Table of Contents
   About the Author
   Part I: Growing Up
   Part II: Householder
   Part III: More Travels
   Part IV: Reflections
   Family Pictures
   Comments from Critics
   Download Book

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Part I - Growing Up

I have nothing at all,
and endless is my wealth.
--- Shankara

I came straight
and straight I shall return.
Who can bend me
out of my shape?
--- Lalla

In my beginning is my end.
--- T.S. Eliot

Section 1

The allure and beauty of Kashmir is a mixed blessing, bringing our land considerable fame but also adventurers and pillagers. Over centuries, people learnt to cope with the plunder of the nomad from the north and the west. Then there were the cycles of flood and famine. Inspired perhaps by this terrible beauty, Kashmir became a great centre of philosophy, literature, painting, dance and the other arts. While it was often the first to suffer the devastation by the conquerors who cherished the riches of India; it was also the springboard for the missionaries and scholars who set out to spread Sanskritic culture and learning to Central Asia, Tibet and China. Mahayana Buddhism went north and east from here. For about fifteen hundred years until around 1200, Kashmir was one of the great centres of learning in the world. The period of the most brilliant flowering of Kashmiri culture was during the time of Abhinavagupta, the philosopher and critic, who lived about nine hundred years ago. This was also the period when Shaiva philosophy of Kashmir attained its zenith.

But this was also a period of great political turmoil. Kashmir got caught in the vortex of forces let loose by the Mongolian empire of Changez Khan and his successors. Powerful feudal lords, displaced from their principalities in Central Asia, took refuge in Kashmir. The Kashmiri political system was not mature enough to deal with these forces.

At the height of its glory, Kashmiri culture suffered violent political defeat. The centuries that followed were full of tribulations. The Turks and the Persians who became the new political masters had no sympathy for the old Kashmiri heritage. The subtle insights of the philosophers and sages were preserved for the common man in the mystical poetry of Lalla and her successors. For my ancestors the struggle was just to preserve the old; there was no time to build afresh. It was in one such family that I was born in Srinagar in October 1917.

My grandmother died of cholera when I was about a year old. My mother (Siddhalakshmi) was informed of her mother's death in Pulwama by her brother Madhav. Reports of the hundreds of deaths in the epidemic were pouring in. I had just starting crawling. Mother was torn between her duty to attend the thirteenth day funeral ceremony and protection of her children. Ultimately, at the persistence of Madhav, she decided to accompany him taking me with her. She asked Lalaji (my father) to bring with him various articles required for the ceremony.

Lalaji left for Pulwama early in the morning of the thirteenth day. Half way down to the village he saw a rider on horseback galloping toward him. On being asked why he was in such a hurry so early in the morning, the rider informed him that he was speeding to Srinagar to inform Pandit Suraj Kak (Lalaji) that his wife was dead and was to be cremated that day.

This was a great blow to my father. After the funeral my father carried me back home and handed me over to Didda (Taravati), the wife of his younger brother Bayaji (Kishan Lal).

Six months earlier, Didda had lost her only son to measles at Khir Bhavani, the famed temple north of Srinagar. To console her in her grief, my mother asked her to consider me as her son and now it had come true. Didda loved me very much. Next summer, in 1919, my uncle Bayaji took Didda and me to Abbotabad, the Cantonment town sixty miles from Rawalpindi, where he then worked for the Gorkha Rifles.


Section 2

In Abbotabad, my health was bad, and I cried constantly. Even though my aunt had dry breasts I would suckle them. Was it because my mother died before I had been weaned? Although my digestion was weak, I would go to the cereal hawker to get toasted grams or corn. In the evenings, Bayaji would take me out to the Parade ground. As time passed, I started improving in my general health and behaviour. After about two years in Abbotabad, a telegram arrived informing us of the death of my other grandmother who was nearly a hundred years old.

Doing twenty to thirty miles a day, our earlier journey to Abbotabad had taken us six days by tonga. There was no motor traffic. By the time we returned, solid rubber tyred motor vehicles had started plying between Rawalpindi and Srinagar and the journey took only two days. We went to Rawalpindi by the night train and in the morning boarded a bus. We stayed at Domel for the night and reached Srinagar next day in the evening.

Bayaji was there till the thirteenth day ceremony and then returned to his job while we stayed back to observe one year of mourning. At Abbotabad, Bayaji developed acute tertiary malaria. Despite treatment in the army hospital, he did not get well. He became very weak and despondent and resigned from the service. On his return to Srinagar he consulted with more doctors but to no avail. Ultimately he was persuaded to see a pandit in Ailakadal who invoked some mantras and astonishingly during the next fifty years of his life, many of which were spent in the plains, he never again suffered from fever.

But the return to Kashmir meant that Bayaji was without a job. On occasion he would tutor a boy. Later Gopi Nath Dhar, a neighbour, who was an accounts officer in the Electricity Department in Jammu, hired him as a typist clerk on daily wages. Due to the temporary nature of the job, Bayaji did not take Didda with him to Jammu. Now that she was by herself in Srinagar, she spent a lot of time with her brothers at Habbakadal, and she was happy doing so. She would sometimes take me with her, and I enjoyed being with her relatives.

My grandfather, Thakur Kak, and his wife Ranim Dyed had four sons and a daughter. My father and his other two younger brothers, Madhavlal and Chandulal, lived in the same house as a joint family. Lalaji and Madhavlal worked for the police, while Chandulal worked at the post office. The police work required long stints away from town, and the household was in reality run by Chandamal, Chandulal's wife. She and her husband prevailed upon Lalaji to let her have a separate kitchen. This was unusual since Lalaji had raised his brothers, educated them, and arranged their marriages. After my mother's death, Chandamal became the matriarch of the joint household. The joint family was quite poor and appearances were very important. On the rare occasions that Lalaji was at home we got decent food.

Not having a mother is a great handicap in a joint family. Normally only Chanamal's children got milk to drink. This in itself was not the end of the world for me, but there was no way to keep the milk from the cats, and when this would happen Chandamal would complain to her husband that I had drunk it. Chandulal would then rain blows on me with his hooked stick, which would cause my nose to bleed. I nursed the weals on my body for days.

Thus I grew up, and one day I was admitted into school. My elder brother was in the fifth grade in the same school then, and so we would walk to school together. We were taught both Urdu and Hindi scripts. In the Urdu script somehow I could not remember the letter {\em pey} and this got me several beatings from my uncle. Chandulal asked me why I could not say {\em pey}, which in Kashmiri means "fall", and since then the letter has remained stuck in my mind. Next year my brother Sarakak moved to a middle school which was across the Tsunth Kol (Apple River), the river that flowed by our house.


Section 3

Lalaji's job in the police kept him out of town most of the time. This was particularly so after Mother's death. Conditions of neglect were so acute that I got infested with mites in the eyelashes. Bhadri (my maternal cousin because of the de-facto adoption) used to demite me with needle and nail.

Our joint family was not being managed very well. Taking advantage of Lalaji's long absences, Chandulal became very autocratic. Bayaji would send money for our clothes and upkeep but Chandulal made no mention of it to anybody.

My eldest brother Babuji (Dina Nath), who had a scholarship, spent most of his time in his room, studying. My cries on being beaten did not put courage into him to come to my aid.

Lalaji was very unhappy with the conditions at home, so he started pressing Babuji to get married, hoping that his wife would take charge of the household. Soon Babuji was married to Indrani (Bibiji). Lalaji built a double storied house, facing the river, for the new couple, at the back of the old house.

We Kashmiris had a custom that a bride would not enter her husband's room unless asked. Many nights, Bibiji ended up sleeping with Chandamal who was then suffering from dry itch. Chandamal's constant scratching would make it impossible for Bibiji to sleep. Somehow this arrangement suited my brother since he did not want his marriage to distract him from his studies.

