My Jammu Memories

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People who survived 1947 and migrated have not forgotten their motherland. Sorayya Khurshid, who was born and brought up in Jammu, had written a long piece about the environment in which she was raised. This memoir details her longing to Jammu despite the fact that she lived a fulfilling life as the better half of K H Khursid, the private secretary of Pakistan founder Ali Mohammad Jinnah and then the head of Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK)

The clean and beautiful stone city of Jammu, the winter capital of the Jammu and Kashmir state, shines through the haze of memory to this day. Those were different times. Life flowed at an even, unhurried pace. There was no fitfulness to it, no haste, no restlessness. This city of clean, stone-paved streets surrounded by hills had a story-like quality, as if it were a tale out of Arabian Nights where legend has become reality. Its scented air made you believe that a fairy, her wings spread out, could land at any moment to make this dwelling of mortals her home. I associate Jammu with the fragrance of motia, rose and bela, the whiff of jaman, guava and wild berry bushes. These fruits still grow and you can buy them if you wish, but they do not have the taste and aroma of those I remember from my Jammu days.

There was something about that city which was different, otherwise why would one feel haunted so many years later by its eternal magic. Its extraordinary quality! Poets, storywriters and historians have written eloquently about the beauty of the Vale of Kashmir. They have written about its valleys, its green, waving fields, its sky-high mountains, the special quality of its air, its waterfalls and singing brooks and its heartbreakingly beautiful flowers. When I think of hilly Jammu, a part of the same state of Kashmir, in no way do I find it to have been any less beautiful.

The Bahu Fort, dating back to early Dogra days, was Jammu’s special mark of recognition. Down below the Fort ran the Tawi river, its water so clear that the eye could see stones, big and small, that lay at the bottom and the plants that grew out of the riverbed. The Tawi flowed very gently but its rhythm changed as it widened and began to move over a more spread-out course. To the left of Bahu Fort, lay the vast nature reserve known as Parli Bagi. Trees bearing berries, guava, lokat and gharna grew here in abundance. The gharna, black in colour, resembled a raisin and was delicious to eat. Poor Dogra women of the area would gather these fruits in small baskets and go from neighbourhood to neighbourhood selling them. This was their means of earning a livelihood. They wore tight, leg-hugging trousers, long shirts and wide dopattas. Every morning, they would set out with their baskets of fruit and return to their tiny mud-built huts as the evening fell, only to go out on the same errand next morning. Their men folk gathered fuel wood from the forest which they would tie up is small bundles that were called “muthoo”. These small bundles of dry twigs were bought by city households and used as firewood.

This is just one more insight into the simple way of life of people in those days. Incomes were limited and so were resources. Their needs were modest in keeping with the simplicity of their lives. In just half a century, the world has changed so dramatically. Science and technology have made amazing advances and distances have shrunk. A journey that used to take months can now be completed in hours. No matter what part of the world you are living in today, it takes you no time to find out what has happened in places thousands of miles away. Not so long ago, you could not even imagine such things to be possible. Sometimes one wonders if these great advances that the world has witnessed in the last few decades have taken mankind to the apogee of its achievement or its decline. Sometimes one wonders what has happened to the old ways, to the Jammu one knew, a place of peace, stillness and beauty!

There were settlements of snake charmers around Parli Bagi. Every day, these men would come to the city, bearing small baskets on their heads containing snakes. It would be evening before they would return home. The hills of Jammu were host to a large variety of snakes. The city’s elevation was not very high and summers were intensely hot. It was the sort of environment that abounds in snakes. The snake charmers would produce snakes of every size and colour from their baskets, including the most fearsome kind. However, it was the snakes that earned them their daily keep. The snake charmers were also great storytellers and people would listen to their tales of fantasy with great interest. Some snake charmers would gather rare, curative plants from the jungle or stones with allegedly miraculous qualities which people would buy from them. Nowadays, nobody has much time for this sort of thing. In those undulating hills also lived families whose women would sell clay toys such as dolls and everything that a doll’s house needs, including fruits and vegetables, made of clay of course. These women would also sell rag dolls. A child could buy a bride, a young girl, a mother or even a washer-women.

Mrs and Mr K H Khurshid

Summer mornings and evenings were always very beautiful in Jammu. The sun would rise in a blue sky and light up this city of green hills and sharply edged rocks and stones. As the morning would make way for noon, the heat would become intense, but by evening it would become cooler. People would gather in small groups at the canal, dip the mangoes they had brought in its ice-cold water and enjoy themselves. Glowworms would appear in droves and twinkle in the dark like stars. Sometimes there would be so many of them, that the air would glow with them as far as the eye could see.

