an unofficial figure of 3.5 million addicts are women including children, in Afghanistan.”

She also criticized the US for falsely and consistently trumpeting gains made by women of Afghanistan buttressing them with instances of presence of females in the Parliament and the relative freedom of women in a few urban cities. “What remains unsaid is that most of these female officials are tied to fundamentalist parties and share their misogynist mindset. These are mere cosmetic changes, only used for propaganda purposes to justify the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan to the people of the world. It is merely to peddle the fact that supposed gains will be lost if foreign troops withdraw,” she boomed.

Her revelation about Afghanistan realpolitik was indeed stark and shocking. In India and many other countries, the US viewpoint was believed, however we were shaken out of our opinions with the facts put across by this young citizen of the beleaguered nation.

And Heela continued –“Despite US and allies presence, which accounts for medical help too, Afghanistan still has the highest maternal mortality rate with one out of nine deaths during childbirth. 57% afghan brides are under 16, about 87% women are illiterate and merely 5%girls attend secondary schools,” she held these counts as offhand and said the ground reality was much worse. ‘Afghanistan is rightfully called the ‘worst place to be a woman’.

Heela concluded with a call for an organized progressive grassroots movement for greater freedom to women in Afghanistan.

She got a resounding applause at the end of it. It was not about delivery of a written piece it was a solidarity gesture with the female sex that few men along with women in Pakistan had also watched and an acknowledgment of Heela’s bravery in exposing the wrongs in her society without fear.

The youngest member of RAWA was not only daring but possessed the wherewithal for survival and anonymity. She couldn’t have stopped many giggly young Pakistani girls from taking her picture during her stage address but with a single stroke she swiped all her pictures from my iPhone with function of ‘airdrop’ leaving me with no pictures of her and smoothly evaded to give me her contact number.

Her act did not fray me; rather it brought a smile and reminded me of a phrase- “Desperate times need desperate means”! And conversely compelled me to salute this heroic young woman of Afghanistan! Just a few days after this address, Heela’s friend request entered my Facebook inbox, naturally picture-less.

The Author can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON 17TH APRIL 2016

Peak of militancy didn’t mar Jyoti Arora’s love for Kashmiri Cuisine / ..By Rashmi Talwar


rush sopore

AMRITSAR'S CHEF JYOTI ARORA 'S COOKERY BOOK

AMRITSAR’S CHEF JYOTI ARORA ‘S COOKERY BOOK

Cookery Book

Peak of militancy didn’t mar Jyoti’s love for Kashmiri Cuisine

Forthcoming book “Traditional recipes of Undivided Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir”

Rashmi Talwar

A pinch of February’s last chill or ending of the ‘Chilla Bacha’ of Kashmir, and in trots a glass of ‘Kanji’ in neighboring Punjabi homes. However, the tradition of creating the ruby drink in homes, is slowly dying in nuclear families.

Alternately, traditional drinks that got beaten, by fizz cult of Cokes, like Chhaach or buttermilk, kanji and Raww or sugarcane juice have surprisingly somersaulted to turn winners, from their humble beginnings. Successfully sidelining fizz colas, the delicious nutritious desi concoctions now find a pride of place in the best stemmed globular glasses to circulate amongst the who’s who, of classy weddings and celebrations. Kanji, made with black carrots, of the richest cherry tint, is not only tangy, a fabulous antioxidant, a digestive, but also spells tinkling bells for pseudo-drinkers who pass it for the rich French red wine (Merely hold a glass ). Some say in effect it easily beats firangi red wines and stands tall in bejeweled or even macho hands, crackling crimson, as it comfortably occupies flute glasses.

Likewise cashing in on the ‘down memory lane’ formula, a company- “Paperboatdrinks” scooped up traditional drinks recipes and packaged them into ready to serve tetra packs. Now, UAE, Nepal, Australia and others have already become hooked to age-old liquid concoctions of India like Jamun kala khatta, Aamras, Jaljeera, golgappe ki kanji etc.However, the traditional tipple can be found only in select cities of India.

Of course, nothing could be better in Kashmir to beat the biting icicles hanging from roofs and windows in December snows than the ‘Noon or Sheer Chai’.
A well-known Kashmiri poet Hakeem Manzoor, in his memorable musings wrote —

“Kangri bister mein le kar, khidkiyon ko waa karain
Barf girne ka nazaara, iss tarah dekha karain.”

