A Jammu-wala’s angst

Excerpts from Ved Rahi’s Dogri Poem ‘Jammu’
Suman K Sharma
Outsiders know pitiful little about Jammu, except that it is a town somehow connected with Kashmir. Only when the laidback people of Jammu are unduly riled does the City of Temples flash in the nation’s collective conscious. It happened in 2008 when Jammuites protested as one against the Government’s weak-kneed response to the need for allocating land in the Valley to Shri Amarnath Yatra Board (SAYB) for providing essential amenities to the pilgrims to the holy cave. It happened again in the aftermath of the 14th February cowardly attack on the CRPF convoy when we lost over 40 of our valiant jawans. Yet again, Jammu was in news a few days ago when a miscreant threw a grenade at a stationary bus at the interstate bus-terminus.
Is that all about the historic city of Jammu? Ved Rahi, a veteran (born 1933) and multitalented personality hailing from the town, has written a long poem in Dogri, titled JAMMU, to give vent to his angst about the land that he loves and venerates:
Mother-like it cuddled me at times, (Rahi says of the city)
And fed me too;
Lady-love like it hugged me;
Friend-like it capered with me…
A Historic City
Legend has it that Jammu was founded by Raja Jamboo Lochan:
A lion and a goat,
When he saw,
Quaffing their thirst together,
The king decided thenceforth
To found a city thither….
The metaphor of peace and tranquility associated with the place can hardly be overstated. Historically, though, Raja Mal Dev, who ruled Jammu during the late 14th century AD, finds a mention in Malfuzal-e-Timuri. It was during Mal Dev’s reign that Amir Temur ransacked the Dev domain in February 1399. Mal Dev seems to have been a sturdy prince. He defeated his rival Rana Kailasha of Nurpur in a wrestling bout and won the favour of Delhi’s Sultan. The massive rock at Mohalla Kali Janni in old Jammu bespeaks of his bodily strength. Mal Dev is reputed to have brought it on his back uphill from the River Tavi bed. Alluding to the Jammu king’s considerable feat, Ved Rahi evokes the travesties of modern life:
Why is today everyman
Climbing uphill
With the burden of Kali Janni
On his back,
Only to face the certainty
Of the trial of the Garbhjoon?
The Garbhjoon (literally, the state of being in a womb), as pilgrims to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shine would recall, is a narrow passage at Kanya Kumari through which the people pass to earn religious merit. From Charan Paduka at the base of the climb to Aadh Kumari is a stiff ascent. It used to be much stiffer not too long ago.
From Raja Mal Dev of the mediaeval times Ved Rahi moves fast forward to the expansion of the Dogra kingdom in the 19th century:
Bearing the cost of seventy-five lakh
He went to the war and won Kashmir
As he did Gilgil, Chitral,
And Baltistan as well…
Yes, Gulab Singh did pay seventy-five lakh Nanakshahi rupees to the British for the Valley of Kashmir. But the story is not as simple as that. Kashmir was a part of the Sikh empire and Maharaja Gulab Singh had been the ruling prince of Jammu under the suzerainty of the Lahore Darbar ever since 1822. The Sikhs lost to the British in the first Anglo-Sikh war fought in Punjab from 11 December 1845 to 9 March 1846. A week after the cessation of hostilities, a treaty was signed on 16 March 1846 at Amritsar by the representatives of the British Governor, General Sir Henry Hardinge. Under the treaty, ‘all the hilly and mountainous country with its dependencies situated to the eastward of the Indus and the westward of the River Ravi, being part of the territories ceded to the British Government by the Lahore State, was made over ‘forever in independent possession to Maharaja Gulab Singh and the heirs male of his body…’ Jammu was thus conjoined with Kashmir. The Dogras did not sit on that exploit for long. Under the able generalship of Zorawar Singh, they won by their might the territories as far as Gilgit, Chitral and Baltistan.
But it was not always that the laurel wreaths of victory waited for them, howsoever valiantly they might have fought:
The troops advanced
Farther than Ladakh
Towards Tibet,
Never to return
Engulfed they were with snow;
In the expansive wilderness,
Kites flew overhead in thousands
Watching with keen appetite
The daring mens’ eventual fall…
Fall from the glory
The daring-does of the Dogras are but a fading memory. What one finds now in Jammu, according to Rahi, is the suffocating burden of the past glory:
Now all those burdensome rocks
Straddle across Jammu’s bosom,
Suffocating it….
Or the dumb pain of aggression:
After the war of seventy-one, (says the poet),
I came across in Jeodiyan
An elderly gent
As he sat on the rubble
Smoking his hubble-bubble
‘Thakar Sahib,’ I asked him
Where’s your home?’
‘It’s here, the spot I sit on!’
He said.
Albeit, Rahi gives a lie to the claim of some leaders of the Valley that they voice the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir:
Why don’t you send
The Army
Back to Delhi?
Extract the giddadsinghi
Of ‘autonomy’,
But then watch the spectacle!
(Giddadsinghi, is a magic potion derived from the head of a jackal. It is believed that Giddadsinghi enables a person to achieve anything that he desires.)
Apathy and indifference
The self-possessed secessionists of the Valley may play the victimization card before the wide world, but it is actually the people of Jammu who have suffered, directly and indirectly, because of the shenanigans of the ‘Karakul caps’ (the poet’s allusion to the Kashmiri leaders who show fondness for this headgear) and the violence sponsored by the neighbouring country. Kashmir has hogged the limelight, casting a deep shadow on Jammu. In their own land, the people of Jammu have become second class citizens. Dejected, they show signs of apathy and loss of pride:
In the Mandi,
The bed-chamber
Of Maharaja Ranbir Singh
Is extant even now
In prime condition;
In its front I saw
A fat monkey, very dead –
The silly one
Had touched a live wire,
It had to die after all!
Its carcass lay there
In unbearable stench,
No one knew since when.
They have distanced themselves even from their own heritage:
Says a revered priest of Purmandal,
‘The pictures on the walls of the temple
Are worn out,
Their colours have faded,
The figures are disfigured.
What’s there for one to see in them?
Please ask the big sahib of the Dharmarth Trust
To have them washed over.’
Elaborating on this anecdote, Ved Rahi said in a private conversation that the rare murals have since been actually obliterated by a coat of lime.
Dogras fight shy even of speaking their mother tongue:
At Tillo Talaa
Conversed two women
A Kashmiri and a Dogra one;
The Kashmiri spoke Dogri
And the Dogra in Hindi.
Rahi, an ardent son of the soil that he is, lambastes Jammu for its apathy and indifference to what it stood for once:
O my city –
My mother,
My lady-love, my bosom friend;
You have with your hands
Cast away you worth!
Such perfidy, such despondence!
His words are all the more the bitter because they are too true.