Jammu winters were also quite lovely. Dark clouds would take over the sky and it would start raining. We would lie under thick quilts in rooms with the doors closed, listening to the rain fall. Sometimes it would rain for days. The sun, when it came out, would feel warm and good. Winter vegetables and fruits were always plentiful and friends would invite one other for parties. Breakfast was always something special. Every morning, a member of the family or a servant would be sent out to fetch freshly baked baqarkhani from the neighbourhood tandoor which would be eaten with relish with a cup of salted Kashmiri or black tea, depending on which you preferred. That would suffice as breakfast because the freshly baked, lightly layered baqarkhani had a taste that stayed on the palette for hours. Life would begin in the city with the break of day. People would greet each other on the street because everyone knew everyone, unlike today when people walk past each other like strangers. Everyone is preoccupied with himself and disinterested in others, concentrating only on getting ahead. Unlike those time, it is each man for himself today.

Jammu was also called the city of temples. Every morning, we would hear the sweet sound of temple bells which would be rung all together. The great temple of Raghunath was surrounded by other temples. I can still hear those bells and their music reverberates in my ears.

One could also hear the call for morning prayers from nearby mosques but there were no minaret-mounted loudspeakers then. Sometimes, these competing calls to prayers from temple and mosque would generate tension. Off and on there a riot would break out and to deal with it effectively, a curfew would be imposed on the city. The Muslims of Jammu were poor but united; they were also religiously devout.

It was generally believed that Maharaja Hari Singh was not communal-minded but that he was surrounded by his Dogra ministers and advisers. He was also a man given to luxury and such rulers do not really think of their subjects’ welfare. I am not sure if after the atrocities perpetrated against his Muslim subjects in 1947 who formed the majority of the state’s population, he ever slept peacefully. He lived in exile in India and in his solitude he must sometimes have felt troubled by the thought that his Muslim subjects had undergone untold suffering. As for himself, he lost his throne and with it the good life he had always known.

The Maharaja never lived with his wife and son again. It was his duty to protect his people, regardless of what faith they belonged to, and he failed to do that. Would that have sat on his conscience! We can only wonder. He was responsible for what happened to his subjects and he continues to be responsible for all that has happened to them since. History is full of such stories. The effects of the unjust rule of princes outlive them and continue to effect countries and nations long after they are gone. A prince has to be different from an ordinary human being. It is a pity that Maharaja Hari Singh’s name should live in ignominy in history.

Jammu city was divided into two parts, the upper and the lower. While one did not quite understand as a child why the city was laid out like that, years later when I had the opportunity to visit Europe, I found many Italian cities similarly laid out. In Jammu, the upper or the elevated part of the city was mostly peopled by Hindus – though there was a Pathan mohalla right in the middle of it. These Pathans had moved to Jammu at various points in time and made it their home. Some of the families had gained great success in the state and were much respected. One such family was that of Air Marshal M Asghar Khan, whose uncle Sumandar Khan was a General in the State Army. Members of the Maharaja’s family, who were known as Wazirs, also lived in this neighbourhood. The Wazirs were known for their fair skin and good looks and some of their women were great beauties of their time. They would go around heavily bejewelled and always looked resplendent in their expensive silk saris. Theirs was a life of leisure.

The Maharaja’s winter palace was located in the higher section of the city which was where he lived from October to April when the royal court moved from Srinagar because of the onset of winter. All key officials of the state moved with the court to Jammu and the city would come to life. There was also a royal mint in Jammu, built by the Maharaja’s ancestors. The streets of the city were paved with stones and they were laid on steep inclines. Most people walked, though there were tongas for hire. We lived in the lower part of the city in Residency Road and I went to the Government High School for Girls which was located in the upper part of the city. You could go about your business in peace and nobody bothered you. While on our way to school, we would sometimes come across friends of the family and we would greet them. Father’s friends were like uncles and that is the way they treated us youngsters. It was a different world from the one we live in now. There was much fellow feeling among people.

There was a grain market in Jammu, called Kanak Mandi where you could buy food of every kind. Most of the family shopping was done there. Jammu also had more than its share of monkeys and they could be seen sitting calmly on housetops and parapets. They were perfectly at ease with people and behaved as if they had as good a right to live in the city as its human inhabitants. I do not recall ever seeing garbage piled on the street in Jammu. The roads were kept clean and municipal water wagons kept them showered both morning and evening. When a water wagon passed, children would run after it. The city would wear a clean, washed look after rains because of its stony streets. You never saw any puddles of standing water in Jammu. The water that rain brought always flowed down, ultimately finding its way into the Tawi river that ran languidly on a flat plan, several hundred feet down from the city.

