Kashmiri Pandits and Their Mother
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
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"
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
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]