Love and Longing

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Pandits living outside try to stay connected with their roots by recreating the Kashmir in their small dwellings. Marila Latif talks to a few migrants, who speak fluent Kashmiri, eat in copper wares, keep Samovars for company, and sleep thinking of a reunion 

Despite never visiting Kashmir, Divya Zadoo, 22, a journalism student in Chandigarh University, Punjab, is fluent in Kashmiri. A migrant Pandit girl who resides in Jammu with her family, feels connected to her Kashmiri roots.

“I have learned Kashmiri from my grandparents because they didn’t know any other language,” said Zadoo.

Zadoo, who is equally fond of Hindi and English, recalls how her parents would scold her if she speaks in any other language in front of them. “It is their way to stay connected with their roots,” feels Zadoo.

Like a number of Pandit families who left Kashmir in 90’s, Zadoo’s parents and grandparents, too want get feel of living in Kashmir valley, despite staying outside. “Every item in our house reflects Kashmiri culture,” said Zadoo. “Our marriage ceremonies are in-sync with Kashmiri tradition. We cook Halal meat, something unheard of in mainland India by other Brahmins.”

Zadoo recalls how her parents visit a particular part of the Jammu city to get halal meat. “A non-Kashmiri Brahmin cannot understand our traditional and cultural affinities.”

A marriage ceremony of a Kashmiri Pandit family in Jammu or elsewhere is incomplete without a folk music.

The tradition of using bachkoats, a male dancer, is still very much in vogue in during marriage ceremonies among Kashmiri Pandits. “Like Kashmiri Muslims, we too don’t allow females to dance in front of males,” said Zadoo. “This is our culture and substantial morals for the admiration we feel en route for our ethos and calibre.”

In their frail voices Kashmiri Pandit’s keeps humming their cultural and religious superiority over other residents.

“Since ages we were known for our emphasis on education, culture, and moral values,” said Sunil Bhatt, 37, who works for Doordarshan Chandigarh.

Sunil has transformed his small flat in Chandigarh into a traditional Kashmiri house. His living-room displays a Samovar, a traditional copper kettle, Kangri, an earthen fire-pot used to keep warm during harsh Kashmiri winters. “These things help us stay connected to our roots,” said Sunil. “Though we don’t use Kangri as climate is completely different here, still we keep it as a reminder of our culture.”

Besides, Sunil feels proud to have a “secret language” like Kashmiri at his disposal which nobody else understands. “We can talk with our fellow Kashmiris and nobody can decipher a word what we are saying,” said Sunil with a hint of pride in his voice.

In order to keep his family members connected with their roots, Sunil eats in copper plates polished with silver, instead of the modern bone china ones.

“These crowned heads are our prides how we can consign these things to oblivion,” said Sunil. “These are part of our rituals and aesthetics.”

In spite of having a dining table at his flat, Sunil’s family eats on a traditional Dastarkhan, a table cloth used for serving food, in typical Kashmiri household. “As long as I live, I will safeguard my roots,” he added in a sobbing tone.

Rayees Rasool, a Kashmir based social activist, said “If we snip some precious contravene from someone they scamper towards it more. That is what has happened to the Kashmiri Pandit viz-a-viz their homeland”.

Rayees feels, this sense of void and longing for their home will pass on from one generation to another.

“Even if I reside in Delhi for more than a week I switch on to Chakir and Kashmiri folk music to fill the void,” said Rayees. “One can only imagine how they feel.”

Ahima Kaul, 21, who resides in Jammu, said I only wear the ethnic Kashmiri attires like Tili Pheran, Makhmal and Kurtas with conventional art work, in a bid to discern myself from Dogra community.  “It’s like a craze for us especially during winters when every other Kashmiri girl puts on a Pheran.”

An embroidered Pheran is considered reserved for special occasions only as it is both costly and sophisticated.

“I recalled my time in a tuition centre where I was only comfortable with Kashmiri Muslims girls,” said Kaul. “While we would chatter and gossip in Kashmiri, locals would gaze us like ghosts.”

Kaul quips and said, “We are natives and politics cannot unbind our relationship.”

Like most of the Pandits who live outside Kashmir valley, Kaul yearns to settle down in her ancestral village. “I wish we all could get back to the time when we lived in peace and harmony. I still remember how my grandparents used to tell stories of good olden days every night,” said Kaul. “I recall them telling me how they used to sit, eat and celebrate festivals together with their Muslims neighbours. I wish to live what they have lived back then.”

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