Friday, May 29, 2015

A museum and a mystic revive Sopore

Once described as the “chhota” (little) London for its prosperity, Sopore — encased by apple orchards — was virtually destroyed during the last two decades. Today, this town is regaining its spirit and one of the most remarkable features is the Meraas Mahal Museum, which captures Kashmir’s heritage and tradition.
The museum is the story of the indomitable audacity of one person. The first woman Director of Libraries in Kashmir, Atiqa Bano, established it over a decade ago, but it is only in the last of couple of years that it has become well-known. The museum describes itself as the “Centre for Preservation of Our Glorious Heritage”, and has an impressive collection of ornaments, papier mache, dresses, coins, manuscripts and paintings and traditional utensils.
As we sit with Atiqa ji in the nearby College of Education that she runs, her steely spirit is evident as she recounts the challenges she faced during the years of violent conflict, even as she serves us ‘sheekh kebabs’ and ‘noon chai’ (salted Kashmiri tea).
The traditional dresses are breathtaking. Both Pandit and Muslim Pherans, along with the accessories, are well preserved. What is evident is, however, that one woman’s extraordinary effort requires support and help, including perhaps the services of a professional curator.
She credits her “success” to the blessings of Ahad Sahib, the mystical saint of Sopore who passed away in 2010. While alive, there was no contemporary Sufi saint in Kashmir who invited such a large following across religions, and whose powerful gaze was often compared by his Hindu followers to the luminosity of Ramana Maharishi’s eyes. Today, Ahad Sahib’s former home includes a shrine where hundreds of devotees are seen every day.

Sopore is believed to have been named after Suyya, Kashmir’s cleverest engineer, who devised a novel way of dredging to prevent floods in the valley. Today, with the blessings of Ahad Sahib and the courage of persons like Atiqa Bano, Sopore may once again show the way.

(Source: The Hindu, 29 May 2015)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Blue is the colour of hope in Kashmir

If the colour of the holy spring at Kheer Bhawani at Tul Mul village in Kashmir’s Ganderbal district is good evidence, Kashmir may be on the cusp of a new beginning.
As thousands of devotees gathered at the annual mela of Kheer Bhawani, Kashmir’s largest Hindu festival (a gazetted holiday in the valley), the gentle interdependence and mutual respect that Pandits and Muslims have enjoyed for centuries was also on display.
The Pandits’ principal deities have mostly natural forms. Sharika is the holy hill at Hari Parbat adjoining the great fort that Akbar built, while Ragya is the spring at Tul Mul. And on Tuesday — under the bed of rose petals showered by the pilgrims — the water was a gentle aquamarine blue: the colour of hope and with the promise of a better future. My mother remembers the spring as dark purplish and then almost black in the troubled Nineties.
Yearning for reconciliation intense in Kashmir
As thousands of Pandits and other devotees prayed at the holy spring at Kheer Bhawani at Tul Mul village in Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, there were Muslims too.
All the shops that sell the puja samagri — including the kands (sugar lumps), diyas, and agarbati — are run by Muslims. There were a range of stalls and service centres to help the devotees and provide free kehwa, luchi (a flat Kashmiri deep fried roti) and even lunch.
But perhaps the most striking was one run by Sameer Kaul and Suhail Ahmed. A Pandit and a Muslim, one teaching Computer Science and the other Management, both teachers of the Islamia College of Commerce, have been serving the “community” for more than the last decade. Their bond was one of a shared past that could lead to a new future.
I asked an elderly Muslim gentleman from downtown Srinagar why he was there. He said that he had been coming to Tul Mul for 40 years and added, with the proverbial Kashmiri sarcasm: Azkal cha Gaunah?” (Why, have they made it crime?).
Strictly vegetarian deity
Ragya is one of the few Pandit deities who is strictly vegetarian and who will not forgive those who enter her portals after a non-vegetarian meal.
In contrast, the prasad at Sharika is yellow rice with hot mutton liver curry and the priest even offers a sheep’s lungs to kites on the hill. But in deference to Ragya, every Muslim I met said that he would never enter the shrine’s compound after eating mutton, fish or fowl nor would anyone from the neighbourhood.

It was evident from the gathering at Kheer Bhawani that the yearning for reconciliation is intense on both sides and this year could be a game changer. Perhaps that is what the colour at the holy spring was telling us.
(Source: The Hindu, 27 May 2015)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Interview: No magic mantra for Kashmiri Pandits to return — but their return reflects peace

In an interview with The Times of India, Professor Mattoo discussed the proposed return of Kashmiri Pandits, realistic steps forward, several levels of reconciliation required — and why it is in PM Modi’s interest to end draconian laws in the region:


How would you assess the proposed Pandit rehabilitation?
Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has gone through turmoil in the last 25 years and a certain state of instability since Independence. You now have perhaps — once the militancy’s ebbed — an attempt to create a climate for reconciliation which, in the case of J&K, means not just one but multiple processes.
You need reconciliation between Kashmiri Muslims and Delhi. For decades, Kashmiris have felt deeply alienated from the Centre’s policies. In the Valley, you need reconciliation between Pandits and Muslims. Everyone recognises they were faithful to a syncretic culture for centuries — but the gulf between them has widened.
Then, within the state, you need multiple reconciliations between the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh and within these regions, there are sub-regions.
Finally, there has to be reconciliation between two parts of Kashmir across the LoC. And, in a grand kind of reconciliation, we need to build foundations of India-Pakistan peace.

How can this be achieved realistically?
There is no magic mantra, no quick fix. No one has a solution that can be mechanically adopted. I think to believe, or create a mechanical construct of the perfect way for Pandits to return, is unreal — you require a dialogue between Pandits and Muslims at civil society level, so that you can arrive at an understanding. Then, state government and Delhi can facilitate whatever is arrived at.
I think no one has spoken to Pandits directly or to civil society in the Valley. Rather than impose solutions, you need consensus in an organic way — that would be a way of ensuring durable, sustainable return of Pandits with dignity.
The return would be one important marker of peace.

The PDP-BJP government appears confused over the issue — your view?
The government has been in office for just two months. The very attempt to form the government was an attempt at reconciliation.
PDP and BJP represent, in some ways, two extremes — to form a government with these extremes and arrive at a common agenda is also the basis of trying to address divergent aspirations.
You have to take a strategic long-term view.
Unfortunately, given that you have the glare of the media on every single move, whether tactical or incremental change, it is all put under a microscope.

Meanwhile, critics still point to draconian laws in the region.
Well, you need to address a genuine sense of insecurity in the Valley.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has demonstrated he no longer wants to be just leader of a section of people but be seen as an international statesman — he wants to rise above partisan politics.
The greatest hallmark of his success would be durable peace in Kashmir.
One of the markers of it would also be withdrawal of all other extra legislations.

(Source: The Times of India , 25 May 2015)