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.

Monday, February 16, 2009

When Water was Clean and Vegetable Land was Abundant

Zahid speaks of a time long before Srinagar turned into an asphalt and concrete jungle

(Mr. Zahid G. Mohammad, 60, 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 Self-Sufficiency Times

It was a canopy of working class. That is how I look back at my birth place. It was township of artisans, craftsmen, needle works, carpenters, woodcarvers, and workers connected with handicraft industry. More than twenty ‘taifs’ (tribes) were associated with manufacturing of handicrafts. These included Jalakdoz, tiladoz, rafgar, purzgar, patgour, khandawaw, rangar, naqash, naqashgeer, kundangar, roshangar, chahan-nagasheer, sadiawol, qalbaf etc. There were hardly any elite amongst the aborigines of in our locality.

On the Eastern side of our locality there were vast tracts of vegetable farms spreading over acres of land. Huge vegetable farms were not something peculiar to our locality but were the dominant scene of the city in our childhood. I can visualize today that vegetables were cultivated perhaps over more than half of the total land area of the city. There were vast tracts of vegetable gardens on the Northern side of my alma mater. Whatever locality or area I walked through in my childhood had large areas of vegetable gardens. The commonly grown vegetables were hak, knol-kohl, spinach, tomatoes, turnip, potatoes, chili, carrot, onion, cucumber, garlic and tobacco. Tobacco was seen as a cash crop that perhaps earned some exchequer to the state as well. Though limited numbers of vegetable varieties were cultivated in our city but the produce was sufficient for feeding the entire population. I don’t remember that vegetables were ever imported in the city from outside the city, not to speak of the city. During winters not only some shops were packed to full with vats of dried vegetables but the festoons of dried vegetables particularly turnips, chillies and tomatoes adorned every house. The long winters and limited transport facilities had made people learn hard way the lessons in self-sufficiency which they have now unlearnt.

These vegetable growers as their castes suggest were only aborigines, Bhat’s, Dar’s, Rather’s, Wani’s, Kak’s, Katjoo’s and some carried nicknames as was the fashion as their surnames. I don’t think any of the migrants from the Central Asian that arrived in the city along with some Islamic missionaries or accompanied some sufi saint or had left their homes because of persecution ever adopted farming as their profession. Most of these visitors from outside adopted the name of the towns of their ancestors were mainly engaged in ‘religious occupation’ as has been written by Sir Walter Lawrence that “these were all fed at the expense of working class” but in our childhood situation had changed and the educated amongst them had taken to the government jobs.

There was one locality in our vicinity known as Kak Mohalla where mostly vegetable growers lived. There was cluster of houses amidst sprawling vegetable gardens - I don’t know if this family of vegetable growers were converts from Brahman’s or not but many Kashmiri Pandits carried the caste of Kak in our childhood. On the periphery of this Mohalla there were some Mohallas where some elite families lived and some of them were believed to have migrated from Kashgar. There were families that were proficient in making glass bangles. There were families that had an expertise in making ceramic cups. There were some family of petty traders and grocers.

The vegetable growers were early risers. They would be seen hoeing and tiling in their farms much before the sun behind the Zabarwan hillock would splash its golden hue on the marble white snow peaks and make them look golden. I remember the most interesting scene that attracted my attention was tool- the dip well that was used for irrigating the vayer the vegetable garden. The dip-well consisted of two erect poles. On these two poles hinged yet another very long pole having a long rope tied on one side and a heavy stone attached on the other side. A big rotund bucket of iron was attached to the other end of the rope.

Notwithstanding some chroniclers believing that the dip-well had arrived in Kashmir from Persia, it seems totally ingenious as the raw material used in it used to be local. The poles for the ‘toul’ were either made from some light but strong wood. The rope used for dipping the rotund bucket into well was not also imported but it was manufactured in the nearby Mohalla named as Razagar Mohalla. Majority of the people in this Mohalla were engaged in the manufacturing of the ropes from straw, koin, that grow along the rice fields, (this grass was sacred for Kashmiri Pandits as it was on this grass he was placed after death before putting on pyre), yechkar, that grew in abundance in the damp rich soils, and ropes from this plant were superior to that made from Indian jute and ropes were also made from bhang that grew in abundance in the wastelands in our childhood.

In my childhood I visited the Shrine of Makdoom Sahib regularly. And I took the route through Kak Mohalla to the Shrine. On my way to the shrine, I would often stop to watch the vegetable growers dipping the rotund iron bucket into the well and pulling it out. I enjoyed watching the bucket being emptied and the water gushing through the arteries of small canals for watering the green vegetables.

The vegetable growers were brawny people. There hard labor did not stop at the farms only but I have seen huge pestles and mortars in the compounds of most of the vegetable growers. The pestles were mostly made from strong woods like Kekar, walnut and hawthorn and mortars were chiselled out by the famous family of stone-chiselers in the nearby Mohalla. It were not women only who would be engaged in pounding chillies and tobacco leaves in these mortars but men would also do the job. The pounding of tobacco was mostly accompanied by singing of folk songs.

I remember in my childhood my birth burg was not only self-sufficient but a complete civilization.

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