Shaleen Kumar Singh
The whole Kashmir scenario changed in 1990, when 3,50,000 Pandits migrated from the valley and sought refuge in Jammu. Men, women, children were dazed when they found themselves housed in classrooms, temples, inns, sheds, tents and dormitories. They were perplexed and aghast to see the condition they were in. The old presented a pitiable sight. Bleak future, uncertainty and a sense of loss were writ large on the faces of all the Pandits. Although the Government provided some relief (five hundred rupees a month to a family) to these migrants yet that was not a great deal. They were registered as ‘migrants’ and ‘temporary ration cards’ were issued to them.
As the time went by, Pandits from Kashmir began to adjust themselves in the alien land. They shifted into the houses of the Jammuites as tenants. The Dogras welcomed them into their houses with open arms. This was the beginning of mutual understanding and exchange of ideas. But this beginning showed some shocks and bitterness. When two cultures are face to face for the first time there is bound to be friction and conflict. It takes many years to understand and appreciate one another. In spite of the cultural shocks the cultures of both began to assimilate, and some sort of affinity developed between the two. This assimilation was a solid foundation for the future edifice of Kashmiri and Dogra interdependence.
Pandit migrants saw the Dogras worshipping the sun, offering water to the plant Tulsi, worshipping anthills, offering milk to the snakes living in the holes and vegetarianism. They saw the marriage ceremonies being held at night, the bridegroom coming on a horseback with a decorated sword in hand and the baraatis dancing and singing. They saw stalls with different vegetarian dishes and the guests eating standing—buffet system and self-service. They saw stray cases of casteism and some temples meant exclusively for Dalits. They could not digest it because in Kashmir nobody practiced untouchability. Two cultures of the Kashmiri Pandits and the Dogras of Jammu were and are different as all cultures are.
The Dogras observed the culture and traditions of the Kashmiri migrants. They saw the Pandits celebrating Shivratri on a large scale, blowing conches, offering flowers to Lord Shiva, praying for a very long time in the night, distributing walnuts among the new neighbours and relatives, eating mutton and fish, offering fish to the Lord of the House, celebrating the birthday of the crow, offering yellow rice or khichidi to the goblins in winters, keeping a part of the rice for the dogs before eating meal, keeping rice on the roofs of the houses for the birds to eat. Dogras observed all these practices of the Pandits silently. In the beginning they were shocked to see the Kashmiri Brahmans eating mutton, fish and chicken. Some Dogras did not allow the Pandits to cook chicken or mutton in their houses. Pandits cooked non-vegetarian dishes secretly in closed rooms. In the beginning there were some uncomfortable situations but gradually the two communities developed healthy communication. Dogras observed Pandits praying in the temples in unison.
This ‘seeing’ and these ‘observations’ proved fruitful for both the communities. They helped in creating a sort of rapport between the two cultures. Societies grow intellectually when they keep the windows open and let new ideas refresh and enrich them. Closed systems stagnate and pose dangers to growth. Civilizations prosper and flourish when they absorb new philosophies and attitudes.
Pandits are addicted to English newspapers, discuss politics and are loquacious. Their English accent is quite good but their Hindustani accent is tinged with local colouring. Dogras and Pandits had to face communication problems first. The illiterate Pandit women are not able to communicate freely. They use some Hindi words while talking and humourous situations are created. Many jokes have been invented and attributed to them. Dogras read Hindi newspapers. This interaction made Dogras read English newspapers. Some Pandits read Hindi newspapers now. Dogras are frank, open, out-spoken and simple-minded. Kashmiri Pandits are intelligent, highly educated and clever. Oppression and persecution have made them secretive. The two communities observe this when they talk to one another and learn.
Pandits are very conscious about the education of their children. The young boys and girls continued their studies unflinchingly even in tents and single rooms. They work for the multi-national companies in India and thousands are abroad. This attitude laid an indelible mark on the minds of the Dogras. Many Dogra youths are working in the private sector in the country and many others are abroad.
With the passage of time some Pandit women adopted some of the rituals of Dogras. They began worshipping tulsi, observing karwa chouth fast and participating in jagrata, satsangs and other festivals. On the marriages they also gift money in envelopes to the hosts. This trait was unknown to the Pandits in Kashmir. In Kashmir Pandits used to eat while sitting on floors. They would even spread bedding on the floors and sleep. Pandits wore pherans during winters and used the kangri. In winters kangris and pherans are sold even in Jammu and some locals are seen using kangris. Kashmiri Pandit men, women and children dance to the Punjabi songs played on DJs. North Indian dishes are served to the guests on marriages. Dogras serve dum aalo, nadru and haakh to the baraatis on marriages. In homes they offer kehwa also to the guests. Pandits offer three kinds of tea to whosoever comes to their place. They are kehwa, sheer chai (salt tea) and what they call ‘lipton tea’. Pandits arrange cocktail parties— a practice unknown in Kashmir. Drinking in Dogras has decreased but, ironically, it has increased in Pandits. Many Kashmiris speak Dogri. Similarly Dogras have picked several Kashmiri words and use them while talking to Kashmiris. The business of the Dogras flourished because of the presence of lakhs of Pandits in Jammu.
Dogri and Kashmiri Pandit writers, singers, actors and artists interact with one another. In the literary meetings they exchange ideas and indulge in healthy academic discussions. A new generation of cultural mix has emerged. Pandit actors act in the plays directed by Dogras. In the colleges and schools students sing Kashmiri songs. Art and photographic exhibitions are held in which both the communities participate. Balwant Thakur, the noted theatre personality of Jammu, has made up his mind to direct Band Paether—-the old street theatre of Kashmir. Ved Rahi, the famous Dogri writer and filmmaker, has written a novel Lal Ded in the Dogri language. It is about the great Kashmiri Pandit Shavaite mystic poet Lal Ded who lived in the fourteenth century and poured verses called vaakh. The novel has been translated into many languages. Many short stories and poems have been written in Dogri about the condition of the Pandit exiles. Translations have been produced. Many Pandit writers have written books in Hindi, Urdu, Kashmiri and English. Reviews on books written in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and Dogri are published. The literatures of both the languages have been enriched.
