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.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Smallest Room in a Kashmiri Home was Always Special

Zahid shares his childhood memories of a tiny space called "Kotheur"

(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.)


Kotheur: how can I forget that small room of my childhood

Barak Obama reminded me of Kotheur- the seven feet by five feet room in our three storied house. On one of the walls of this small room- I had pasted a sharp black and white picture of John F Kennedy. I had cut this picture from beautifully brought out magazine The Life. It was a period when I and my brother bought the Filmfare and the Picture Post and pasted pictures of matinee idols Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Madhu Bala, Meena Kumari and not Raj Kapoor behind the door of the Kotheur. I don’t know why I had pasted picture of American President in my room. His image - good image had perhaps from the discourses at home and in the Mohalla gone into my psyche. Those days unwittingly children in my birth burg admired America and abhorred Russia- and called it Dauda Roos.

Kotheur: The word had perhaps been derived from kouth (room) as poetaster has originated from the word poet. The Kotheur is no more in fashion in the new houses but the poetasters are in great demand. They are called the great literati. They are the neo-poet laureates. Listening to them many times reminds me of the Sazandar’s singing in the mandi (Timber depot) of Ramzan Khan from the window of the Kotheur.

There was hardly any house that did not have this small room. The Kashmir Pandit called it ‘Thakur Kotheur’ as it used them for housing idols of gods and goddesses preferably Shiva and Parvati and used it for worship. The ‘Thakur Kotheur’ of my teacher Kashi Nath for being forbidden to us always aroused my curiosity. I often tried to peep into this small room filled with aroma of burning ‘dhoop’. On many occasions I watched him praying in this small room with a burning small brass lamp in his hand but dared not to enter into it. It was his daughter who I think was reading in class three when I was in class four who made me conscious that I cannot enter the room as I was a Muslim.

Our three stories house also had a ‘Kotheur’. This small room was our workplace- reading room of me and my brothers. It had a history. It had been reading room of my father. My uncle had studied in the same room. Many of peers of my father had remained awake for nights together in this tiny room preparing for their examinations. Many times during our examination when father used to peep into this room from the half-shut door he would turn nostalgic. He remembered his examinations days. He would narrate his experiences of preparing for the matriculation examination that were then conducted by the Punjab University, Lahore. He remembered his friends- somewhere in the state administration and held high offices and some had been exiled in 1947 by the first Muslim Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. He neither admired Sheikh nor abhorred him. He was unlike his brother- my uncle’s heart was brimful with hate for the first PM for his having taken wrong decision at the right moment. He called him the proverbial owl whose hoots bring misfortune to generations to come. My father would turn poignantly emotional the moment he remembered his exiled friends. He had not any information about many of them but knew about some who had succeeded in earning a place of distinction in the newly born country seen as homeland for the Muslims of South Asia. Some had found a place in diplomatic service, some in engineering and some in administration. I think none of his friends ever returned to their native land and are buried without chiseled limestone tomb with beautifully inscribed verses thematically reading like:

Fugitive is man fugitive is dust;
Of these two ephemerals which is best;
Not man but dust.

The Kotheur: we had nicknamed it as the coop- the great coop. Like chicks after the dusk, the mother would shrill us to go inside this small room for finishing our home work. Those days there was no television – the only voice that entered our room after the sunset was from a megaphone fitted in the middle of flagpole on which faded red flag with plough remained hosted permanently. It had a mat as its flooring. There were no cushions or bolsters in our reading room. The only adornment was a beautiful kerosene lamp and our reading desks with drawers. Those days’ bolsters were a rarity that only affluent could afford. The imprints of back on the clay daubed walls of the kotehur were recognized as testimony of reading for long hours. I remember many times I deliberately brushed my back against the wall to prove that I was more studious than my brothers.

The kotehur had three windows. One of the windows faced the road- that in my childhood was the national highway that connected Kashmir to Ladakh and beyond. This window was witness to an era of ordeals, distresses and agonies. It had seen cavalcade of the merciless marauders lashing and beating people. It had seen turbaned soldiers with yellow flags top long arrows touching roof tops swaggering on the roads, it had seen cavalries with tridents flying yellow flags with red strips galloping across the road. My father many times remembered the day when martyrs of the 13 July were carried in a procession for burial in the martyrs’ graveyard at Khawaja Bazar. He often portrayed a graphic picture of the people who carried bodies of the martyrs to the graveyard. Many times I conjured scenes of thirty one in imagination: people dressed in tattered clothes, with huge turbans, with sunken eyes, bony faces and half-famished looks moving in hordes. When I heard my father narrating tales of thirties and forties to us little did I know that I will also have to watch reenactment macabre after macabre from same window. I remember the day when I first saw men in uniforms aiming their three-not-three rifles from a crossing towards a crowd. The crowd was raising the same old slogans that have become part of Kashmir- that they mutter even in dreams without fear of being caught. I remember the first shot the Sepoy fired hit a telegraphs pole outside our home- it was next shot that send shivers down my spine- it hit the vegetable seller who was carrying willow vat filled to capacity with hak on his shoulder- I first saw the willow vat falling down- then he fell off. I have no count- how many people were hit by bullets in our locality during my childhood- I have crossed the middle age and I am faster knocking at old age- the window my Kotheur continues to be a mute witness.

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