The Kashmiri poet surely forgot the magic-combination of ‘Kehwa-Kangri’, promising to double the delight, during a spectacle of snowfall. Similarly, summer in plains can be extremely hot and baby mango made aam pana, thandai, sandal/ Khas sherbets and ice Popsicles or golas are fun.

Putting together traditional recipes of undivided Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir, complete with Lahori cuisine, is Jyoti Arora, a popular cookery expert from Amritsar. While assisting renowned Masterchef Vikas Khanna, her mentor, also from Amritsar, Jyoti, a finalist in the Masterchef TV programme, was inspired to pen her own cook book, on traditional lines.

“Despite horrendous turmoil in Kashmir in 90s and early 2000, I learnt Kashmiri cooking. Those times weddings were low-key in Srinagar and around. I sat with wazas to learn Kashmiri Wazwan- Goshtaba, Rista, Haakh, Gogji Meat, Matsz, Rogan Josh, Tabakmaaz”, says Jyoti. “Since I loved to have people over for no specific reason other than the warmth of friendship in those trying times in Kashmir, I introduced and invited them for delectable Punjabi home-made – Samosas, Jalebi, Mathis, Mutton Champ, Tandoori Tikkas, Kabab and Brain Curry. In sweets the Ladoos, Besan Ki Barfi, Chandrakala, Rasgullas, Jalebi, Gulab Jamun, Ras Malai became instant hit with my Kashmiri friends. Those times, Chinese and Italian cuisines had just entered the Indian stratosphere. So, side by side I cooked these novelty items that intervened from foreign shores like noodles, spring-rolls, pizzas. The foreign introductions vanished off from plates in seconds,” she laughs.

Alternately, local Kashmiris too invited us and I learned realtime home food and traditional recipes. Knol-khol Lamb, Baingan (Auburgine) Lamb, Haakh Meat, Potato Lamb, Lauki Meat (bottle gourd), Gogji Meat, Harissa, Mujj Gaad, Nadru Yakhini and others, although in Kashmir, the culinary art is learnt through heredity and is rarely passed outside the blood relations.

“I remember, in 1994, my brother got packets of pasta, Italian spices and instructions to make them from America, which perhaps became the first time Italian food was cooked and served to a select gathering in Kashmir, that too quietly. My mother especially sent me semi cooked mincemeat from Amritsar to Srinagar, from which I cooked Keema Naan, Keema Mutter, Keema Koftas along with loads of authentic Punjabi foodstuff besides tandoori rotis, kathi- kabab, that people relished in Srinagar despite being rice eaters.”
There is popular belief in Kashmir- “If you eat roti, then you must be poor, as rice is un-affordable for you.”

“I am still completing chapters on traditional Lahori cuisine including Nihari, Paayye, Kaleji, Kunna, Korma, Gurdey-Kapurey and Raan” Jyoti inserts.

Jyoti, who organizes high end Food Festivals with hotel-chains like Holiday Inn, Marriott, Sofitel, Swissotel, Novotel in Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Bhopal, Delhi contends –“I train staff of the hotels for 15 days and the Festival runs under my signature ‘ Jyoti Arora Food Fest’.

Talking about her tribulations in collecting recipes, the masterchef says- “I had to travel extensively in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir to find roots of some lost flavors. I talked to the elderly in these locations, but they were extremely guarded about the family’s culinary secrets. It was very tough to get them to share their recipes and sometimes it was all a big rough estimate from a pinch to a fistful. Apart from this, I tried some recipes three times and some with frail outlines, perfecting, cutting out edges and fine-tuning existing ones before including them in the book. Some required pictures from the pre-partition era, and were tough to source.” And adds “Surprisingly, food and delicious flavors strikingly emerge from differences in traditional fire sources like sigdis, tandoors, angithis etc. They are simplified in the book with possible alternatives,” she clarifies.

Talking about her forthcoming book she said, a Mumbai based photographer from New Zealand- Michael Swami, has done the food photography and book is slated for release in December 2015.

Jyoti, is also looking forward to the launch of ‘World’s Biggest Book on Food’ by Masterchef Vikas Khanna, being released by the Indian government at ‘Cannes Film Festival’. “The book is being launched by the Government of India and I too have contributed to it,” she smiles and answers -“I have already carved an outline of my next book which would be a sequel to this with innovations of traditional cuisines”.

Jyoti has been popular on Television too with 26 episodes already completed in the ‘Rasoi Show’ on Fastway TV channel which promotes new culinary talent. Apart from this, she has churned out more than 100 episodes in DD’s ‘Zaika’ show besides becoming a finalist in Masterchef show on Star Plus.

