Kashmiriat: Myth and Reality

Kashmiriat: Myth and Reality

by D. N. Kaul

The word Kashmiriyat has, for some recent past, been bandied about a lot. This has happened in lectures and in writings, what by the so-called intellectuals, rabble-rousers and others. M.J. Akbar dwelt on it is his book on Kashmir and so did Dr. Karan Singh in his recent article in the 'Times of India'.

The word is a Persian derivative from Kashmir and is normally meant to imply the characteristics of a resident of the Kashmir valley. These characteristics include moral and ethical attributes, socio-cultural behaviour-pattern and a fellow-feeling suffused by humanistic values. The epithet also implies a non-aggressive supine way of life.

Long years back, at the commencement of the current century the Websters dictionary contained a word Kashmirian. The word was explained as referring to fair-complexioned residents of the sub- Himalayan Valley of Kashmir, whose traits, as per the dictionary, were characterized by unethical behaviour, undependability and devious ways of social and business conduct. I remember, how, as youngmen, bubbling with local patriotism we condemned the editors/compilers of the Websters dictionary as prejudiced imperialists.

Many of the long-listed attributes of Kashmiriyat such as humanity, hospitality, fellow-feeling transcending distinctions of religion et all sprang from sheer backwardness of the people, both the Pandits as well as the Muslims. Members of both the major communities which inhabited the valley carried with them an aura of what may be described as nursery innocence. The people by and large were unspoilt. Kashmir had remained cut off from the rest of the country from the 11th century. Even Albiruni has mentioned how only Jews were allowed in. The impassable mountain fortresses guarded the generality of peoples and their "natures' naturalness". In primitive societies with absence of glaring class-distinctions, the basic human traits of mutual help predominated. Cunning and competitiveness seeped into human nature much later. In view of Kashmiri's sequesteredness and economic backwardness, these attributes lingered longer.

Sheikh Abdulla, with whom I had the privilege of working for two years as the head of the Dept. of the State Police, was also, in the Roosevelt fashion, given to late-evening fireside chats before restricted but acquiescing small gatherings. Sheikh Sahib was hardly modern in the sense in which this epithet is used. Dressed immaculately in Western style he remained an admirer of the oil- wick lamp perched high on a niche in the wall with famished school-going children poring in the dim light over elementary books in Urdu & Persian. I used to repudiate this attitude, this eulogizing a primitive, poverty-born culture. With such backward if not primitive people to rouse, Sheikh Sahib became a rabble-rouser par-excellence. One could feel that beneath his sneaking admiration of innocence born out of backwardness, social and economic, lurked a fear that once the innocence gets rubbed off by the impact of modernistic forces, his own leadership will get challenged and this is precisely what happened.

Kashmir now has a good number of upwardly mobile technical intelligentia who are engaged in cut-throat competition with the Kashmiri Pandits who dominated the bureaucracy and the technocracy for a period as also with fellow Muslims. Lower down, in the commercial circles similar competition is ubiquitous with all its ugly traits of undercutting, corruption and what have you.

In this ambience, we will be looking in vain for innocence and nursery naivette which were eulogized as the high water-marks of Kashmiriyat and which are still propagated as being present in Kashmir. The Rishis who are supposed to have deeply influenced the behaviour-pattern of the Kashmiris are a nearly forgotten lot, except when they come handy for political ends. In fact Lal Ded and Nund Rishi were essentially deviants who opted out of the growing social degeneration and found solace, not in the multitude, but in a mystical oneness with the Supreme Being. These great souls have not influenced or contributed to Kashmiriyat- a changing concept. I would be surprised if a modern technically trained management or computer specialist or an engineer or a bureaucrat can reproduce a single wakh of Lal Ded or a Tukh of Nund Rishi. Even those who possess their works-a microscopic minority-have relegated these to the top shelves as the "Great unreadables". Lal Ded advocates introversion. Which modern Kashmiri would opt for that in an age whose slogans are grab somehow and consume? It would be unfair, if not wrong, to deduce the characteristics of a people from the great mystics they may have produced. What is happening in Italy is not even a travesty of Dante.

So the present day Kashmiri carries no influence of the poetry of Lal Ded or Nund Rishi and knows other Rishis only on their annual Urs festivals. With the spread of the vast network of communication and politico-communal pulls emanating from diverse national and international sources, the Kashmiri is completely transformed. A strong dement of narrowness has permeated his thinking as compared to the catholicity of the age of innocence. Where and what is Kashmiriyat? It is no use holding on fondly to shibboleths when the reality is so disagreeable and disgusting. Humanism & fraternity transcending the communal divide and broad and Catholic outlook born out of innocence and lack of awareness are ephemeral in their very nature. These traits are enduring only if they are an outcome of a long period of marination in educated and cultured social environment and of a true appreciation of what religion means and stands for. This is true of the European peoples. In our present evolutionary state we are a fanatical, narrow-minded people who burn neighbours' houses and places of worship and shoot as a pastime, partly to prove that the Kashmiri is macho & not supine. Kashmiriyat of the classical times has got completely atrophied from people's behaviour-pattern and ethos. It will be a long wait and only sustained evolution and education will re-civilize us into decent Kashmiris. The suppressed devilry must expend itself.

Did the editors/compilers of the Webster's dictionary have an uncanny prescience in seeing through and beyond the veneer of our apparent and ersatz goodness? Obviously, they had! It is time we discard our blinkers and see the reality of Kashmiriyat.

Source: Koshur Samachar

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