Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

An Odyssey of Faith: Baring Soul (to God) by Baring Feet (to Nature)

Zahid Mohammad Recalls the march of bare feet in an ancient land of great believers

(Mr. Z. G. Mohammad, 59, was born and raised in Srinagar. He earned his Master's degree in English literature from the Kashmir University and has completed a course in Mass Communication from Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He is a writer and a journalist who has written for many newspapers, including the Statesman, the Sunday, and the Kashmir Times. He currently works for the Greater Kashmir.)

Of Barefoot Days: Thorny bushes, itching stubble, naked roads.

I traveled barefoot. Many times in blazing sun I treaded shoeless miles blistering my feet. In Trains I walked through slushy roads with rouge glass splinters making my feet bleed profusely. It was not faith of my forefathers reborn in me. It was not reincarnation of the Buddhist instincts of not harming the creatures under your sandals that made me walk barefoot. It was not the influence of the lesson that twin sisters- Behat Ded and Dehet Ded had taught patron saint of Kashmir Sheikh Noor-u-Din that 'he was killing thousands under his heavy mace while stepping on green grass'.

It was not the lesson that I had learnt from turbaned old Kashmiri Pandits who walked barefoot chanting hymns in praise of Shiva while passing through our streets. True, it was their hymns that many times woke me up much before it was dawn.

Then I was yet to learn that in mornings 'ferns grow curly' under feet and stepping on cool grass with sparkling dewdrops on blades of grass soothes eyes and heals sores.

It was not 'boyhood's painless play' that made me walk barefoot. It was not 'butterflies chase' that made me run barefoot. It was not fright of 'cunning black' wasp that made me jostle barefoot through crowds. It was not crazy fowl escaped from the coop making 'flight after flight from house to house that made me walk barefoot. It was not whistle of the gardener in neighbor's pomegranate garden that made me runaway barefoot after having plucked some unripe and ripe fruit. It was devotion that made us to keep leather shoes, rubber sleepers and wooden sandals at home and walk barefooted.

Oh! Pomegranates remind me; in my childhood pomegranate orchards were a galore in the city. It was and is believed that pomegranate tree is auspicious- almost every home had one in the compound.

There were many pomegranate orchards on way to school. The drooping tender branches laden with mouthwatering ripe fruit reminding of the legendry beauty anarkali of the Mogul harem would invite even the timid boy to pluck one. Many times we would stealthily walk into these orchards fill our bags with the hard kernelled delicious scarlet fruit and run away at the whistle of the orchard keeper- many times he would hurl unheard invectives on us. His curses would never deter us from robbing the fruit from the bushy trees. On arriving at the school, much before the morning prayers we distributed the booty among our classmates. This was done much before we would hear sermon from lean Jinnah capped teacher Ghulam Ahmed Kamali or white turbaned Molvi Noor Sahib against thefts and stealing. It had stuck on our minds like a brick in the concrete that plucking of fruit and eating it right in the garden was not a sin- we strongly believed that pomegranate theft was not a sin- so we committed it again and again and stole as many as we could.

Friday was the D-day for us. Those days it was a holiday in our school and government run school closed after first half day. The orchard keepers were not on watch of the buxom fruit that tempted us as apple might have to the 'progenitor of human race.' Mostly the orchard keepers on this day were away- they would either be away to their homes or for the prayers. I and my peers would pluck as many pomegranates as we could and put inside our shirts tucked in the trousers. A dozen pocket trousers that are in fashion in teenyboppers these days were then unheard of. If these trousers would have been there then stealing pomegranates would have been easier for us. Many times we tied the trousers at ankles and converted them into sacks and put stolen pomegranates on the both the sides of our legs. It was difficult to run with trousers stacked with heavy fruit but we had mastered the art and could stealth our way like a morning breeze from the orchard to safe haven in our Mohalla for eating some pomegranates coolly and distributing some amongst our friends.

It was not for stealing pomegranates that I walked barefoot. It was not that we could not afford a pair of shoes- we were not proverbial barefoot boys that could have inspired 'progressive poetasters in our locality to wax lyrical. It was faith that made me and my friends join many others to walk barefoot walkers. Mornings those days had celestial peace and carried an ambience of spirituality.

In the month of Rabi-ul-Awal my birth burg would wake up to life much before the first ray of sun would crossover the Zabarwan hillocks the peaks of which were distinctly visible from my home? Hundreds of devotees singing hymns in praise of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) would walk barefoot on the streets outside. Men, women and children would walk through the streets outside our home on way to Hazratbal shrine to say fajr prayers. I do not know how the tradition of walking barefooted to the shrines was born- if it had an Islamic sanction or not but the tradition was very strong in my childhood. It was something connected with faith and devotion.

It was devotion that made many octogenarians and septuagenarian men and women to travel miles to Hazratbal shrine on all Fridays and during the first twelve days of the gracious month of Rabi-ul-Awal. My grand mother's friend Khatija had never boarded a bus or taken a boat to the shrine till her death. Many took a boat on the ghat at Khuja Yaribal- the ghat that is believed to have been part of the estates purchased by Khawaja Naqashband Sahib buried at Khujabazar. In my childhood it cost two annas (one eightieths of a rupee) to reach to Hazratbal both by bus and boat. And out of devotion majority would walk the distance to the shrine.

The Hazratbal shrine was three miles from our home me and my friends also out of faith and devotion walked to the shrine barefooted during the blessed month. Many times examinations and results were the driving for taking barefoot journeys not only to Hazratbal shrine but to other mosques.

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