I was in the second grade and it was autumn. A neighbour came to the school and told the teacher that I was wanted at home. Maybe he told the true reason of the death of my father to the teacher, but all I was told by the teacher was to run home as I had to go somewhere. But from the urgency in the teacher's voice I guessed that something bad had happened.

Lalaji had rejoined his police duties. About six months after the wedding of Babuji, Lalaji was called to investigate a case. An English tourist had been mugged at Ganderbal and the thieves were presumed to belong to the Bakarwal tribe who spend summers in the high mountains. Lalaji was now off tracking the alleged culprits in the high altitudes. On the ninth day after his departure his dead body was brought back. We never found out whether he died of natural cause or was killed.


Section 4

On being told that everybody at home was off, I ran home, whimpering all the way. Entering the lane that led to our house, I found people assembled on the ground floor, and the compound being cleansed and plastered with fresh mud to purify the house. Nobody spoke to me so I ran up to the second floor where I found women wailing and somebody under cover stretched out on the bed opposite the door. I could not understand what the hubbub was all about. Presently our uncle Niranjan Nath Kaul arrived. I attached myself to him. He went and removed the sheet from the face and opened the eyelids. I saw a pair of glassy eyes. Water was poured in the mouth, whereupon red liquid trickled out. The body was quite stiff. I did not understand the significance of all this. This was the first death witnessed by me. I did not cry, even though everyone around me was crying.

A little later Zinda Bayu, the family priest, arrived in the compound wailing loudly. On the step outside the threshold he collapsed on the ground and started striking his head against the stone wall. He was wailing that he had lost his Battabab, the father who sustains. I stood and watched without emotion. I had seen so little of my father that his passing away did not affect me at that time of my life.

Babuji was at college and he reached home somewhat later. Meanwhile, our uncle Chandulal decided to perform the last rites. Babuji was in time for the rites, but Chandulal told him it was best done this way since his studies would preclude him from performing other related rites during the mourning period of one year. This had important repercussions later when Chandulal filed a legal claim on a part of Lalaji's estate. He claimed that his performance of the funeral rites was proof that he was Lalaji's adopted son.

Dark day---
the birds going to roost
the lotus petal closing
the night-flowering jasmine's opening
the sun has set.
--- Valmiki


Section 5

After his graduation, Babuji joined the Government College at Lahore, the capital of Punjab. He had stood first in his examination and had been awarded scholarships by the state as well as the college. So his education did not tax the resources of the household. On occasion, in winter, he sent money home for warm clothing for our middle brother Sarakak and me. But Chandulal often found other use for such money.

Although as a child I took things for granted, the beauty of Srinagar, the city of seven bridges and three lakes, was plain to see. Our house in Sathu was barely a mile away from the lock that drains the Dal Lake into the Tsunth Kol that flows into the Vitasta (Jhelum, Veth in Kashmiri) river. Sathu, from the Sanskrit Setu meaning an embankment, goes all the way from the bottom of the Shankaracharya hill to the high bank of Vitasta near Habbakadal, the second bridge. Our house was somewhat closer to Dalgate than to Habbakadal. This meant that we were not very far from the one thousand feet high Shankaracharya hill with the Shiva temple atop.

On the temple bell
perching, sleeps
the butterfly, oh!
--- Buson

The great Mughal gardens of Cheshmashahi, Nishat, and Shalimar were not very far by shikaras from the lock at Dalgate. The terraces of these gardens and the water fountains amidst the pools were a delight to behold. In spring, the gardens, with their fountains and flowers in all colours and sizes, were like a symphony heralding rebirth and rejuvenation. This is where the joint family came for picnics on some Sundays. For such trips a doonga, a light and low traditional Kashmiri houseboat, was rented. We would set out early in the morning and also visit Sona Lanka and Rup Lanka, the two artificial islands in the middle of the lake. Beyond Shalimar lay another beautiful garden of Harwan, once the abode of the great Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna. Here was the reservoir for the water supply to Srinagar and also tanks for trout breeding.

In spring, the gardens, with their fountains and flowers in all colours and sizes, were like a symphony heralding rebirth and rejuvenation.

Just before Nishat was the village of Ishbar, with its site of the goddess Durga-Sureshwari high on a 3000 feet high rock. Here lay the famed springs of Shatadhara and Guptaganga. More recently, Ishbar became known as the site of the ashram of the great Shaivite philosopher Swami Lakshaman Joo.

Beyond the side opposite the Dal Lake was the Hari (from Shari, the mynah bird) Parbat hill and its fort. This is the pilgrimage site of Durga as Sharika (or Shari) goddess. The story goes that Durga, in the guise of the Sharika bird, placed this hill here and closed one of the gates of hell. The wall around the hill was built by the Mughal emperor Akbar.

The city's seven bridges across the river had endured for at least five hundred years. Each bridge had its own unique story and a ride in a boat down the river was always enjoyable. In summer it was common to see boys jump off the railings of the bridges into the river.

Several areas of the town could be reached by the intricate waterways and canals connected to the Dal Lake. Waterways also connected to the Nagin and the Anchar lakes to the west of Dal. And then the city itself had several delightful parks, temples, and mosques. Down the river at Shadipur, the junction of Vitasta and the Sindh rivers, was a delightful park.

Fourteen miles from Srinagar, up the Sindh river, is the town of Ganderbal. A few miles from there is the temple of Khir Bhavani in a village called Tulamula. The spring at Tulamula is sacred to Maharajni, a form of Durga. The water of the spring is believed to change in colour from time to time, foretelling important events. This temple was the site of a popular pilgrimage and festival, as it is even now.

Three miles to the southeast lay the ruins of Pandrethen, the old capital town founded by the emperor Ashoka. Here, on the terraced slopes rising above the river, can be found remains of many old buildings. This was another charming place to visit.

A celebration that all children looked forward to was the arrival of the Maharaja at the end of April into Srinagar, his summer capital. Barges, boats, and shikaras, all gaily decorated, made their way through the river to the cheers of the spectators on the banks. There were exciting boat races.

We spoke Kashmiri at home, but at school the instruction was in Hindustani. We sang the vakh of Lalla, the lilas (bhakti poems) of Parmanand and Krishna Razdan, and the lol lyrics of Habba Khatun.

When I was in the third grade, Bayaji took his family, that included a daughter Kamala born before Babuji's wedding, and me to Jammu. Those days it took three days to complete the 177 miles to Jammu. The bus engines would overheat on the steep inclines of the mountain roads, and so the government had provided water tanks every ten to fifteen miles on the road. The pneumatic tyre was not fully developed and blowouts were a common occurrence. The driver and his assistant, called the cleaner, would repair the flats as they occurred, and this is why the progress was so slow. We spent the first night at Banihal after crossing the 9200 feet pass and having done just fifty miles. In the morning, as we were to board the bus we saw Babuji, who was on his way to Srinagar from Lahore. He took me to a halwai where I ordered a pound of hot milk with a thick layer of cream. It tasted delicious especially since I had not had milk in Srinagar for a long time. Soon we boarded our respective buses.

Ten miles beyond Banihal the winding road took particularly sharp turns. On the left were the rocky cliffs and on the right was the deep ravine. I started feeling nauseous. I could feel the cream at my throat, and soon I threw up everything. The journey then became a nightmare. The memory of that cream stayed with me for years and every year I would throw up on this route. Finally, I was cured of it after I had a severe attack of typhoid in my fifteenth year.

The evening of the third day we reached Ramnagar where Bayaji was waiting for us on the roadside. He joined us on the bus for the remainder of the ride. We got off at the busstop in Jammu and he took us home. The same week I was enrolled in the local primary school known as the Pakki Dakki Government School. My Hindi teacher was a toothless old local whose accent was difficult to understand. The school stressed Urdu, which was then the court language. One day in summer on the way to school, I was confronted by a big monkey. I did not know how to react and panicked, and he bit me on the knee. I was carrying a rock in my hand and I instinctively aimed it into his open mouth whereupon he ran away. My knee wound took quite some time to heal.