The lower quarter of the city was mostly Muslim. The Muslims of Jammu were poor but hard working; many of them being in state service. However, there was in inbuilt prejudice against their reaching higher positions as all those posts were the preserve of Dogras and Hindus. Education was free but because of poverty, many Muslim children did not manage to go beyond high school. However, despite that the number of highly educated people among Jammu’s Muslims was sizeable. Some of them had made a name for themselves in education. During the 1947 holocaust, Prof Abdul Rashid, a popular teacher, and Malik Fazal Haq, a senior educationist, lost their lives.

In the lower quarter of the city lay Mohalla Dal-Patian, Urdu Bazar and the residential areas around the Police Lines. Senior government officials lived in Residency Road where also stood the state rest house where in 1944 the Quaid-i-Azam and Miss Fatima Jinnah stayed for lunch while on their way to Srinagar from Sialkot. The Jammu railway station was located lower down in the Satwari area. Trains ran from here to Sialkot and other points in British India. I can still remember that railway station with its dim lights. Life went on at an easy pace and nobody ever seemed to be in any particular hurry.

Jammu was also famous for its Urdu mushairas or poetry readings as well as other literary events. Famous writers and poets from all over India often came to Jammu. My father, Dr Noor Hussain, a very literary person, was never to be found missing from these gatherings. He was appointed health officer and chemical examiner of Jammu in 1942. Except for summers when we would move to Srinagar, we lived in Jammu until 1947. That was where my youngest brother Masood was born. In 1944, my father was promoted deputy director of the State’s medical services. In the summer of 1947 we were in Srinagar when my father was promoted and asked to take charge as director with effect from October.

As stated earlier, we lived in Jammu’s Residency Road in an officially provided residence. It was a large house built in the Victorian style, fronted by a garden where highly fragrant roses and motia grew. There was also a large backyard with jasmine bushes and two large fruit trees under one of which my mother always had a cot on which she sat to perform household odds and ends. The kitchen lay on one side and there was a wide corridor that ran through the middle of the house, with rooms on either side. In 1981 when I went to Jammu, I went to see that house and found it to have hardly changed. The fruit trees stood exactly where they always had, silent witnesses to time and change. There was a Muslim doctor living there now.

Kanak Mandi Jammu.

In October 1947 – the Srinagar-Jammu road via the Banihal pass being closed – we left Srinagar on our way to Jammu by the Jehlum Valley Road. It took us several days to get to Sialkot because the troubles had already begun and armed tribesmen from Pakistan’s Frontier province were in the state. We were forced to stay a few days in Rawalpindi because we could find no bus or train for Sialkot. When we finally arrived in Sialkot, the Jammu massacres were well underway. We found ourselves stranded in Sialkot, the city that ultimately became our home. When we arrived in Sialkot, my father phoned his Kashmiri Pandit assistant in Jammu and told him that he would be arriving the day after. However, the man kept saying, “Dr sahib, please don’t come to Jammu yet, it is not the right weather yet.” It was only later that we realised what he was trying to tell my father. It is strange how in the middle of barbarity, there are individuals who retain humanity. There are many such stories from the blood-drenched days of 1947.

I would also like to record here that ours was the last bus to leave Srinagar for Rawalpindi. With us on that bus were the families of Sardar Effendi and Syed Abid Hussain Bokhari, close friends of my father. Had there been no tribal incursion, the history of Kashmir might have been different and the state may have become part of Pakistan. In 1947 the Muslims of Jammu were practically decimated. The older ones among those who came over have already passed into oblivion. All we are left with are memories, and some survivors. The younger generation of Jammu Muslims, one hopes, will maintain the traditions and values of their elders, though the world has changed so much. However, there are certain things that do not change, which is what keeps the world going. As many as 200,000 Jammu Muslims lost their lives in 1947 and most of them died around the first week of November. That massacre will always be like a mark of shame on the rulers of the day. Nothing will ever mitigate their shame or wash away the blood on their hands. We can only remember those who lost their lives in those times of hatred and barbarism.

(This essay was lifted from Memory Lane to Jammu, a book edited by Kashmir born Pakistani journalist and diplomat Khalid Hassan, who was Sorayya’s brother. She is the author of Memories of Fatima Jinnah.)

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