Saturday, April 10, 2010

Curfewed Night : A memoir

I recently wrote a book review for my alma mater in journalism, The Kashmir Times. It appeared in the paper on April 10, 2010 and you can read it at: What Went Wrong With the Place Called 'Heaven on Earth'

It is a review of the book "Curfewed Night" by Mr. Basharat Peer. The book is a very impressive work, in terms of 'an eye for detail' that Mr. Peer shows throughout his growing up years when militancy and paramilitary forces became a part of life in Kashmir.

If you can get a hold of the book, the book is worth reading!!!!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

'Road' to the Past.....

Have been listening to "Sar Jo Tera Chakraye" (remix version) from the film, "Road, Movie", which released last week. Didnt get a chance to watch the movie yet but the song has been making numerous rounds of television as well as radio channels these days.
It brings back memories from the Doordarshan days of my early childhood when "Chitrahaar" was the high-point in our mundane lives, telecast twice a week, till "Rangoli" came along to brighten up our Sunday mornings. Till then, we had only two days to look forward to our television-dependent lives, Wednesday and Friday. Rest of the weekdays passed in a blur.
The song in question is picturised on that remarkable comic actor of the golden era of Hindi Film Industry, Johnny Walker, who is shown moving around with his paraphernalia of "oil-bottles" and a jumpy gait, through a city park, calling out "Maalish, Tel Maalish" to all and sundry.
I remember this song, along with many more such gems from the B&W era of films, because it takes a very mundane activity in our daily life, applying oil to our hair, and connects that to all that is good or bad in our lives, in a subtle, yet forceful manner.
Remember, this was long before the present-day high-profile advertisements of "Thanda, Thanda, Cool, Cool" came along to take the "tel maalish" to just another level....
The song is from the film "Pyaasa", which is a masterpiece from Guru Dutt and is considered to be among the classics of old Hindi Cinema.
However, this song, written by the inimitable Sahir Ludhianvi and composed by the one and only S. D. Burman, stands out on its own.
I haven't seen the Road, Movie yet, so I dnt know what role this song plays in the movie, however, even before that, it has managed to refresh some pleasant old memories for me and others of my ilk.
One of them, I cant resist sharing with my readers: early mornings, getting ready for school, dad applying oil to my brother's hair and singing this song and my brother swinging his head lightly to the music. I can never forget this scene of my life.
Thank you S. D. , Sahir Ludhianvi and Guru Dutt for that.....

Thursday, March 26, 2009

From Navreh to Navratras!!!

Today is a twin-auspicious occasion. On this day, the Kashmiri Pandits celebrate the onset of the Kashmiri New Year, called "Navreh" while Hindus, in general, start the nine-day long celebrations for the Navratras (in honour of the nine avatars of Maa Durga).
On the eve of Navreh (which literally means a ray of new light!!), the Kashmiri Pandit families observe a "thaal-bharun" ritual, in which they fill a thali (metal plate) with uncooked ricegrains. Atop the rice, there is walnut (its four partitions representing the four Vedas!!! with and without kernels), curd, cooked rice, a piece of roti, a pen, a currency note (of any denomination), salt and fresh fruit and a gold ornament. Besides, a few petals of dry flowers as well as a few fresh flowers are also placed on the rice-plate. The reason why walnut (or akhrot) and the dry flowers are a part of this thali is that because of extreme harsh winters in the valley, there used to be no fresh fruit or fresh flower available in Kashmir at the time of onset of new year. That is why, the walnut and dried flowers were used.
But after migration, when KP families settled in other parts of the country and world, fresh fruits and flowers are included as per availability. In fact, KPs celebrating this day in Kashmir itself, can procur all these things from the market as well. That is the changing world and power of technology, I would say but I will come to that later.
Apart from the things discussed above, the two most important things that are placed in this thali are:
1) Nechipatra (or almanac): The Kashmiri Pandit community's religious scholars undertake a tedious process to prepare an almanac every year, which is traditionally released and bought during the onset of traditional new year.
2) Wye, a special weed: Wye, a wild weed, resembling in shape to arabi, and considered pure, is also a part of this traditional thali.
This Thali is then covered with another metal plate for the night and early next morning, just before sunrise, a young member of the family, either boy or girl, takes this thali and circulates it among all the family members. In this way, the KPs welcome the new year, with the hope to receive and enjoy all those ingredients that form part of the thali and also as a kind of thanksgiving to the God Almighty, for keeping them safe and satiated in the year gone by.
Scholars put Navreh as the beginning of the lunar new year, which coincides with the onset of Navratras, celebrated during Chaitra (or spring) month. KPs celebrate their birthdays, death anniversaries, marriages and other auspicious occasions according to this calendar.
However, KPs are not the only ones who celebrate today as the onset of their new year.
This day is also celebrated as New Year's Day in Maharashtra (Gudi Padwa), in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka (Ogadi), by Sindhis as Cheti-Chand as well as in whole of North India as Chaitra Shukla.
Now we come to Navratras, literally meaning "Nine nights." This festival, as told above, is celebrated to invoke the energies emanating from all the nine avatars of Maa Durga. Navratras (or also called Navratris) are celebrated twice every year. One is celebrated during the spring time, which starts from today and the other one falls in the month of September, just at the onset of winters. Thus, twice every year, devotees celebrate the glory of the Goddess and her nine forms, during two different seasonal changes. Fasts are observed during these nine days and special food is cooked, which is devoid of onion, tomatoes and garlic.
Families plant "Jow" (or unchaffed paddygrains) in earthen pots inside a mound of dry earth and sand. Along with the jow, a whole supari is also planted inside the pot. This pot is then placed at a pure and sacred place within the house, where milk and water is sprinkled on it every morning. Just as the paddygrains start sprouting, these are covered with leaves. By the end of the eighth day, the paddygrains have grown into blooming shafts, coloured greenish yellow.
On the ninth day morning, a pooja is performed, wherein neighbourhood girls, who, on this day, are referred to as "Kanjakein" (little girls in reference to Goddess Durga's Mata Vaishno Devi avatar as a young girl), are served with Halwa (a sweet preparation) and poori (round wheatcakes deep fried in oil or ghee). Their feet are washed and then sindoor put on their foreheads, after which they are served the prasad (halwa-poori) and given gifts, etc.
The photograph above shows a thali filled with the Navreh items to give the readers an idea of what it exactly is.
Just one more thing, my fasts also began today and I would be keeping some of them. So, here is for a happy and auspicious Navreh and Navratras for all of us!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Tale of the Royal Spring - Chashm-e-Shahi -