My life was carefree but in summer I would often get epistaxis. The heat would dry up my nasal passages and any itching would set off bleeding. This was alleviated by applying butterfat or oil into the nostrils.

Next year, Chandulal held the yagyopavit (mekhala) ceremony for the boys in the joint family. It was a very elaborate ceremony, requiring months of preparation, marking the beginning of formal education for boys. My happy days came to an end when I was sent back to Srinagar for this ceremony. Back in the lion's den, I was admitted to a primary school in Sathu.

The school had a tradition that every Hindu boy contributed two annas for tea and kulchas for their Hindu teachers; the Muslim boys did likewise for the Muslim teachers. In addition, boys bought tea, milk, and coals, rubbed the samovar clean, made tea and served it. I was the only boy who did not contribute because I could not bring myself to ask Chandulal for it, knowing well that instead of money I will get blows.

The wedding of Radha Krishan Mirza, a close friend of Babuji, was approaching. He was also a relative as his sister was married to Dr Zutshi, whose first wife was our sister who died in childbirth. Those days it was believed that the deceased wife had somehow left her trace in the new wife and so we treated Mrs Zutshi as if she was our real sister. Because of this the Mirza and Kak families were very close. The Mirzas wanted Indrani to spend a few days at their home. They sent a servant with the invitation. Chandamal, Indrani, Sarakak, and I were at home. Indrani was keen to go, but Chandamal would not give a clear answer. Finally, the servant left, but then Chandamal asked me to call him back. She told the servant now that Indrani could go. That evening when Chandulal found that Indrani had left, he asked if she had taken permission to do so. Chandamal now lied that she had left on her own. The rest of us were too scared to tell the truth. Now Indrani was not invited back. Relatives were told that as she had left without asking she should return when she pleased.

Indrani could not stay with the Mirzas beyond a week, and so after that she went to her father's house which was across the river. This was a great shock to the young lady. Ultimately her father swallowed his pride and sent her back to us. The day she came back she was pretty much ignored and left to herself; later she was treated as badly as in the past.

Meanwhile Babuji completed his M.A. and secured a First Class First in the University which earned him a gold medal. He applied for a teaching position in the Kashmir State. The Maharaja of Kashmir returned his application with the following note: "I am happy to see my subjects doing so good in academics and although I would have liked to appoint you in the College, there are no openings now and you must wait for some more time." Babuji did not want to waste his time waiting for a position to open up; he took up a teaching job in a Khalsa College in Punjab. Meanwhile a position of lecturer was advertised by the Government of Kapurthala. Babuji applied for it. The Maharaja of Kapurthala was impressed by his record. Babuji was called for an interview and appointed a lecturer in Randhir College in the year 1927/1928.


Section 6

Babuji, Bibiji and I left for Kapurthala. Unlike my last trip, the vehicular traffic now moved faster, and it took us only two days to reach Jammu. We went straight to the railway station. It was late evening and the railway cars were being shunted. I had never seen a train or a brightly lit train station and I mistook the sight for a shopping complex. I was wide eyed with curiosity and asked Babuji, "Tell me, tell me, how do these shops move?" He told me to wait and see. Before entering the station we ran into one of Babuji's classmates at Srinagar. He insisted that we stay with him for the night. At his home we played indoor games late into the night and had a good meal. We spent the next day also with him. I was shown the railway carriages to satisfy my curiosity about moving shops. Later we boarded our train, changing at Wazirabad on our way to Jalandhar. We got off the train a few stations before Jalandhar at Kartarpur and took a tonga to Kapurthala. We roomed at a Dharmashala for a couple of days before a house was rented. This was a double storey house that belonged to a local doctor.

After a week's rest and acclimatization, I joined the Ghantaghar primary school in the fourth grade. In Kashmir, I had done both Hindi and Urdu, but in Kapurthala I had to choose between the two. Urdu was the court language so it was given more importance. Nobody, including the old man who taught it, was particularly interested in Hindi. Urdu students, unlike their Hindi counterparts, were required to write on wooden slates two or three times a day. Babuji asked me what script I wanted to choose. To escape the tedium of writing on the wooden slates, I expressed a preference for Hindi. In the beginning my pronunciation of certain words was quite sloppy and the class and the teachers would make fun of me, but by the year's end I was one of the best in the language class.

At home, our kitchen was out in the compound under a shelter without a door. Adjacent to it was a bedroom where Bibiji and I slept. This room led to another room which served as the kitchen store as well as the place for the servant to sleep. Babuji was preparing for his M.A. in English literature from Calcutta University and therefore he used a room on the upper floor to study and sleep. A large room on the ground floor that opened on the street served as drawing room as well as guest room.

Here is the story of how we lost our first servant, Mahanand, a big hulk of a man from Garhwal. Bibiji was suspicious the way the kneaded flour used to disappear from the pan. She decided to watch him. It was customary to eat by turn so that everyone could have hot chapaties of which each got four. One day, after I finished my meal, Bibiji noticed that the dough had diminished by half. Bibiji was sure that Mahanand had made more chapaties and hidden them. So, while Mahanand was still in the kitchen, I went to his room and after a search found eight thick chapaties under his pillow. We removed the chapaties without telling him. As was his custom, Mahanand carried a thali with chapaties, vegetables, and dal to his room for his meal after everyone else had eaten. On discovering that his chapaties had disappeared he began to sulk. After Babuji left for work we showed him the chapaties and reproached him for his behaviour. He said nothing, went to bed and refused to leave his room. In the evening Babuji asked him to forget the whole matter and get back to work. He remained silent, and continued like this for two days without food and water. The third day Babuji told him that if he did not want to work he should leave. Then Mahanand left us.

Punjab is very cold in December and January and occasionally water freezes in shallow open spaces. In winter, we warmed our beds with a Kashmiri kangri, an earthen pot with red hot coals and a wickerwork jacket. One day, Bibiji was fasting until sundown and I well remember the feast that followed. At ten Babuji went up to his room and Bibiji and I retired to our room. Bibiji asked me to make some live coals for the kangri. She warmed her bed with the kangri and then passed it to me. As the bed got warm I fell asleep with the kangri in the bed. Sometime during the night, when I turned in the bed, the kangri spilled live coals on the sheets. The linen caught fire and smoke filled the room. Bibiji woke up and yelled. This awakened me and as I sat up something hot touched my leg. Alarmed, I pushed away from the bed with such force that it broke one of the legs of the charpai. Fortunately, I was unhurt. Bibiji ran up to Babuji for help. Annoyed, he said that we should pour water on the linen to douse the fire and if there was no water then urinate on it. So we spread out the mattress and the linen in the compound and poured water, that we had plenty of, on the smouldering mess which extinguished the fire. We had no spare charpai in the house so I had to share Bibiji's charpai. This continued till the carpenter built a new charpai for me.


Section 7

One evening, in our house on Shalimar Road, Bibiji surreptitiously cooked some hot potatoes for herself. This upset me. Next day, early in the morning, Babuji woke us up for the usual morning walk but I was still sulking and this piqued Babuji who had no inkling of the matter. I was sent back home. I chained the door from the inside and awaited their return. Shortly, the cool breeze in the morning lulled me to sleep and when they returned I was fast asleep. They knocked and banged at the door for a long time. Finally, they went up on the roof of the neighbour's house and threw a bucket of water on me, which awakened me. I was still in a bad mood, and so when I went down to open the door I kept on insisting that I had never fallen asleep. This irritated Babuji and he slapped me and turned me out of the door. My sourness continued and I sat on the street stairs thinking about my future. I thought of suicide by drowning in the river Baeen. My contemplation continued thus for about half an hour. And then I had a sudden flash of understanding that I was destined for something remarkable and cutting out that future would be a sacrilege. I went in, had my meal and left for school and by the evening everything was back to normal.