Do you have a best moment? I ask – “The best, was when I made a unique dish called ‘Chicken Halwa’ for a series -‘Dish with a sweet twist’ on ‘Fox Traveller’ an international TV channel”. What would be your comfort zone? I barge in another question. Pat comes the reply- “Cooking after dusk with Jagjit Singh Ghazals playing in the background and using my own herbs- mint, coriander, karri patta, basil, thyme, chives from my little kitchen garden”. “A last tip”, I insist- “Presentation is King!” she smiles, lovingly stroking one of the huge collection of traditional utensils, she has sourced and treasured, Jyoti wraps up her food Zone.

Little known facts ———-

Cake: There was a kind of cake prepared in the earlier times without electric or clay ovens and not given a name. Eggs, sugar and maida and desi ghee were mixed with hand and put in a greased thali covered by another thali and left in the angithi’s warm ambers of wood. In the morning it would be similar to today’s cake. The cake had a matchless smoky woody flavor.

No fire, lamb: Lamb is cooked with no fire, kept buried in a matka with other herbs and a tenderizing herb called chibber sold by select old shops in walled city of Amritsar only. Chibber is also used as a tenderizer in pickles of lamb, fish chicken and even teetar or partridge. The food would be ready in about a week during summers and a little longer in winters.

Lost spices: Spices like Pipli with a peppery tinge, Tukmalanga, Beydaana used in chutney is a thickening agent have been used in recipes in the book. Interesting that Star aniseed or chakri phul has become so popular after its entry in an advertisement cooking palao.

Fire types: Sigdis, Angithis, Tandoor, clay oven, Chula using wood, charcoal or, cow dung cake are being revived to conform to original fire flavors

Chat masala: Pipli, lemon juice, black salt and ajwain not only make a most digestive chat masala but is an energy booster.

Romali roti: When there was a death in the family the Tawa was inverted on the fire as a sign of mourning, an inverted tawa or kadai is used to make Romali Roti.

Cashew Paste and Cream: Are alien ingredients, sourced from Hyderabad cuisine, that were hardly used in cooking in this region.

Butter chicken: Which has come to be associated with Punjabis food is actually an innovation and not originally Punjabi. Butter chicken is an invention of Moti Mahal, Delhi.

Tomatoes and chilies: Tomatoes came into Indian lives much later. The Red chili is a Kashmiri influence and only green chili was the regions hot-maid.

Kaali gajar ka Halwa: Was once as popular as routine Gajarela – sweet dish made with carrots.

Lost sherbets: Jamun sherbet, Falsaa Sherbet (still popular in Lahore) Ginger sherbets,Plum sherbet ( very good for jaundice patients) woodapple -Bel Sherbet (a fruit offered to Lord Shiva)

Dry fruits: Dried apricots, plums, raisins and almonds added to dishes are an Afghaniimpact on our cuisine popularly using ‘Shahi’ before the dish, like – shahi paneer, shahikorma, shahi Kofta etc.

Around: Himachali cuisine includes Kulth ki Dal, Chha meat, Meat chawal with anAvadhi impact and Haryana with bajra as ingredient is influenced by Rajasthani pakwan.

Homemade vinegars: Vinegars of Jamun, sugarcane, apples, and grapes are rarely seen now. It is a lengthy process but amazingly these organic vinegars do not pinch the throat unlike synthetic vinegar.

Banana: Banana was considered a south Indian fruit, but in reality banana was very popular in its raw form in the North. Hence we had raw banana kebabs, Kofta and chips.

Throwaways: Concentrated flavors are in the stems and some roots that most people throw away, use them in cooking and garnish with leaves like mint, coriander, palak etc.

No tamarind: No imli or tamarind was used to make sour chutney; it was originally made with dried plums, sugar, black salt, zeera and water.

Turbulent days in Kashmir

Jyoti was married in Srinagar in a Sikh family in 1993. “It was the most turbulent period in Kashmir. I came from Amritsar, where I had witnessed the complete militancy period of the Khalistani movement in Punjab, aided by Pakistan. Thereafter, I landed in Kashmir as a newly wedded bride and saw a similar or even worse scenario. I felt that I had jumped from the frying pan into the fire,” says Jyoti, recalling those stormy times.