Hello friends, it is back to the Kashmir sojourn after yesterday's halt at the picturesque Billawar.
In this post, I will talk about Chashm-e-Shahi.
"Chashm-e-Shahi" or the Royal Spring is believed to have been discovered by the famous saint-daughter of Kashmir, Roopa Bhawani. Right after its discovery, the "chashma" (or freshwater-spring) was called Chashme Sahibi, after the saint's family name, which was Sahib. However, with the passage of time, the place came to be known more as Chashm-e-Shahi, obviously because of phonetic modifications that are inevitable during public usage and recording of historical facts.
The area around the mouth of the spring was developed into one of the three major Mughal Gardens of Srinagar, Chashm-e-Shahi Garden in 1632. It was a small but beautiful garden , 108 metres long and 38 metres wide. However, with subsequent changes and passage of time, the garden was expanded further and now stands as a major tourist attraction. It is located atop a hillock, overlooking the Nehru Park, Dal Lake and Boulevard Road.
The Governor's House or Raj Bhawan of Srinagar is located just at its foothill.
Chashm-e-Shahi is distributed into three main sections, an aqueduct (the original mouth of the spring), fountains and waterfalls. Besides, the garden is planted with a variety of flowers and even fruit trees.
The freshwater from the spring is believed to be of medicinal value.
During the worse years of terrorism in Kashmir, one had to take special permission from the state police department to be able to visit this garden, however, with the lapse of time, improvement in security scenario and overall decline in terrorism, the security constraints have been removed so that more and more people can enjoy its beauty freely.
On our last trip to the garden in 2004, we saw a vibrant crowd of tourists, from various parts of the country and the world, enjoying a healthy diet of fresh air and sparkling sunshine as well as clicking photographs under the shade of rare trees as well as inside the flower-beds.
So, come enjoy it!!!!!!!
P.S. - The first photograph is of the originating source of the Chashm-e-Shahi while in the second photograph, there is my brother, Prashant and me (facing the camera) seated atop the stairs leading to the Chashma.

Is This Heaven Too???