There is another interesting episode from this period. Babuji bought an expensive china tea set. Washing it was my responsibility as the servant could not be trusted to be careful enough with it. Babuji also told me that if I ever did anything wrong he would excuse me if I told the truth. One day while I was washing the tea kettle it slipped out of my hand and broke. This happened while Babuji was out.

That afternoon walk, I reminded Babuji about his advice and then told him about the broken tea kettle. His face showed clearly how upset he was, but he did not say anything to me. This way I saved myself from certain admonition. We did not get a replacement piece for the set, and had to make do with an ordinary tea kettle.


Section 8

Years passed. Two daughters, Hem and Asha, was born to Babuji and Bibiji. Babuji took his teaching responsibilities very seriously and life went on as before.

Babuji was a follower of Gandhiji. Gandhi was the most admired Indian leader, admired in part for the renunciation in his personal life. Babuji wished us to be strong like Gandhi and so my regimen was very hard. I was not given any pocket money and we were not allowed to eat anything in the bazaar. We had yoghurt and milk everyday but the children were not permitted to drink tea. During the early years rice and meat were not cooked in the house. I swept my room and washed my clothes; the linen was done by the washerman. I was encouraged to volunteer in the community activities in the town.

Babuji did not do any formal puja. Babuji would sing Sanskrit hymns in the morning. These hymns were set to beautiful ragas and soon I enjoyed this singing myself. The singing of these hymns deepened my knowledge of Sanskrit. The music of these ragas awakened higher aesthetic centres in my mind. My favourite hymn (Sanskrit stotra) began with this stanza:
na tato na mata na bandhur na data
na putro na putri na bhrityo na bharta
na jaya na vidya na vrittir mamaiva
gatistvam gatistvam tvameka bhavani

Father, mother, relatives, master
son, daughter, servant, master
none of these really belong to me
nor wife, or learning, or riches
Bhavani, only you move me!

This is an old hymn by the great philosopher Shankara. There were others of similar pedigree that touched the core of human aloneness and the power of ones awareness. The Sanskrit hymns emphasized the ephemeral nature of everyday experience and encouraged one to look within for answers to questions of life and meaning. The hymns valued the search for truth over everything else.

Before this my attitude to spiritual life was fashioned by Bayaji who was a deeply religious person, doing puja every morning for several hours. During my childhood I took delight in watching this puja and was moved by his devotion. The Shivaratri (Herath in Kashmiri) puja of the family lasted several days and this was a great celebratory experience.

A classmate named Om Prakash became my good friend. He had lost his father, and his mother Mayadevi was a teacher in the Government Girls School. Om Prakash would come to our house to study with me and I would walk him back home at nine thirty at night. One day on our way to his home we smoked a cigarette. I do not remember whether my friend brought that cigarette with him or whether we picked up a smoking stub from the street. We took turns at it as we walked. By the time I returned home the cigarette was not completely finished and I threw it away before I entered the room. Babuji happened to step out just then and he saw the smouldering stub in the street and no one who could have thrown it anywhere near. He said nothing to me, but next day I overheard him tell a colleague how he had found me smoking. I was so ashamed that I decided never to smoke. In later life I did try the taste of some Indian and imported cigarettes but I found them bitter and not worth the expense.

Sarakak, my other brother, had been studying at Srinagar all these years. During his first year at college (eleventh grade) he came down with pneumonia and could not pass his examination. Babuji now decided to bring him to Kapurthala. The two of us now shared a room, each sweeping half of it and washing our clothes. He completed his F.Sc. from Kapurthala and then he was sent to Banaras Hindu University for further studies (B.Sc. and M.Sc.) in chemistry.


Section 9

After passing my ninth grade examination, I felt feverish. I did not tell anyone and continued attending school and eating, although without appetite. Eventually I became so weak that I was confined to bed. The doctor said that I had typhoid. The treatment was a concoction that released chlorine into the intestines to control the infection. As a patient I was given barley water, light curd water, and orange juice. After being bed-ridden for twenty-one days my temperature came down to normal. While I was convalescing, I got this great urge to eat biscuits which my doctor had forbidden me. I persuaded Kamala to buy me a box from the bazaar. On the third day after I ate the biscuits, I had a relapse. Now I needed a bedpan to pass urine or stool. Bibiji did not like to handle the bedpan. So, if I used it when Babuji was away at college, the bedpan would remain in the bed until he returned and cleaned it. One day I fainted when Babuji was at home. My condition was so bad that it was presumed that I was dying. Babuji was crying, an emotion he had never shown. Dr Jain was called but I showed signs of coming back to life. It was said that I had a new lease of life that day.

In all, I was bed-ridden for four months. I lost all hair and thick patches of upper skin came off. My feet became very tender and this tenderness continued throughout my life. Even now I cannot walk barefoot; in thin-soled shoes any pebble on the road causes sharp pain to my feet. My muscles were so wasted that I had to learn again how to sit and later to stand up. It took me another month to be strong enough to move about in the room. Meanwhile, the summer break had already started and so I could not attend school for another three months. Dr Jain advised that I should not go through stress and it was best for me to skip the year. But our class teacher argued that I did not need to work very hard for the final examination and there was no need to miss a year. To make the minimum attendance required for the academic year, it was decided that I withdraw from the school and go to Srinagar school where the schools are open in summer. I attended school for two and a half months in Srinagar. I did no homework and was the butt of jokes in the class. However, I improved in general health.

In September, we returned to Kapurthala with the school leaving certificate and attendance sheets and I rejoined my old school. Considering my general condition, it was decided that I should memorize the propositions of geometry, arithmetic, and the first two chapters of algebra which were regarded as the difficult part of the coursework. In the examination I did well in the supposedly difficult material which surprised everybody. I was expected to barely obtain passing marks, but somehow I secured a very high second division.

I was advised to take Sanskrit, biology, philosophy, and English as subjects for my F.Sc. My schedule could not be worked out without conflicts since I was the only student who chose this combination. This choice was based on the expectation that I would go to Banaras for a degree in Ayurvedic medicine.

The conflict in my class schedule remained a problem and so eventually I switched to a full science coursework. I continued to be weak in algebra and trigonometry, two subjects I did not like at all. In chemistry I did very well.

The year was 1937 and we were in the midst of the worldwide depression. There were very few opportunities for professional jobs. After my F.Sc. final examinations we came across an advertisement in the Daily Tribune from the Jammu and Kashmir Government for applications for veterinary science colleges in Punjab, Bombay, and Madras. I had never heard of veterinary doctors, but I applied nevertheless for the course in Punjab and left for Srinagar expecting to be called for an interview. Here I found that the five scholarships reserved for the college had already been awarded. Meanwhile, Babuji also came to Srinagar for his summer vacation. Babuji was told that his friend Lt. Prem Nath Kak of the State Army Veterinary Corps was a friend of Col. Walker, the principal of the college and a letter from him would help in getting admission. Although we shared the same last name, Prem Nath Kak was not related to us. He was an extremely smart man with a promising future.

Lt. Kak gave me the letter for Col. Walker. I was also asked to carry a crate of fruit and tell Walker that it was a gift from him.

I reached Lahore a couple of days before the date for the interview. I went to Col. Walker and handed him the letter and the crate of apples. He read the letter, asked me about Lt. Kak and then returned the letter to me with the instruction that I should give it to him at the time of the interview.