“I was petrified seeing torch bearing youth in the dark, shouting anti India slogans, and much more, firing gunshots, throwing stones at our houses, breaking windows and ordering everyone to arrive in masjids. Alternately they used masjid loudspeaker to threaten non-Muslims. It was scary; I saw them burn some houses while the police and firemen stood mute spectators to wait for the signal from militants to start dousing the fire in abandoned houses left by Kashmiri Pandits.

Militants demanded haftas the weekly contributions from all. The fire scarred buildings looked like ghost houses. Thus, patches of such areas looked like war ravaged zones. We were spared some of the ignominies by militants, mobs and army, since we were of the Sikh community.
Our daughter was studying in Presentation convent when a bomb blast took place, close to our shop ‘Jandiala Hosiery’ near Aftab Newspaper Printing Press, in Lal Chowk. One of our employees was hit by bomb shrapnel and remained critical. There was another blast which I saw at Dalgate. I recall a case of young student firing upon his school mate after having stolen a pistol from his elder brother’s bag, killing the boy on the spot.

Times were terrifying. House gates were locked at 6.30 in the evening. For years we didn’t know if our car headlights worked or not, as vehicles never plied during dark.

Only recreation in those times was to pack a picnic basket and go to Gulmarg. Studies were hardly regular and during winter vacations when the family used to go to Amritsar, no one wanted to come back. Militancy was completely wiped out in Punjab and happy times, late-nights and partying scenes with lavish weddings had restarted.

The comparison between Kashmir of then and Punjab was so odious and stark that children were adamant to stay back in Punjab. Even after nearly eight years of a good marriage with Harpreet Singh my husband a hosiery owner, things failed to soften in Kashmir, and the family decided to migrate to Amritsar where I had a marital home as well.

In 2001 we migrated and my mother-in-law and father-in-law, who had lived their entire lives in Kashmir, followed us with a heavy heart after news of daily killings and destruction nearly drove them insane. My in-laws never went back to Kashmir. They say-“Kashmir means only tears, for them and us too, there is nothing more for us than nostalgia of our happy times. But the shadow of militancy has smothered all feelings for the vale for us.”

The author is a freelance journalist and can be mailed at –rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

00–00

“Kashmir will join Pakistan the day poo-bags enter Gulmarg!” ….By Rashmi Talwar / Trip Advisor


On the flower laced path to St Mary's Church Gulmarg, Jammu & Kashmir

On the flower laced path to St Mary’s Church Gulmarg, Jammu & Kashmir

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

Gulmarg- ‘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  expect a thunder of drumming music to follow the opening scene. Instead, much cackle follows, unmindful of the cacophony, I feel immersed in the spectacular beauty of the vista of Gulmarg. At first it 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.

Someone calls it ‘Heaven on Earth’ and I believe it. Just then, I step out onto the path and my foot squashes on warm horse goo! I look around for help, skidding on one leg, kicking the other to let go of the poo and looking around to wipe my shoe with an old newspaper or grass. Conversely, I see most side paths lumpy with animal excreta. I wonder if ‘poo bags’ were still to be invented or has the discovery yet to catch the political eye of the area to impose sanitized laws? I am at a loss. When I do happen to broach the subject of ‘poo-bags’ with a local horse-walla later, his kohled eyes look menacingly at me as his henna reddened beard shakes, with a whip in one hand, he threatens –“Kashmir will join Pakistan the day poo-bags enter Gulmarg!” I smilingly point towards a known India-Pakistan border close by called –Line of Control’ in the region, saying –‘Of course you can go anytime to Pakistan!’ Later, I was to thank my parents to have been born a girl, and their production being a little pretty, lest, as I was told –“If you had been a man, your comment could have led to blood-fights and you surely would have been lynched”.

My life spared, I learn to live for the rest of the days with the horse poo, pooled around and the goat or sheep dark granules naturally manuring the grassland. The slight stink mixing with crush of grass blades and the hilly flower scented air and I begin to enjoy Gulmarg. I do have to keep my vision field synchronized to admire the flowers on the slopes, a wide view of the ravishing spread of quaint huts on green ranges and avoid a stare at the dirt on the circumnutating road.

On my trekking ways, as special treat for my lungs, heart and pores, I happen to encounter many tourists in altercation with locals. The reason, I learn, the horse-wallas and taxi operators threaten outstation taxis to enter the main roads. They fight so brusquely with tourists that I join my hands in prayer that I was spared the ignominy as I was ‘staying’ and not just ‘visiting’ Gulmarg.

