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.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Original Kashmiri Bravado

Zahid takes you on a journey of enchantment that only old-timers can recall with relish

(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.)

"Full Tonga"

The roads then were better than they are today. Down the memory lane- more than forty five years back- the roads in my part of city were not muddy; yes they were not potholed and bumpy. They did not puncture the rhythm of the melodious songs and hymns of the toiling carters pulling their tumbrel and carts filled to capacity with stones, bricks and other loads on these roads.

Those days no trucks or auto load carriers plied on our roads- it was the carts that carried all kinds of loads inside the city. The building material stones, bricks, lime and timber would arrive in big barges to the nearest Ghat on the Jhelum or the Mar Canal wherefrom it would be loaded in men driven carts to different parts of the city. The roads then were silent but tidy- watered and swept in the wee hours. The silence on the roads was broken only by the plaintive folk songs and hymns of the cart pullers- some like traditional Kashmiri marriage songs (wanwun) were born on the spur of the moment and some had been passed from generation to generation without being written by any one. Then I did not understand these songs that cascaded with our woeful tales of the plight and cruelty suffered by the people at the hands of desperadoes.

I remember in our childhood only very few cars passed through our road. I and my peers remembered number plates of most of the cars that passed through roads in our part of city. The number plates read J&K…then there were hardly any cars with four digit numbers. The number of cars in entire state those days might not have crossed few a thousands.

In our locality only two neo-rich families, who were closer to the then power centre owned cars and many other old rich families owned a single horse driven chariot called Tonga .

Oh! it has been a distinctive phenomenon of our society in all uncertain political situations it has thrown up a neo-rich class of people. The departure of feudal aristocracy saw a new class of people fattening on the uncertain situation and shortage of essentials like salt and tea after the closer of the Jhelum valley Road. Many have-nots who could hardly afford two time meals emerged as a class replacing the old aristocracy. The mid-fifties saw yet another class of people thriving upon political concessions and emerging as a neo-rich class of people that in our childhood had earned the nickname- Guga- mid seventies were not different than fifties and sixties. There are many stories of rags to riches not to be counted as success stories but as that of exploitation in nineties - the phase that will be remembered in our history as period of blood, tears and sacrifices. The nineties have also thrown up a neo-rich class not only urban areas where they have built massive castles on the foundation of bones but in the rural areas also where this class has added to its estates.

True, very few of the neo-rich in our childhood owned cars but they could be spotted from a distance for the demeanor and the dress-more particularly the style of keeping astrakhan (Karakuli) caps on their heads- a bit sliding towards the right eye sometimes touching the eyebrows described in local parlance as- aaji-mange. They would also be recognized by the Tonga owned or hired by them. They often hired new Tongas driven by tall and stout horses. Scenes of some these neo-riches sitting on the back seat of the Tonga carrying airs as if whole world was under their feet flash before my eyes as if it happened just yesterday. One of the popular terms for hiring a Tonga was “full-tonga”- meaning allowing no other passenger sit on the Tonga but paying for all.

I remember on occasions I carried as good airs as those of the neo-rich in my part of city. This feeling would come to me whenever my father hired a full-tonga for me for sending me to home from his office. My father’s office was in Basant Bagh- from his office to Naid Kadal two annas (one eight of a rupee) was the fare per passenger which was later raised to four annas. I remember it cost two rupees for full tonga from my father’s office to our home. My father for my safe journey would often take a note of the number of the Tonga- then Tonga’s also had their numbers painted on the two sides. There were two main Tonga stands (Adda) near my father’s office- one was near the Budshah Chowk and another on the Red Cross Road. I loved watching the horses with their blinkers removed grazing grass or eating rice husk and drinking water out of a pond made of chiseled lime stones in these addas before boarding the Tonga.

I remember the happiest moment for us during summers used to be the Sunday evenings- when all children in our family dressed tastefully to their best would be waiting for Jamal Gurou - the Tongawala for taking us to Chasmashahi in the evening.

The preparations for evening trip started at noon with my mother and aunt engaging themselves for cooking evening meals to be enjoyed in the salubrious and a captivating moonlit evening by the sides of sonorous brook in the Chasmashahi garden. The food containers the rice dagachas and meat dechawaris, would be packed in willow baskets by four- those days there were no hot cases for carrying hot food to picnic spots. No sooner Jamal Gurou arrived outside our home- the food packs would be carried by children and kept in the front side of the Tonga. The elder children would sit in the front along with my uncle and the younger ones in the back seat with my mother and aunt. The journey towards Chasmashahi started by five but it was often punctuated at the Nehru Park was popularly was known as “the point”- sometimes we ferried in the boats to the Island and sometimes we just strolled in the nearby park. I remember going uphill the Chasmashahi road on the Tonga was great pleasure- many times as we reached near the garden the speed of the horse would slowdown and children were often asked to get down from the Tonga and walk up to the stairs leading to the garden. No sooner the food items were removed from the Tonga Jamal would unbridle the horse and put some grass before him.

The Chasmashahi garden would be dotted with families having food under moon light- those were great day of fun.

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