She is bold. She is outspoken. She is clear-minded. Her childlike innocence gleams through her sparkling and resolute eyes, reflecting her tenacious self, shrouded within a flimsy cover of conservatism. She is Suggi, the incorrigible Nayeen (barber’s wife) of Jammu. She is vividly anchored to her civilizational antecedents and the moorings attached thereto, with great poise and elegance. She is the brimming face of Jammu’s youthful expression. Her casual indifference towards the inchoate societal dogmas and their useless characterizations shines brilliantly during tough times. She has an innate quality of looking through a prism of optimism. She is never bogged down by the crises- financial or physical, that afflict her. She has been able to manoeuvre a path for herself and her son despite grave inconveniences. She represents the eternal flame of flamboyance and perseverance which, since times immemorial, has lightened the spirits of this great land of ours.
Today, Suggi appears dizzy and confused. Her apparent toughness has waned and dissipated. Seeing the communal forces of society taking a turn for the worse, Suggi is helpless. She’s trying to reconcile this changed reality with her own beliefs about this society. The untrammelled powers of the governing class have created an atmosphere of hatred and mutual intolerance. Suggi is fearful of challenging the authorities, unlike her earlier stint, when she had called into question the supreme authority of Bakshi Gulam Mohammed, the then PM of J&K, by challenging him in front of his house at Wazarat Road. She had had protested against the authoritative actions of the Estates Department, which was evicting her from an evacuee property at Ahata Pratap Singh, left behind by a Muslim Dhobi of the Maharaja. She was provided succour by PM Bakshi only after the latter escorted her back to her house in his own jeep and ordered the employees to grant Suggi that house. She reminisces about this incident and invariably blows her own trumpet.
Ironically, now-a-days, people, unlike in the days of Suggi, have become fearful of asking questions of the Government. The ‘public sphere’ reeks of a Habermasian crisis of legitimacy. The lack of public debate and polarised opinions have stymied the chances to ‘promote a democratic culture…. a culture in which individuals have a fair opportunity to participate in the forms of meaning-making that constitute them as individuals.’ The chilling effect on free speech has severely proscribed the freedom of speech and expression.
And, Jammu too hasn’t remained untouched by this vortex of fanaticism, and that’s why I feel the relevance of Suggi’s idea of Jammu- the one of being plural and inclusive which precludes and thwarts any fringe behaviour, increases manifolds. It’s relevant even more today when a chimera of an imagined paranoia has wreaked havoc on the common psyche of this city and its inhabitants. Civil society is guilty too, for it has remained dormant in cultivating a vibrant political culture, the occasional clamorous hyperbole notwithstanding. Time and again, the trite reverie stemming from a certain quarter spreads the usual cacophony that disturbs social cohesion and promotes communal hatred.
Suggi reflects the cultural idiom of this city, which essentially bases itself on the ideas of tolerance and mutualism. She’s uneducated but her historical knack-primarily, about the Dogra glory, makes her endearing.
Another notable characteristic of Suggi is her vociferous concern for women’s emancipation. She loves the steadfastness of the women from the Kandi, for she feels that the harsh geography and climate have toughened the women of this region. She longs for a daughter herself while remaining critical of the hypocrisy of society that treats woman as a Parayadhan. Suggi’s nagging persistence on women’s issues lends her the aura of feminine power, which inescapably ties her to this city’s cultural narrative. Her bond with this land’s history and culture is rock solid. She’s aware that the Maharaja had arrested Pt Nehru in 1946 while the latter was trying to enter the state from Lakhnapur (originally it was Kohala). Her unabashed devotion and loyalty towards Dogra history is a quality that many Dogras still harbour in their hearts. Time and again, she refers to the glorious tidings of the Dogra rule. She disdains Pt Nehru for his role in the banishment of the Maharaja by riding roughshod over the people’s wishes.
Suggi is naturally amenable to change. Her flexible approach to life and its challenges have made her a resilient woman. She loves her city, its culture, and its language, but that doesn’t make her a conservative in any manner. She betrays her openness towards all religions and ethnicities. She is empathetic towards the Mirpuris and other migrants who have had to leave their homes and hearths in the wake of tribal invasion.
This zealous lady, governed by an eclectic set of ideas, typifies and personifies Jammu, which has always created a conducive atmosphere in this city for the accommodation of migrants from different parts of the state. Contrary to the contemporary popular belief of man’s self being created ex nihilo; Suggi believes in the idea of a community. She is able to develop a social capital within the city’s niche, for the ‘Soo’ that she keeps of everyone familiar makes her far more involved with the community and its various facets. The idea of the primacy of atomistic selves gets truncated in the light of her thoughts, which is also a need for the present society, given that the present system has begotten a ‘one-dimensional man’, devoid of his character and personality.
However, surprisingly, in her last days, Suggi becomes indifferent towards this land, to the extent that she ultimately feels alienated from the city. She is concerned about our identity, our language, and our history. She places an emphasis on certain immutable functional characteristics of Jammu, which have dwindled and have all but vanished.
Suggi is now dead. Her creator is dead too. Her ideas, nonetheless, still animate our society. The need is to deepen their roots to let them flourish and grow uninhibited. Suggi lives in each one of us. The need is to enliven that spirit.