Asia’s highest gondola or cable car is close to the tourist huts that I have booked. The place also gives me an opportunity to peak at Khyber Resorts, the only five star hotel property, close by and a muzzly waterfall in the corner. It costs me Rs 1400 both ways to ride two phases (13, 780 ft.) of Gondola or cable car. I click, click pictures, of down below from the cable car glass, as it mounts and watch smart trekkers along the Kongdoori Mountains, dotted with Gujjar Huts, to reach the first phase of the ride.

Apharwat glacial peaks are higher, beyond Kongdoori. I hear they take skiers to the top phase considered the highest ski slopes. Gulmarg’s other asset is the highest golf course in the world. Some locals at the glacier, point out a shape that automatically takes on a look of ‘an army picket’ when it’s described so, on another peak—“That’s the LoC –the infamous Line of Control between India Pakistan border that divides Jammu and Kashmir, for which three India-Pakistan wars took place, one as recent as 1999 Kargil War,” he booms. I feet historically enriched, on seeing a prominent landmark, denoting past events.

My dependable guide gives me advice on the Apharwat glacier-“The sledge-wallas will demand Rs 1500 but you settle at Rs 800 and so also with the skier”. I make it to the glacier with a continuous barrage of bargaining that goes on for snow boots, snow jackets, sledging, skiing on rent. The bargain ends at Rs 900 for sledging and another 900 for skiing, with extra costs for boots, ski sticks, jackets. Emptied of all money, carried that day over a wonderful meal of biryani, coke, curd and parantha on Kongdoori Mountains we also see the ‘Satt dhara’ where seven streams meet with a distinct shade of water. I would have loved to go to Alpather –The frozen lake, a little trek from Apharwat glacier ,but the weather was changing swiftly in the snowy peaks and gondola timings have to be adhered.

I head to the hut and give the guide a generous tip along with the caretaker of the hut who recommended the guide. Later, my taxi driver tells me I was looted all the way. The payment for sledging, skiing, boots, and jackets was three times more than the actual. “They work well together- ‘Aak ashh ishara!’ they work with Eye signals!”

My daughter insists we go to the best place for dinner. So we head for Khyber Himalayan Resort. The Taxi guy asks for an exorbitant Rs 300 for a 150 mts ride to Khyber nearby, earlier too a taxi walla had shouted out an overpriced sum for rescuing us in the incessant rain. The fact that someone is visiting five star property automatically targets them as a sitting duck for fleecing. Instead, we settle for three horses at Rs 300 inclusive of waiting and return, and feel like royalty, riding up to the high stone-walled property, till a Posh Pajero sports SUV, honks and the Resort’s Durban brusquely asks the horse-walla to vacate the entry. Poof goes our royal ride, but unending tickles and giggles make up for it. I wonder if smart floral buggy rides to the hotel would add to the charm of Gulmarg.

Nearly 10,000 ponies strut along the roundabout road. Ponies that have been part of Gulmarg since its inception are in for heavy competition with nearly 150 PVC – the all-weather open vehicles, allowed by the government to swoosh on roads charging a princely Rs 2000 for a round. However an environmentally sound setup is of solar panels, seen all over. Sitting quaintly are also two baby penguins model Swiss huts, facing a ‘Rani temple’ complete with temple bells, perched atop a hill. The British built, St Mary’s church parked amidst a pathway of Lupins, Daisies, touch-me-nots, an exquisite white bench, amongst the picturesque surroundings, guarded by heavy fronds of oaks and Chinars, is exquisitely charming.

Fish out the ‘Gora Kabristan’ where many English nobles and sundry rest in graves marked by gravestones in an innocuous enclosure or look for a Maharaja palace that I couldn’t locate. Mughal Emperor Jahangir lover of Kashmir was known to be mystified by the charms of Gulmarg, which also gets the credit of being the place to get the first Ski Club of India in 1927 by the British.
Gulmarg where prime property of Sheikh Abdullah –‘Lion of Kashmir’ is located, especially the ‘Hotel Highland park’ with walls lined with collectibles and memorabilia, as in times past gets the lion’s share of day-time tourists to Kashmir.
I only pray, the Meadow of flowers blooms may not become prey to poo or pelf.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN TRIP ADVISOR ON OCTOBER 2, 2015
URL: http://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowUserReviews-g297623-d6533524-r315333253-Discover_Gulmarg_Adventures-Srinagar_Kashmir_Jammu_and_Kashmir.html
http://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowUserReviews-g297623-d6533524-r3153332
53-Discover_Gulmarg_Adventures-Srinagar_Kashmir_Jammu_and_Kashmir.html#

%d bloggers like this: