A crisis of our own making

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Arshid Malik

By: Arshad Malik

Who is a Kashmiri? What is his identity? What defines a Kashmiri? These are questions that have been haunting my mind for the past few days. I figure that every population in the world is different from the other in its own ways. Each population has its unique identity based on its language, customs and traditions, which preserve its culture. In that manner we are Kashmiris because we speak the Kashmiri language and follow Kashmiri traditions and customs – this is the mainstay of the knowledge of the fact that we are Kashmiris.

But over the past few decades, decadence has taken up a large chunk of who we are. Our language, traditions and customs are seldom the issues, while we bask in the “glory” of all that that is basically alien to us. No wonder, Kashmiris are suffering from an identity crisis.
Talking about Kashmiri language, I pity myself for I am not writing this column in Kashmiri. I must confess that I do not know Kashmiri that well, like most of the people out there. An affinity towards Urdu language may take one closer to the Kashmiri language and script, but that is only cursory.

Our mother tongue, Kashmiri, has been somewhat disowned by its own people. We feel “better” conversing in English and Urdu, and maybe perhaps in some “extreme” cases, some other foreign tongues as well. Our schools are way out of sync as far as teaching Kashmiri is concerned, even though meagre efforts have been made every now and then to include Kashmiri into school curricula. The point of the fact is that the affection of Kashmiris towards their mother tongue is practically waning while a certain affliction is growing vis-?-vis ease of use, especially among the new generations. We are nowhere near salvaging our mother tongue when we do not practically adore and respect it. Ours is a population which withers in the shadow of an identity crisis, but does not make any efforts to put an end to it or in the least comprehend it.

Now let us take our folk dances, folk music, folk lore – the whole folk media of Kashmir. Folk media are vanguards of communities like ours and the most genuine means of communication and adept carriers of culture. Where is our folk media? I do not see it anywhere except in closed circuit functions organized by a handful of people who seemingly still care about this wonderful art form. We as a people may have completely forgotten about it. What about our children? They will perhaps come to know about their own folk media when they read foreign writers who have written about Kashmir. I read somewhere that folk media is being replaced by fake media and find no reason to disagree.

What about other peculiarities of culture? Well, our dress is changing by and by. Our traditional cuisine is gradually losing its original flavor as hitherto unknown items make it to the menu. Our indigenous value systems stand corrupted. Art forms practiced in Kashmir are slowly yielding to foreign mechanized invasions. I am greatly moved by the fact that the wondrous, traditional walnut wood carved furniture of Kashmir has almost no takers here. We prefer the China-made Chippendale. What a pity!!!

For the past two decades we have been fighting a fight for freedom – a freedom that envisions a distinct status for Kashmiris and secures Kashmiri values. But in the light of the facts I have mentioned, I doubt whether there would be much left in the coming years to protect and fight for. Kashmir as a landlocked territory would remain, but Kashmiri would probably perish under the apathy of its own people.

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

1 Comment

  1. Dear Mr. Malik,

    I am writing to thank you for your beautifilly written expression of concern regarding, “what defines a Kashmiri” in your article, “A Crisis of Our Own Making”.
    You site the abndonment of the the mother tonque, Kashmiri, as insuring the loss of a crucial element in maintaining your cultural heritage, which includes music, dance and folklore.My comments here focus on the language.
    I Was born and reared in the United States of America and think and speak, only in english, although I have become barely conversant in Spanish, which is now a second language here.
    What immeddiately struck me about your essay is that you are describing a universal problem as much as a local one.
    Many of my closest friends come from different countries and cultures. I have ben fortunate to have spent two weeks in Kashmir with a family who are very dear to me. I corespond with more than one of them on a regular basis, which is how I came upon your essay.
    One of my other friends, with whom I worked, came from Romania, He was a brilliant engineer who came to the states as a result of winning a 5 year visa on a lotterey. When I met him, he barely spoke any English and had taken a menial job to buy time to learn the language.
    With amazing concentration of will, he succeeded to do so, and ultimatley obtained a high paying postition in the computer field.
    The relevance to your essay is what he once explained to me, when I commented that even though his other friends from Romania, spoke English as well, they chose to speak to each other in their language, necessitating the need to translate to me.
    He explained that no matter how well he learns any other language, his true idenity can best be expressed only in his native language. It is where his mind is and his soul.
    I think you are describing that in your concern for the loss of Kashmiri.
    My connection here as far the universality of the problem of erosion of respect for ones language, and possible loss thereby, as the clear expression of thought in constructive social interaction.
    I find English to be a beautiful, rich measns of expression and am saddened and frustrated in its debasement into sound-bite conversation expressing half-baked ideas. A famous linquist from the past, George Bernard Shaw once said, “the problem with communication, is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” I find after 40 years since i first read this quote, that it rings more true every day.

    As I said before, I know enough about Kashmir and its people to love both and hope to return someday soon.

    I wish you well in your efforts.

    With high regards,
    Bob walsh

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