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Kashmiri Pandits and Their Mother Tongue

Dwarka Nath Munshi

As I turned the subject in my mind in the context of having to say something about it, I find it fairly challenging and feel not exactly equal to the task of writing some meaningful stuff for my own satisfaction and of interest to the community. Yet the same challenge drove me to take it up.

I have lived twice as many years in Delhi as I had in Srinagar. Yet the childhood and adolescent days remain green and fresh in memory. I recall vividly the joy and merriment of light-hearted banter among friends and relations at home and school, at work and the playfield, all in our mother tongue the Kashmiri language. We used to go in small groups of intimate friends out in the sylva surroundings or to the local Ghat on the Jehlum and ramble on to the nearby bridge in the moonlight watching another trembling moon under the clear waters of Vitasta. And we would sing love lyrics or share the day's experiences and jokes and little tales and anecdotes all in Kashmiri. How sweet it all sounded and how expressive of our emotions, our joy and sorrow our anger on setbacks and elation on achievement, our agony and ecstasy.

The Kashmiri language for me and my ilk was ample enough then in our little world of the seven bridges of Srinagar. Only when one moved to a town or a village, one would feel a little wanting and lost in the surroundings and comprehending some words and expressions or parables and pronunciations peculiar to that area.

Today it is altoghter different. I, like others, have grown into a mature old age, having passed through many stages of life and experiences and thereby having acquired an enlarged capability of thought and means which one could exchange profitably with others. But I find it difficult to do so in my mother tongue Kashmiri. Often when I set out to talk in my tongue I immediately fumble for words and instantaneously switch over to another language.

Why is it so, I ask myself and I immediately realise that I am not only not speaking in Kashmiri, I am not even thinking in it but amazingly in another one. What I speak in my mother tongue is thus only what is a translation simultaneously of my foreign thoughts into Kashmiri. Thus I fail to be fluent and precise and expressive enough.

What is a language if it has not a smooth flow in communicating with each other to express and explain or elaborate routine and subtle thoughts and develop it to serve these and related purposes. It is this utility and not only emotion and history or ritual that provides the stimulus for a language to grow and become meaningful and purposeful.

This is by no means to say that the Kashmiri language has shrunk in itself. But it has shrunk in comparison to other languages especially English, the language which enriches itself by absorbing foreign words to remain abreast of the expanding knowledge and new developements, and words which gain wide and popular currency. It must be admitted that our Kashmiri literature, which is available in large part in Poetry and some part in Prose, produced in relatively recent times, is sweet and enjoyable, eminently expressive of romance and spiritual, devotional, mirthful as well as motivational and revolutionary emotions and urges. But, alas! it has remained essentially static, not being able to keep pace with the immense and rapid changes that occur ever so fast in the modern world. Any language would lose its effectiveness in such circumstances.

A little earlier I mentioned about the variations in phonetics and pronunciation in Kashmiri. But this is not peculiar to our language alone. Nevertheless, the variations in our case stand out not only in urban-rural-hilly areas but also on the basis and influence of our different faiths. I think this is also partly the cause and to some extent, consequence of Kashmiri having no recognised or easily acceptable and adaptable script of its own. Nor have we ever had a Kashmiri alphabet. Had it been otherwise, had we had an alphabet that is a set of letters to provide all the sounds of theKashmiri tongue it would have helped to develop a full fledged language and a subject of study as a language, and its own literature.

It is generally held, largely erroneously, that Sharda was thescript for Kashmiri, expressing more or less all the sounds peculiar to it. But the fact of the matter is as pointed out by the late Prof Jaya Lal Kaul in his masterly works on the language, that Sharda was our script for writing Sanskrit which, in time, came to be overtaken by the Nagri script.

Even then the handicap did not dissolve.

The Perso-Arabic script too was not adapted to Kashmiri so as to express all its sounds. No doubt some old Kashmiri manuscripts written in these scripts are available tracing some indicators employed. However these are more according to the whim of the writer or the copyist rather than a general practice.

The serious handicap of the alphabet and the script held back progress of the language and limited it to essentially a dialect with the resultant variations in statement and pronunciation. One may express the hope, however, that the Central Institute of Indian Languages working on the study and analysis of common features in Indian languages, may ultimately establish universals across them all of which may help evolve the Kashmiri alphabet.

Why I refer to it here is to emphasise that the lack of the alphabet and the script has all along constricted the growth of our mother-tongue. And the apprehension of its continued languishing cannot be ruled out as long as there is no common acceptance of a script, which would necessarily be based on the Nagri or Persion script or a neutral one, say Roman.

One may argue that it is possible to communalise the Alphabet and the script. But it is not feasible to communalise a Language if it is to retain its pristine beauty. At the same time, we have examples of words a Pandit may refrain from using when a Muslim will use them. For example "Nab" (sky) or "Ab" (water) are sanskrit based but by some amazing chance are used by Muslims when Pandits would prefer "Poone" for water and "asman" for sky not drawn from Sanskrit; similarly, in accents say "paintch" and "paantch" for "five" and "dah" and "daah" for "ten".

When we talk of the Kashmiri language one gets the impression that we assume it is all our and we alone (KPs) can salvage it from dying out. That, of course, is wishful thinking to put it politely. The fellow-Kashmiri-speaking, it, i.e. the Muslims in the Valley, outnumber us by 1 to 2 or more, and they have stuck to it in interpersonal conversation both in the rural and the urban sectors. Indeed, much of the Poetry philosophical and romantic has originated from them over the past as well as the present matching, and sometimes excelling, contributions from the Pandits.

An obvious conclusion of what I have said here is that being a well educated community and working for all-round progress to keep in step with the fast-developing world, we have to keep space for our progeny to achieve their aspirations. And that is possible only when they grow in a cosmopolitan ambience and attributes. The first requiste of it is to achieve command over a commanding language. Here I have stated only what is well known and understood and indeed, generally practised. Never the less it is not intended to imply that our mother tongue loses any of its meaning and value. Its primary value is of being a prominent symbol of identity and culture and that has to be respected and enriched by whatever means we can muster. I imagine that this can be attempted and in time accomplished by gentler and pleasurable methods more than by attempting to foist it on the little ones or even the grown ups.

In my view these would comprise bilingual Hindi/English into Kashmiri publications on the pattern of the immensly popular comics suited to our culture on the one hand, and providing a Kaleidoscope of he world today and tomorrow, an illustrated primer of the accepted alphabet and script along with a widely intelligible script such as Roman; and again simple language translations of Panchtantra and that type of stories, parables, anecdotes, all of captivating quality which the reader at his/her age would love to take up and be loath to put down. Then also, the parents may unobtrusively speak in the mother-tongue at home, which would gradually make its way to the ears and imagination of the young ones.

There is a lot to do, demanding investment of finance and much more of imagination, patience and determination and hope.

[The author is Chairman, AIKs Trust & the previous President of All India Kashmir Samaj (A.I.K.S.) Delhi.]

[Mailing address : B-8, Pamposh Enclave, New Delhi-110048]
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