I spent the night at the hostel. Next day, five to six hundred candidates presented themselves before the interviewing committee. When my turn came, the questions were at first irrelevant, but as soon as I presented the letter to Col. Walker, who was the chairman of the committee, the questions became relevant. Eventually eighty candidates, as against the announced opening of fifty, were selected. That was the biggest class in the history of the college. The college had hitherto been residential, but now many students who were from the city of Lahore were taken in as day scholars.

In the hostel, I shared a room, normally meant for three, with another Kashmiri named Jia Lal Pandita and two senior students. These senior students were from Punjab and Rajasthan, and they had a lot of spending money. The Rajasthani was so used to luxury that he would order to be shaved by the barber, lying in bed. On occasion, these two got drunk. Soon Jia Lal became their drinking companion but I refused to join. But I was scared of them, because I naively thought that a drunk person could, upon such a refusal, strike with the liquor bottle. Meanwhile I got to know the hostel warden. I asked him for a change of room, without telling him the reason. Fortunately, one Sikh boy, who had been nominated by the Kashmir Government, dropped out of the college vacating a place on the ground floor. The warden moved me to this room. Except for the new courses on anatomy and physiology, the other subjects were a rerun of the courses I had done in F.Sc.

Babuji decided that I should spend my winter holidays with Prem Nath Kak's family. On return to college, I was asked to carry a spaniel pup for the daughters of Professor Bhatia, our warden. They were five sisters and they had no brother. I remember the names of the eldest two, Kamini and Sarojini, who were studying in a convent school. Mrs. Bhatia was very motherly and she would show her concern whenever I was unwell.

The tradition at the college was to work hard just one or two months before the examinations. In my second year a man from Haryana joined me for shared study. Due to my friendship with the warden, I was the only student allowed to study on the topmost roof in summer when that was the coolest place in the building. At ten the Haryanvi would say: "Kak Sahib, let me sleep till midnight; I would join you after the midnight tea." At midnight, the bearer would bring us strong tea. I would awaken my friend. He would drink his tea, open a book to give me company, but within five minutes he would doze off. I worked until four in the morning, rested for two hours, took a bath and attended the college hospital at seven. At noon I ate my lunch and left with a spread and pillow for the college, which was then closed, and studied in the cool of the corridors till four. I had a nap after this, and later played some, had dinner and on to the night schedule. The nightly tea affected my nerves so much that, after the examination, I began to suffer from insomnia. Eventually I gave up all drinks with stimulants.

I obtained honours for my performance in the second year and thus qualified for a cubicle in the hostel. In my third year at College, Jeevan Rishi and his wife came to live in Krishna Nagar. Jeevan Rishi had lived with us at Kapurthala. He was from a village in Punjab and Babuji had taken him in as a son. I was invited by Jeevan Rishi to share his residence. I ought not to have agreed but I did. The atmosphere in the house was not congenial to my style of study and the result was that I got a compartment in materia medica which ruined my summer vacations.

I moved back to the hostel in my final year. I cleared the compartmental examination in September before the opening of the college. During my college years, I purchased only one book on anatomy, physiology, and materia medica. My studying was based entirely on the notes dictated by the professors. This continued in the final year. I was embarrassed asking Babuji for money for books. After the first year, I got a scholarship of twenty rupees and I also got twenty rupees from Babuji for my hostel rent for three months. I asked for this money only after receiving a notice from the college authorities. I believe that unavailability of books was a factor in my examination debacle. I never purchased nor could borrow a book on meat and milk inspection, which was supposed to be a subject of no consequence. The result was that I did not pass this course in the annual examination. I received another compartment and had to clear the subject in the biannual. Consequently, my appointment in the Kashmir service was delayed by three months. As soon as my result was out, I left for Srinagar without waiting for the graduation certificate. This small decision had an important bearing on my fortunes later on.


Section 10

I boarded a train in Lahore and I reached Jammu in the morning of September 11, 1941. I planned to stay with a family friend in Jammu for a couple of days. I had only ten rupees with me, barely enough for the trip back to Srinagar. Strolling in Raghunath Bazaar, I met a Kashmiri acquaintance, who was then a superintendent in the home department. When I explained what I was doing in Jammu, he offered to take me to Srinagar by station wagon that very day for ten rupees. I gathered my bags and boarded the station wagon at the bus stand at one in the afternoon. We were in Srinagar at seven that evening. I had no money for the tonga ride, but I hired one anyway, and reaching home I got a rupee from Didda for the fare. My arrival was unexpected as my telegram had not reached them. Babuji was there too. Everybody was happy to hear my examination results, but they were a bit upset that I had arrived without a paisa in my pocket. The road was not tarred then and one needed to carry extra money for emergencies, such as strandings due to vehicle breakdowns. They were also unhappy that I had not brought the graduation certificate with me.

The next day, I went to the veterinary department office, whose superintendent for the State was Vid Lal Wazir. I handed him my application. The office sought and received a telegraphic confirmation of my result from the Lahore college. But the department did not issue an appointment order even though other appointments were being made. I got to know the reason later: The brother of the head clerk at the office had been sent to Bombay for training and to ensure that I did not become senior in service to him, I was asked to report back with him and another trainee later. So we presented ourselves before Wazir in November 1941. He told us that during our practical training of two months we will work without remuneration. The other two men, who were actually from well-to-do zemindar families, expressed their financial insolvency and asked for some consideration. When it was my turn to speak, I protested that new hires three months ago had been paid. Wazir, who had a very pink face, became livid with rage and he asked us to get out. But as we were leaving the building, a peon came running asking us to wait for the orders that were being written up.

My order came in due course and I was asked to report to the veterinary inspector of Kashmir in Srinagar. I was attached to the veterinary surgeon at the hospital for one month's practical training. Sarakak, my brother, was then posted at the government leather tannery at Shalteng just south of the city, where he was renting a house. This place was about seven miles from my place of work. Babuji had given his old bicycle to Sarakak, and this I rode to my office. It was November and getting quite cold but I did not have warm clothes. Babuji asked Sarakak to give me some money owed to him so that I could be properly outfitted. One hundred rupees got me two woollen suits.

Before the month was out orders of posting were issued. I was sent to Riasi. The language of the order suggested that my seniority was second. Dina Nath Koul, the surgeon at the hospital warned me that my seniority was in jeopardy and that I should make a representation to the Superintendent who had moved with the Darbar to Jammu, the winter capital. It was the middle of December, but the snow had not yet fallen. I went to Jammu at the first opportunity. I was told that Wazir was at the tennis court. I presented myself to him and told him that attempts were being made in the office to place me as junior to one of the other two, which was unfair since he had only done a three years course as against my four years. Wazir replied that seniority would be based on the percentage of marks; I countered that this gentleman had taken four years to complete his shorter course while I had completed mine in the prescribed period. Wazir put my fears to rest by saying that my interests would not be harmed.

Next day, I booked a seat for Riasi and left for it a day later. Our bus was the first, and the last for many years, to cross the Anji River and go up the steep road to the plateau on which Riasi is situated. Soon after our journey floods washed away a part of the causeway and till I was at Riasi this part of the trip had to be done on foot.


Section 11

Capt. Kak had given me an introductory letter for Neel Kanth Hak, the munsif. He was a shy man and my arrival was a godsend to him. His judicial duties would end by two, and almost every evening we would go out for a walk. Riasi is Dogri speaking and so Kashmiri conversation with the urbane Mr Hak was enjoyable.

Meanwhile, learning Dogri was not much of a problem. Dogri is quite close to Hindi and Punjabi, two languages I knew very well. (Kashmiri, my mother tongue, is also an Aryan language, but much harder to learn for the outsider.) I have a natural interest in languages, and the other languages I knew included Urdu, English, and a smattering of Persian. In Riasi now, and before this in Kashmir, I was always interested in finding the original Sanskrit name forms for town and village names. Often the originals can be seen in Kalhana's Rajatarangini or other ancient chronicles. What is useful to know in such an exercize are the rules which govern the transformation from the Sanskrit to the regional Prakrits. For example, in Kashmiri the Sanskrit "sh" changes into the sound "h". This is why Shari becomes Hari or Shivaratri becomes Herath.