Dogras lay much stress on the education of their children now. There are excellent schools in Jammu. Pandit and Dogra teachers work in perfect harmony and co-operation. Both learn from one another. Excursions, picnics and tours are undertaken. They help the two communities in intellection evolution and growth. Prejudices have disappeared and mutual understanding has taken place. Kashmiri students also, apart from some elders, speak Dogri language and communicate with the locals. An indecent word invented by someone in the past about Dogras is no longer in use. Pandits do not coin nicknames now. This is the result of mutual understanding and cultural interchange.
Some Pandit men and women are running their own shops now. In order to survive many men and girls were seen working at the sales counters of business establishments owned by Dogras who trust them. Many Pandit girls and women are seen driving scooters and cars. In Kashmir they did not do so. The peace-loving nature of Pandits impressed the Dogras. Pandits have a sense of humour. They know how to laugh at themselves even under conditions that are hard and crude. The Dogras observed this characteristic of the Pandits with interest. They see them cracking jokes on one another. This sense of humour and wit has filtered into the minds of the Dogras. Pandits did not know how to behave in heat in the early years of migration. Many died due to snakebites, heat-strokes, sunstrokes and other ailments unknown in Kashmir. Some suicides and divorces have taken place. They learnt from the Dogras what to do in heat.
Pandits are health conscious and medicine-minded. They consult doctors especially specialists the moment they feel unwell and sick. They go for regular tests even when the doctors don’t tell them to do so. They do not believe in fanda, quacks and witchcraft. This influenced Dogras. In the hospitals and private nursing homes Pandit and Dogra doctors and medical practitioners work together, benefit from their experiences and exchange their opinions.
Pandits go on pilgrimages to Vaishno Devi and Shiv Khori, and visit many other temples and places of worship in the Jammu province. They are religious and ritualistic. They have constructed many temples and ashrams in Jammu with a view to preserve their culture and traditions. They founded journals and newspapers in which articles written by Dogras are published. Pandits contribute articles to the dailies owned by the Dogras and published from Jammu. Discussions on TV and radio are held where opinions on political and social issues are expressed freely. This free exchange of views has widened the mental horizon of Kashmiri Pandits and Dogras.
Kashmiri Pandits are politically conscious. They are interested in the affairs of the world. They remain in touch with the political and social happenings taking place in the whole world. This interest caught the attention of the Dogras. Pandits participate in political rallies, protests and agitations. They feel free to voice their grievances. They willingly participated in the Amarnath Land row and supported the Dogras at every step. The Dogras felt happy about it. Some Pandits fight the municipal and assembly elections in spite of their displacement. One woman is a municipal corporator.
The Pandits now no more sleep on the floors the way they used to when they were in Kashmir. They have very nicely picked up some aspects of the other culture. They live well in and are interested in the good things of life. Being resilient by nature they have adjusted themselves with the others comfortably. But the condition of many Pandits living in the camp away from others is pitiable. They play cards and indulge in gossip in order to pass time. They need help. Some social organizations do work for them but much needs to be done.
Some Pandits have formed singing groups and perform and entertain the guests during Mehandiraats on the marriage ceremonies. The hospitality of Pandits has won the hearts of the Dogras. Some marriages between Pandits and Dogras have taken place. These have also contributed towards cultural unification.
Publishing obituaries in newspapers and magazines was unknown to the Pandits in Kashmir but in Jammu and other parts of the country this, out of compulsion and necessity, became important for them. Dogras also do it now.
Pandits participate in the festivals like Holi, Dusshera, Diwali and Lodi freely with zest and enthusiasm. They distribute roth on their festival pun and puris and sweets on Diwali. Their marriages have become very ostentatious, disciplined and fascinating. Marriages are held in well-decorated grand marriage halls. Music is played at high pitch. Meal is served to the guests at the appointed time. Hospitality is taken care of.
The present scenario is somewhat different from that of the past. The life style of the Pandits has undergone a drastic change. Globalization, privatization and liberalization have transformed their lives. They have accepted newness with open minds; they have given much liberally. This give-and-take of culture and its allied characteristics has enlarged their outlook. Hundreds of books have been written in exile. Young boys and young girls are exposed to a bigger world of commerce, educational opportunities, science and technology. Peace, mutual co-operation and love have brought about a change in attitudes. Elderly and old Pandits live in Jammu. The youths are scattered throughout the world. Their future is bright. They are hardworking and ambitious and are bent upon preserving their moorings, ethos and culture. Twenty-two years have made Pandits steel. Their inner strength and history have enabled them to face the winds of change gracefully without falling into the ditch of corruption. Their fall has taught them to rise gracefully and metamorphose their lives. The future generations will be proud of the Pandits of the present who faced acute misery, psychological torment and suffering for many years in exile but rose to the occasion and made tremendous sacrifices with a view to live and learn and act according to their hearts’ desires. They will not forget the constructive role played by the Dogras of Jammu at a time when a community was on the brink of extinction.
(This write-up, which appears in the book From Home to House (Writings of Kashmiri Pandits in exile) published by HarperCollins Publisher India, is printed with the permission of the publisher).
The author heads the Department of English in the S S Post-Graduate College, Shahjahanpur, UP. He is a poet, critic, editor and researcher. He edits the e-journal Creative Saplings.
Shaleen Kumar Singh