Cashmere: Kashmir That Was
|8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
India is a land of communities, and Kashmiri Pandits are one of them. Though they are the original inhabitants of the Kashmir valley famous the world over for its beauty and learning, they are living in their own country as refugees since 1989 due to religious persecution, ethnic cleansing and terrorism — their only fault lay in their religion, Hinduism.
This book describes basically the life and times of the half-a-million people of this community living in peace and harmony with nature. It also delves into the march of the people from medieval times into the modem age and the impact of transport and communication technologies that opened a window for information flow into the valley cocooned for so long due to the high mountains all around.
Customs and traditions are described in a changing scenario brought about by the introduction of the English language in the late l9`hcentury.
S. Sapru has over 30 years of experience as a journalist, author and editor of three of the leading newspapers in India — "Deccan Herald," "The Pioneer" and "Indian Express" — at various cities. Holder of degrees from Madras (now Chennai) and Karnataka Universities, Mr. Sapru was recipient of a gold medal in journalism studies, and a number of awards from institutions abroad. He has published several works on different subjects — two of his books are under publication: World without Shade and Only Angels can fly.
HAVING scrupulously gone through every line of S.Sapru’s richly detailed work "Cashmere: Kashir that was/’ I find myself alternately laughing and (almost) crying. Laughing at all the ancient customs and manners of the true—blue Pandit and crying to realize what has happened to him since 1989-90.
What happened in the last dozen years, is nothing more and nothing less than ethnic cleansing, genocide, and trauma, but does anyone care? Has anyone ever ask the Kashmiri Pandit families what they feel? And how they are faring? No human Rights Commission seems interested in their welfare. The focus today is on Gujarat.
It is just for that reason that I am especially interested in the fate of Kashmiri Pandits. It is because reading Sapru’s book has revived memories of my own people, the Goud Saraswat Brahmins.
Legend has it that my ancestors came from Kashmir, settled for a time by the river Saraswati and then moved downwards as the river began to dry up. To this day in our prayers we say;
Namostute Sharadha Devi Kashmira Puravasini
Large groups moved down towards Kutch, then to Saurashtra and Dwarka and then down to Goa where, finally, they happily settled, bringing with them their Gods.
Then came the Portuguese, and tyranny began to show itself. There were forcible conversions, acquisition of land and property and deliberate attempts by the Portuguese and Spanish Jesuits t0 destroy our culture. Inquisition was the order of the day. Unable, finally, to withstand state terror, my ancestors left Goa circa 1760. Mercifully they were permitted, I understand to take with them, some of their household goods, and their Gods. They hired sea-going boats, sailed down south and in due course made their news homes in Kanara and Kerala. And many of them prospered. But they never forgot the gods they left behind. Every family had its family god and there was the kula devata; the kula devata was left behind and to this day I go to pay my obeisance to Nagesh— Mahalaxmi.
I mention all this because when I think of the Kashmiri Pandit diaspora, my mind reverts to the past and what happened to my ancestors. True, they settled down in new surroundings, accepted the new social environment, but never forgot their language — Konkani nor their culture.
The word "culture" has strong connotations. It is a way of life. And the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins had their own way of life. Young males wore their tuft — "shendi" — and became Brahmins. It must have been some time in the early twenties of the last century that it went out of fashion. When my eldest brother — some ten years senior to me — had his shendi cut off because he was being ragged by his classmates at school, my grandmother went on a fast for three days.
The purpose in recounting these facts is to draw a parallel between what the Kashmiri Pandit underwent with what Brahmins elsewhere went through, in adjusting themselves to modernity. Sapru writes: "Flexibility and. adjustability has been a hallmark of the voyage of the Kashmiri Pandit through turbulent times, war, pestilence and religious persecution.” At the same time, he reminds us that "orthodoxy has been the bane of the Pandit community from times immemorial." The two statements may sound contradictory but not necessarily so. They reflect two phases in the growth and development of the community.
And now reflecting of the times is the author when he says that "the pinnacle of ambition (of the Kashmiri Pandits) was to join the I.C.S"! But here it must be mentioned that what seems so typical of the Kashmiri Pandit is true also of almost all communities in India. In the twenties and thirties a member of the Indian Civil service was, in the first quarter of the twentieth century, the ambition of practically every bright voting educated Indian. The appendage of the three initials I.C.S to one’s name signified the ultimate in power.
To read Sapru’s work is to be transported back into history, especially the history of Kashmir. it is enlightening to know that in the Kashmiri languages Kashmir is Kashir. The worth was once spelt as "Cashmere"; Sapru deals with the origin of the more familiar word. One associated Cashmere with those exquisite shawls that cost a fortune. But it is hard to accept the belief that Kashmiris are the lost tribe of Israel. Or are they? Do they look Jewish?
What is so endearing about this book is the enormous effort that Sapru has undertaken to bring together various facets of the lives of Kashmiri Pandits. It would make any sociologist's mouth water. But the point might be made that they are not well—knit and are not inter—connected. That would be a valid complaint. And yet it is difficult to put down this book once one starts reading it for the simple reason that a surprise awaits the reader on every page.
The work may sound disjointed but that has its own special charm. Sapru is never boring. Non—Kashmiris may find all the references to customs and manners overwhelming, but one can imagine the proper Kashmiri Pandit lapping up every word, with sheer delight. Sapru has introduced to us a community and a culture in all their nuances for which we must remain ever grateful.
|Foreword by M.V. Kamath
|Wail from Vale
|Kashyp Rishi’s Bhoomi
|“Yemen Sattan Kadalan Munz” With in these seven bridges
|Of Things Native
|The Way We Were
|The Biscoe Age
|Pandits and the Durbar
|Limb of Law
|Tomorrow is For Ever
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