I rented a house from a Kashmiri from Poonch, who owned agricultural land in the area. Soon after my arrival in Riasi, one Dinanath Kaul was posted to the sheep breeding farm. It was decided that he would share my house and his servant would cook for us. That winter we had good time together. With the coming of summer, the sheep moved to higher pasturelands and the staff shifted to Banihal. Dinanath Kaul and his servant left. I hired a cook who turned out to be very lazy. During the rainy season there were several outbreaks of contagious diseases in the villages. This called for touring several weeks a month and I wanted my cook to accompany me. But he refused and so I dispensed with his services.


Section 12

At Riasi I became a good friend of Vakil Sahib or Jyoti Prakash Kalia, a lawyer, who was a follower of the Aurobindo school of yoga and quite advanced in his path. I spent many evenings with him and learnt about the mysteries of mind.

Sri Aurobindo was a great and original yogi who turned the old interpretations of yoga upside down. In opposition to the talk of bringing down the divine to the human consciousness, he spoke of an ascent to divinity. We read Aurobindo's famed books {\em The Synthesis of Yoga} and "The Life Divine". In the latter book he says:

The universe and the individual are the two essential appearances into which the Unknowable descends and through which it has to be approached; for other intermediate collectivities are born only of their interaction. This descent of the supreme Reality is in its nature a self-concealing; and in the descent there are successive levels, in the concealing successive veils. Necessarily, the revelation takes the form of an ascent; and necessarily also the ascent and the revelation are both progressive... Our world has yet to climb beyond Mind to a higher principle, a higher status, a higher dynamism in which universe and individual become aware of and possess that which they both are and therefore stand explained to each other, in harmony with each other, unified.

Aurobindo, and Vakil Sahib, believed that every person had the potential to become unified with this inner divine force that turns man into superman. The Vedic rishis were such inspired seers but there was no reason we could not match their marvellous achievements.

In Vakil Sahib's yoga, one tried to raise one's conscious mind centre to the thousand petalled lotus in the seventh chakra at the top of one's head, This was done through breath control and meditation. But before such meditation could be successful, tremendous self-discipline and ethical behaviour was required. According to an ancient Kashmiri book, finding one's true nature may look as difficult as walking on the edge of a sword or holding a lion by the ear.

All this was not really different from the great tradition of Kashmiri Shaivism. There are several ways to self-awareness: "the little way" (anava upaya), "the way of power or knowledge" (shakta upaya), "the way of the will" (shambhava upaya or iccha upaya), and "the way of bliss" (anupaya, or ananda upaya). The little way is the performance of ritual, repeating of mantras, doing breath control; the way of power or knowledge is to realize the non-duality of the universe through scientific reasoning; the way of the will is a focusing of the awareness on the universe as pure consciousness. The fourth way is that stumbling on the highest knowledge without any specific method. So the mystery of life was to be solved by understanding the nature of consciousness. To find the essential self one had to rise beyond the usual attachments. The body itself is the image of the universal being, Shiva, and travelling through this image in meditation would lead us to the heart, where dwells Shakti, the divine energy.

Consciousness is considered divine. One can say consciousness is God and God is consciousness. Desire in itself is not to be condemned; only such desire is bad that makes one lose sight of the infinite potential of knowledge.

Shankara puts it very well in his famous stanzas on Nirvana:
Mano buddhy ahankara chittani naham
na cha shrotra jihve na cha ghrana netre
na cha vyoma bhumir na tejo na vayuh
chidananda rupa shivoham shivoham

I am not mind, soul, ego, thoughts,
not ear, tongue, nose, eye,
sky, earth, wind, fire.
I embody awareness and joy,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva.

Or we have the great wisdom in the ancient Kashmiri book "Vijnanabhairava":
na me bandho na moksho me bhitasyaita vibhishikah
pratibimbam idam buddher jaleshv iva vivasvatah

There is neither bondage nor liberation for me;
these are to scare the fearful.
All this is a mere reflection in my mind,
like the image of the sun in water.

jnanaprakashakam sarvam sarvenatma prakashakah
ekam ekasvabhavatvat jnanam jneyam vibhavyate

Knowledge of self reveals all things;
and the knowledge of things reveals the self.
Nature acts the same so reflect
that knower and the known are one and the same.

Life was a march to illumination; this illumination was its own power. And this was not a life or world denying philosophy. All phenomena in the world were an embodiment of this illumination, and so a mindful approach to life could open many secrets.

The mystical wisdom of the Shaivite way was balanced by the powerful example of the Rama of the Ramayana epic. We were taught the principle of Rama's family:
Prana jayen para vachana na jayee
Raghu kula reet yehi chali aayi

I might die but I cannot go back on my word
This is the old tradition of the Raghu clan.

Knowledge could not be sought for its own sake! We had to remember our duties, our obligations. Our search was to be done through whatever our station in life. We could sharpen our perceptions by meditating on perfection.

Rama was now the magical principle of truth. In Mirabai's refrain:
Rama nama rasa pijai manua, Rama nama rasa pijai
Taja kusanga sanga baith ke, hari charcha suna lijai.

O mind, drink the nectar of the name of Rama
Drink the nectar of the name of Rama
Leave bad company, sit next to me
and hear the word of Hari.


Section 13

Riasi was notorious for its snakes and scorpions and I was cautioned at Srinagar to protect myself with ankle boots and puttees and warm flannels. Vakil Sahib was very amused with my sartorial style. One evening, at dusk, while walking down a winding hill road I heard a sharp hissing sound. I turned to the trees in the forest on the opposite hill to check if there was a strong breeze, but the trees were quite calm. Then I looked at the skyline of the town for signs of any fireworks but found nothing. Then Vakil Sahib pointed towards his feet.

Vakil Sahib had the habit of not touching his shoes after they were bought. The laces were kept loose so that he could just slip them on. He would wear socks only in the courtroom. That evening he was wearing a dhoti which was hanging just below the knees, leaving the shins exposed. There between Vakil Sahib's feet was a menacing adder (gunas in Kashmiri). The snake was making circles with its hood and hissing, but it did not strike. Then Vakil Sahib moved his left foot and the snake slithered off to the edge of the road. Vakil Sahib told me that unless so ordained no snake was going to bite me and I should banish my fears. That day I gave up wearing protective covering on my legs.

I now cooked my own meals, something I had never done before. I found it quite difficult at first. I would boil lentils without adding salt and ghee, and cooked rice and then eat everything by turn. In the mornings, I walked down to the river and ran up the steep slope in order to strengthen my lungs and legs. One day, I received a telegram from Babuji asking me to meet him in Jammu that evening. It was rainy season, and there was only one bus to Jammu that left Katra---a place seventeen miles from Riasi---at one thirty in the afternoon. (These towns are also connected by a shorter route of only thirteen miles but I did not know that route then.) I left my house at ten and started running across hills. I reached Katra by one in the afternoon and boarded the bus. Babuji was renting a room in the Dharmashala at Raghunath Mandir. He was quite surprised to see me so soon. He explained that he had called me to Jammu to give me a Pekinese pet dog that he was finding it difficult to look after. Next day, Babuji left for Srinagar while I returned to Riasi with Moti, the dog.

Moti was a gift to Babuji from his close friend, Dr. Damodar Kaul, who was also a neighbour in Srinagar. Damodar Kaul, who was in the Army, had served for some time in Gilgit. It so happened that Babuji saw him off at Bandipore before he left for Gilgit, and a later year on his return in 1940 received him at the same place. Moti was one of the gifts Dr. Kaul brought for Babuji. At Kapurthala the dog got infested with ticks and dog fleas. Whenever I visited Kapurthala I cleansed him of the infestation, but with my departure the problem reappeared. Eventually Babuji decided that I should keep the dog.