A very dear friend of mine sent me some photographs from his recent trip to Jammu and Kashmir and I thought I will share the same with you. Sorry for interrupting in my Kashmir sojourn but I couldn't wait to share these pictures with my fellow bloggers. These pictures belong to the Billawar area of Jammu region, which is a very beautiful hill station located 66 kms from Jammu city, along the national highway.
As the photographs suggest, the virgin beauty of this place competes with that of Kashmir but somehow, not many of us (even within J&K) are aware of it. Years ago, I had gone on a short trip to Billawar. It was during my days as a journalist and the trip had been organised by the State Cultural Academy. The purpose of the trip was to honour a local poet, Mr Romal Singh Bhadwal, for his lifelong contribution to art and culture in the region. The poet, well into his 80s, was felicitated in the presence of his family and villagers at Dadwara, one of innumerous lesser known villages in the state.
After the feliciation ceremony, there was lunch, cooked in typical village-style, on earthen choolhas (mud stoves) in huge utensils. The meal was basic fare of rajma (kidney-beans), chawal (rice) and the best of all, Amball {a sweet and sour side-dish prepared wiht pulses, Kaashifal (kind of gourd) and tamarind juice}. Just FYI, Amball is a staple side-dish in Dogri cuisine and is cooked on important occasions like marriage, felicitation etc. The lunch tasted awesome and eating it under an open sky increased its flavour.
Anyways, waking back from my reverie, let me tell you something more about the place. Billawar was founded by a king called Raja Bhopat Pal in 1598-1614 and it remained the capital of Basohli Rajas. The descendants of the Royal family are known as “BILLAWARIAS”.
Billawar town boasts of a number of ancient monuments, old temples, famous among them being Sukrala Mata temple, situated atop a hill and the Mahabilvakeshwar temple. According to popular belief, Pandavas visited Billawar during the last year of exile and were impressed with the "Bill" trees, present abundantly throughout the area. According to historians, Billawar-Basohli (another small town located near Billawar), along with Jammu and Poonch are the three original states wherein the Duggar or Dogra community thrived.
The pictures are self-explanatory and so is the scenic beauty. So, the answer to the title question is...........
Yes, of course!!!!!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Paani Ki Lehron Par Hichkole Khaati Naav!!!!!!!

Hi Friends,
Hope you enjoyed my last post and here is some more on Kashmir.
This time, I am talking exclusively about the houseboats, the miniature hotels, located on the periphery of the Dal Lake, that have been there since 1860 and are now on the verge of extinction.
It is really sad to learn that the court has ordered the houseboat owners to shut their operations because of the rising pollution levels and depleting natural life within the lake.
According to officials, the Dal Lake figures among the 93 sick lakes of the world and the state pollution control board reported in 2004 that the level of pollutants in the lake was six to eight times above the permissible limit. Along with other factors, the houseboats are considered to be the cause, thus, the restraining order on houseboat operations.
However, those who have enjoyed a comfortable and interesting stay inside these houseboats are not happy to hear that, which brings me to a brief description about the houseboats.
Houseboats in Kashmir:
After descending on the scene more than a hundred years ago, the houseboats have come to be an integral life of the valley, especially the Dal. The official records claim that the first houseboat, named Victory, was designed by a serving officer of the British Army, M T Kenhard. Since then, these houseboats were mostly used to serve as vacation homes for the British officers, who were then facing mutiny in the rest of the country.
After traversing a long course of history of pre and post independence India, the houseboats have become a signature of the Dal Lake. Among other things, their popularity is because of the comfort and real flavour of Kashmiri culture preserved inside thes dwellings. Houseboats are generally made up of cedar wood and contain of living quarters, drawing and dining areas.
The interiors of these houseboats are decorated with carved wooden furniture, embroidered Kashmiri carpets and rugs, as well as various hand-made items, including paper machie objects.
The windows offer a beautiful view of the mountain peaks lining the Dal.
It is this piece of history, which is threatened with oblivion now and I fervently hope that that never happens. Pray with me friends.......

Gar Firdous Bar-Rooh-E Zameen Ast, Hameen Ast-O, Hameen Ast-O, Hameen Ast.....

The words written above are believed to have been uttered by Mughal Emperor Jehangir, when he first set foot in the Kashmir Valley, so smitten was he by the exceptional beauty of the vale. Roughly translated, these words mean "If ever there was heaven on this earth, it is this, it is this, it is..." For the past two decades, however, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been in news for all the wrong reasons (read terrorism, administrative incapacity, civil unrest, regional strife and political opportunism).I feel so bad even talking about what went wrong with J&K. Therefore, I have decided to celebrate the beauty of my state and all the good things about it to ward off any bad impact that the dismal news arising out of there might have had on its reputation. So, for the next few posts, I will treat you to some rare glimpses into some of the beautiful locations of the valley (to start with). Similar photographs of Jammu and other areas will follow soon. So, enjoy friends.......

About the photograph featured above:

The photograph featured above is a panoramic view of the world famous Dal Lake, which is located within the summer capital of J&K, Srinagar. It is the most favourite destination for tourists, visiting from within and outside the country. It is a naturally occuring water body and is famous for the houseboats, vacation homes built during the British rule, that are one of the major source of revenue to the Kashmiris. Owing to pollution and overall negligence, the lake covers about 11 square kilometers of area, which is almost half of what it used to be two decades ago. It is divided into four basins called Gagribal, Lokut Dal (meaning Small Dal or Junior Dal), Bod Dal (Senior Dal) and Nagin. Tourist spots like Nehru Park, Char Chinar, etc are located as small islands within the Dal Lake.

Some year ago, the lake used to freeze over completely during the winter season, offering the people a chance to enjoy another facet of nature. However, due to global warming and negligence, the freezing Dal is soon becoming a thing of past.

Among other things, Dal has some interesting flora and fauna, including the lotus flower, Lotus stem (known as Nadroo or Kamal Kakdee, a popular Kashmiri vegetable), water lillies and water chestnuts.