As I could not keep Moti at home, while I was on tours, from now on he was my constant companion. In my march through villages, I would pick him up in my arms to shield him from the powerful street dogs of the villages. One day in the mountains my peon, Hassan Din, Moti and I set out for a village twenty five miles away. We started late in the day on the mountain pony path. It rained heavily that day and darkness fell early. The dark clouds overhead made it pitch dark. Moti was on the leash. In fact I was being led by him while Hassan Din was at my heels. We were marching as fast as possible. Suddenly, Moti swerved away from the path and started climbing uphill. To investigate the reason, I got down on my knees and started feeling the track. To my horror, I realized that the track ahead had been washed away by the rains. Had it not been for Moti, Hassan Din and I would have stepped into the chasm to injury and possible death. So now on hands and knees we made a careful detour around the landslide taking half an hour for what would otherwise have been a five minute walk.

There was a shortage of men in the villages. Government officials on tour would be provided with porters by the village chowkidar upto the next place of halt. In fact, before the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh, Kashmir had the cruel system of "begar", or forced labour without compensation. Persons from certain low castes were compelled to do begar. Later the government started providing funds to pay the porters or coolies. But these officials were often corrupt and they would pocket the money. By my time porters were actually paid but they did not like this job as this required them to interrupt whatever else they might have been doing, and the compensation was not fair.

One day, we started from Gulabgarh where we hired two coolies. We reached the next village late at night, and the chowkidar, who was quite prosperous, asked us to stay in his house. The mountain house consisted of a very big room with a side partitioned off for grain bins and storage of household goods. This main room was used for sleeping in extreme winter. In milder weather people slept in the outer verandah. With so many people to be put up, the chowkidar decided to sleep in this big room together with Hassan Din and the two coolies. It was decided that his wife, two teenage daughters, and I were to sleep in the verandah. The coolies had spread my bedding on a charpai. Later another charpai was arranged near mine. The mother and the girls took off their blouses and sat, bare-chested, in front of the fire on the verandah for a long time. Moti jumped on my bed and he was sleeping near my feet. After a long time, mother and the daughters came to the next charpai, their bed, and went to sleep.

The next day, the village was supposed to provide its coolies. The chowkidar marked his choice by throwing a wrap (a blanket) on a person. The first person who was thrown the wrap ran away. We had not yet let go of the previous coolies. We now requested them to accompany us to Kund, the next station. Reluctantly, they agreed. Next day, I sent Hassan Din to Jammu to pick up new stock of vaccine and serum. He was to have returned in eight days, but he did not and so I went back to Riasi. From there I sent a telegram to the Jammu office inquiring about his whereabouts. He had received the new stock but then slipped off to his home which was near Jammu. On the fourth day after my telegram he finally showed up. By now the tiredness of the one and a half month long tour caught up with me, and so I decided not to go and sent my compounder for the job.


Section 14

Having heard that a vacancy was expected in the State Army Veterinary Corps, I applied for a position. I got no response, and so I asked Prem Nath Kak, who was the chief veterinarian in the Army, the reason for this. He said that I had been passed over as we shared the same surname, and my appointment could have been misconstrued as nepotism.

I was living alone. Vakil Sahib insisted that I should shift to his house and live with his family. Meanwhile, one Shambhu Nath Kaul joined as accounts officer in the forest office at Riasi. He had a large family: his mother, wife, and two children. He was unable to find a suitable house to rent in the town, and he had a little house with just one room, a kitchen, and a verandah.

My house was one of the largest one could rent in Riasi. So Shambhu Nath Kaul pleaded with me that I switch accommodation with him. I was reluctant to do so. Then one day the problem was solved when Vakil Sahib came and carried my baggage to his home. From that day on until my transfer I lived in his house. I was treated as another son. His eldest son Madan was a bad apple who shirked schoolwork and was a glutton. I ate modestly but if Madan would take a lump of ghee and sugar with his meal, the mother would give me the same. I felt as if I was living in my own home. I started giving my entire salary to Vakil Sahib as my contribution toward running the household. One day Madan stole this money from Vakil Sahib's trunk. Vakil Sahib and Mataji repeated several times that the money belonged to me, which in my opinion I had given them, as a son would, as my share.


Section 15

Some time before this I purchased a muzzle loader. The idea came to me after I was threatened in a village situated in the Gulabgarh area. Cow slaughter is banned in Jammu and Kashmir and those days this rule was strictly enforced. Gulabgarh area is predominantly Muslim and in fact some villages have no non-Muslims. It was common for people there to slaughter cattle made useless by age or injury. One day, the Riasi police came by some dried cattle hides and I was asked to give my technical opinion on them. The police charged some persons for the crime of cow slaughter. While I was examining the hides, the accused party approached me through an intermediary with a bribe of one thousand rupees to give the opinion that the animals had died of natural cause. When I refused to do so, I was threatened with death. This angered and scared me and so when I saw an elegant muzzle loader in the house of a zaildar, I persuaded him to sell it to me. I challenged the accused party to do their worst, and I went on a tour of their village with this gun on my shoulder. But I encountered no hostility from the members of the accused family.

I used to keep this gun loaded for emergencies and would discharge it on alternate days so that the gunpowder did not get moist and ineffective. One day in September/October 1942, I went to the roof of my house to discharge the gun. Moti was so terrified by the boom of the gunshot that he ran away from the house. I started looking for him in the town. At three in the afternoon, one person told me that such a dog was seen being carried by a yatri on a mule on his way to Katra. After an early dinner, I left for Katra on foot with my loaded gun and my peon Hassan Din. We reached there at about eleven. The station house officer was asleep and had to be awakened. Having heard my story he first wanted a promise that if they nab the thief I would not withdraw my case against him. He did not want me to withdraw charges against the thief if it turned out that he was a Hindu like me. I gave this promise. Now he bestirred himself and began contacting the muleteers to find out which group had come via Riasi. Soon we found this group. Moti, on seeing me, ran up and jumped into my arms. The culprit was a Hindu from Lahore. He was brought to the police station and charged with theft and for damages before a special magistrate who used to be posted at Katra for the yatra season. I appeared as witness a couple of times. Details of the charges were never showed to me. The accused paid a fine. Many years later I came to know that the accused also paid damages which were misappropriated by the police.


Section 16

Vakil Sahib and I spent a lot of time together studying scriptures and books on Hindu philosophy. Sometimes he talked about occult powers and showed his to tempt me to follow him on his path. This is how the winter of 1942/1943 passed. Toward the close of the season I was initiated into yoga. My discipline required me to meditate on my chakras and pierce the heart of my consciousness, if I could. I made rapid progress. I also became a vegetarian.

Shiva is the horse,
Vishnu the saddle,
Brahma adorns the stirrups,
the yogi knows---
but who rides the horse?
--- Lalla

Absorbed in the syllable Om,
I burnt like coals.
Passing six stations,
I seized the seventh.
Then only did, I, Lalla,
reach the abode of light.
--- Lalla

In the month of March, I received transfer orders to Baramulla. My replacement came almost immediately. The day I was to leave, Vakil Sahib returned me all the money that I had given him without keeping anything for board and lodging. Besides, Vakil Sahib and Mataji gave me some of their own money as an auspicious gift. We all were moved by the parting.


Section 17

When I reached Jammu, I learnt that the Banihal pass was still closed due to heavy snow. I decided not to take the alternate route via Rawalpindi because it was very long, requiring the change of several trains and buses. Expecting that the pass will reopen soon, I decided to wait out at Jammu. After a couple of days, it was heard that the snow had been cleared. Now a bus company announced that it would send a convoy of five or six buses to cross the pass. There were about six of us in our bus; other buses carried even fewer passengers. Most transport companies decided not to send buses.

We reached Ramban in the evening and the convoy halted there for the night. The room I rented had no window panes and it was frightfully cold. The driver asked us not to unload all our baggage, as he intended to leave very early in the morning. I assumed that if I slept fully dressed, just one blanket would be enough for the night. At the hotel where I took my meal I asked the cook to put in a lot of pure ghee in the lentil soup. When I drank cold water my throat became sore. (I ought to have had warm water with my meal because of this ghee.) Now in my room I could not sleep a wink. The cold was penetrating my blanket and dress. To avoid a stomach upset, I held Moti against my belly and so the night passed.

Next day, we started early. At Banihal the driver did not let us eat our lunch saying that the convoy must cross the pass before noon, because avalanches are more likely in the afternoon. So we pressed on and in good time reached the far side of the mountain. We now cleared the highest point of the pass but nearing the second turn we saw an avalanche blocking our path. Strangely, there were no shovels on the bus. After about an hour fifteen to twenty labourers with an overseer appeared on the scene and started shovelling the snow. Within an hour of work one of the labourers ran away. Fearing that more labourers would leave likewise before the passage was cleared, the drivers and cleaners and some passengers surrounded the remaining labourers. The overseer expressed a shortage of hands---the passengers thereupon joined in---and he also wanted to be paid a gratuity at the end of the work. After three hours of very hard work the passage was cleared and we started down the mountain, reaching Qazigund late in the evening. We had tea there, and were in Srinagar just before midnight. My sore throat became worse and it took me several days to recover from the ill effects of this and the fatigue of snow clearance.


Section 18

I joined my duties at Baramulla. The town is called Varahmul in Kashmiri and it is an ancient tirtha of Vishnu celebrating the Varaha (boar) incarnation. The famous temple of Varaha here is noted by Kalhana, and the destruction of its sacred image at the hands of Sikandar by Jonaraja. This temple had stood at the present Kotitirtha temple at the western end of the town down the Vitasta river.

Bayaji was posted at Baramulla, in the Electricity Department and he was renting a grounded double storied houseboat sitting in a fenced lot half an acre in size at the eastern end. I moved in with Bayaji, Didda and their two girls Kamala and Gauri. My hospital was about a two mile walk from the houseboat.

I had been about five months in Baramulla that I fell ill with a bad case of malarial fever. I got well after treatment, but remained weak. My ears buzzed with the slightest exertion. Sometime later, we invited a lawyer friend and his family from Sopore for lunch. Several meat dishes were cooked. Due to some reason they could not come and that evening Didda asked me what was to be done with the meat dishes. Although I had become a vegetarian after accepting Vakil Sahib as my guru, I asked her to serve me some. She thought I was joking but I wasn't and so I started eating meat again. This created a hurdle in my progress in my yogic path, but I was cured of the buzzing in my ears and the general weakness.

Baramulla was on the Kashmir national highway to Rawalpindi and it saw considerable traffic of bullock carts and tongas. We were required to check the animals under the State's prevention of cruelty to animals statute. This was done under the overall jurisdiction of the district revenue administrator. The bullock carts brought in salt and other goods from Punjab and on their way back they would take potatoes, walnuts and fruit to the plains. Every night great convoys of these carts would roll through the town. In order to drive the bulls harder, the drivers used illegal yoke galls. To make the officers look the other way, the drivers paid a bribe which was divided up amongst the staff and officers of the veterinary and revenue departments. Later the responsibility for checking the animals passed exclusively to my department. When I was in Baramulla, I put an end to this practice of cruelty and bribery.

The candidates for veterinary training were selected on a communal/provincial basis before. Unfortunately, this created an imbalance: whereas all the Kashmiri Pandits passed their courses, the results were quite bad for Kashmiri Muslims and the trainees from Jammu. This system of recruitment was now abandoned. For some time the minister would not consent to the appointment of any newly trained Kashmiri Pandits. After six months of pleadings the minister consented to hire them on a pay of seventy five rupees. By the time I joined in 1941, there were still thirteen old hires out of whom only nine were given a salary grade of 75-5-150 (or 75 rupees with an annual increment of five rupees and a ceiling pay of 150 rupees.). The new hires of 1941 started with 50-5-75. Eventually, after a lot of struggle, the four old hands were appointed to supernumerary posts at 75-5-150. Those of us who had completed a four year course were awarded an extra increment compared to those who had done the shorter course. Things were very inexpensive then and we lived tolerably well on our pay without a care for the future.

In the beginning of my tenure at Baramulla, hardly any cases came to the hospital. I saw a few police cases and some villagers who came to pick up medicines. But the register showed that, before my tenure, fifty to sixty cases would show up daily. This upset me greatly. I went to the tonga stand and insisted that the drivers bring their injured horses to the hospital. They were legally bound to do this under the prevention of cruelty act. I did the dressing of wounds and surgery, whenever that was called for, myself, rather than have the compounder do it, as was customary. All this created a favourable impression on the horse owners and animals came first in a trickle and later in such large numbers that we could not close the hospital at the designated time of four in the afternoon. This made me quite well known in the area and I started getting private referrals also.

The dispensary had five breeding centres attached to it but they were not much used. I was asked to devise means of increasing their effectiveness. My provincial officer was Jia Lal Parimoo, who had earlier been an efficient veterinary officer at Srinagar. He was trying to get me married to the daughter of a lady who was rumoured to be his mistress. Naturally the elders in my family would not agree to it. This made him quite annoyed with me and he started creating problems for me. One day, while on a tour to a breeding centre at Singhpura, he was drawn to a beautiful Karnah blanket. At the end of his tour he gave me ten rupees to buy the blanket for him. On my next visit to Singhpura, I showed the money to the blanket's owner and asked him for it. He said: "I have paid thirty rupees for it, and if you want to rob me then pay me nothing and take it." What I heard upset me, and I assured him that I was not going to do any such thing and he could keep the blanket. On my next visit to Srinagar, I met Parimoo and returned the money. This added to his ill will toward me.

On Sundays and holidays the dispensary was kept open until twelve noon. One Sunday Parimoo, on his way back from a tour to Uri, passed through Baramulla at two in the afternoon. After he got off the bus outside the dispensary, he checked if the chowkidar was on duty. Not finding him, he had his peon scale the wall at the back of the dispensary, open a window, that happened to be unbolted, and remove the stock register lying on the sill. Then he left for Srinagar.

Unaware of his visit the previous day, we began work on Monday, compiling a list of dead stock articles from the previous year and updating our current stock entries. But the register was not to be found. Everyone started blaming the other for the loss, and I put the blame on the compounder who was responsible for the books. On his part, the compounder thought that I might have taken the register home. I sent my report of the loss to the provincial officer. Before my letter could have reached that office, we received a copy of the tour inspection report of Parimoo with an account of his removal of the register and suspension orders for the chowkidar for being absent from duty. I did not pass this order of suspension to the chowkidar and I wrote a lengthy letter to Parimoo absolving the chowkidar of any wrongdoing. I was sent a message that I should not try to protect the chowkidar and, if he had been on leave, destroy any copy of the sanction, so that the person could not defend himself. This mechanism was a source of income to the office since they would take a bribe from the helpless chowkidar to set the record straight. But I remained adamant in my support of the chowkidar.

Another source of irritation from the Srinagar office related to the medical supplies. One part of the supplies was country medicines which were so hopelessly adulterated that I would normally refuse it. When compelled to accept, I would destroy the entire stock the next day and show bulk expenditure. Thus I continued to be a thorn in Parimoo's side. The office longed to involve me in a case of absence from duty, but I was never absent and so they could do nothing.

Autumn Leaves



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World Kashmiri Pandit Conference 1993 Panun Kashmir
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