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, October 9, 2011

A Social Hubris

Tajamul says it is time to fold-up the custom of Wazwan, especially in the marriage season. Others agree (two reports)

(Mr. Tajamul Hussain, 54, was born in Srinagar. He went to the Government Higher Secondary School in Nawakadal, Srinagar, and the S.P. College, Srinagar. He attended the College of Engineering, Andhra University, Waltair, the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), New Delhi, and the Forest Research Institute. He is a freelance writer.)

Wazwan: A Social Evil

The razzmatazz of the 'wazwan' showbiz reminds us of our behaviour as super-gnashers, super-chewers, super-gluttons and what not. A pride of carnivorous 'naked apes' (in foursomes) herd together to invade and devour the 'hunters' feast' at the 'prey temperatures'. Some love the meat, some love to pick the bone and some love gobbling handfuls of cooked rice. Strictly viewing the feast through a prey's eye, the modern human huntless hunters (like those trackers without quarry and chasers with nothing to pursue) sitting around 'batta traam' and devouring the stodgy feast without respite look like savage killers. Looked however within the human community itself, the change to hunting meant a change to mutual aid and friendly cooperation and therefore the very opposite to savagery. It also meant that feeding occasions became social events, rather than personal activities. In a hunting parlance, ‘wazwan feast' is kind of food-sharing social event, dubbed though as an orgy of wastage of money (and resources) aimed at making vulgar/awful ostentation.

When he sits down to a meal, the pseudo-hunter may not have caught and killed the prey that is being served up for eating, but he has at least filled in the hunting hours before the meal with a suitable substitute for the chase. From our forefathers we learnt to feign it by not adhering to the timings of the feast. The half baked, feeble, nonsensical requests made in the invitation cards, ‘to be punctual’, is damned rather as ritual (similar to what we do with the statutory warnings printed on the cigarette packet against smoking). Johnny-come-lately and dilly dalliers keep everyone waiting. Their scheme of showing up late is to shun the painful wait they are otherwise to wade (knee deep) in the desert of vast eternity. The famished lot of early birds and Johnny-on-spot(s) gets drawn into an unending social event of debating the hunting performances, opportunities, weaknesses, strategies and tricks of the trade. The late serving of feast, the ‘menace-in-perpetuity', is pooh-poohed and dismissed scornfully.

Yezman, the principal host, and his accomplices are antsy. In their frenzy to serve feast on time they force themselves into making (series of) recce of the cushy shamiana to mark attendance. The number of guests that have arrived isn’t sufficient to start serving feast. ‘Wousta’ and 'Wazza mohnevs', busy shooting the breeze, await green signal from the Yezman. As and when it is received they would stoke fire afresh in the 'vaer', the hearth laid down for (burning wood) cooking wazwan.

With the sudden brouhaha in the host's camp the hungry souls in the tent breathe a sigh of relief. The much cherished sound of sylph like tin-coated copper naa'r (jug) clinking with the saucer shaped copper tasht (wash basin) is kind of trigger for necks to crane in a typical caveman’s' (our hunter forefathers) gesture. A brigade of highly disciplined, energetic teens and twentysomething appears from somewhere with several tashts and naa’rs in hand to pour water to the guests to wash hands. As they finish with it, another contingent of youngsters rolls down the milky Dastarkhawn. The herd of hungry carnivore is now ready to invade (and devour) the 'hunters' feast', the hot ‘batta traam’, at the 'prey temperatures'

Mouths salivate; chops get licked at the thought of the delicious smell emanating from the 'batta traam. No better moment could be chosen to invade and assassinate an enemy. So riveted is his attention at this second, when the surposh, the lid, is removed that even if the diner is deep in conversation at the moment of arrival of 'batta traam' his eyes still fixate the steaming dish, as if life depended upon seeing it now, at his first possible instant. It is a sight a cat seeing a mouse.
He is tempted to see in this reaction the ghost of an ancient hunter spotting his prey.

The hot 'batta traam' and the motley collection of culinary delights served during the wazwaan, rekindle the memories of the 'natural heat' of the freshly killed prey and the 'body warmth' of our first and most comforting foodstuff---milk from the breast. Meat is the male food. It is the hunter’s triumph. Vegetables are the female food. They are the nest feeder’s triumph. Historically it was females who would gather vegetables. Hunters would start with meat and end with sweet.

The prize find of succulent methi, crisp tabakh maaz, appetizing sekh kebab, yummy chicken, desolate dani phoul (mostly left uneaten) and of course machi kebabs salivate mouths. The big eaters pig out and even ravenously munch their way through the share of the fellow diners. Lazy bones are yet to taste rista, let alone roughen josh. They’re busy negotiating with their share of chicken and tabakh maaz. Some of the invitees peck at the boiled rice to lay hands on their share of dishes to stow them away into the polythene bags arranged for the purpose. When the Wazza scurries unceasingly across the gaps to serve one dish after another, the hapless lot of diners long for a respite. Unless one is a gourmand, a glutton, the diners soon keep themselves away from eating except to mark their presence.

We always tend to go histrionic about our disapproval of ‘Wazwan’ as a social evil that causes afflictions and sufferings to the common man. The question arises: ‘why on earth are we Kashmiris hell bent to go out on an orgy of making vulgar ostentation of money and resources every now and then?’ Guest control measures, both voluntary as well as involuntary, taken from time to time, have always proved ephemeral and without any desirable results. Wazwan keeps on being one of the rarest innovative things of the otherwise inert Kashmiri society. The wazwan of yesteryears is no longer the same as we have it today. From invitation cards to the number of dishes and the paraphernalia have all undergone a sea change. The fact is that we get the greatest personal utility and derive ostentatious pleasure from amassing riches, displaying our fanciest homes and assets as also to seek approbation/commendation of others by going for wazwan kind of extravaganza. We would feel small and insignificant if not applauded or approved by the people we want to impress.

Why do we fritter our money away by cooking far more than we can eat?

Mufti Mubashir (Greater Kashmir)

September is the season of marriages. The mood is colourful. Marriage is the only occasion which lays foundation of the society. It brings together two individuals and ties them in the nuptial knot to form the unit of society. Marriage should be solemnized in a simple manner according to sunnah of our beloved Prophet (pbuh). Last two decades saw a remarkable departure from traditional way of solemnizing marriages. Instead of late night barat, which often proved hectic and troublesome to the guests and exposed them to the perils of darkness, the timings were changed to suit the circumstances. It was a welcome break. Everybody sighed a sigh of relief. For a guest, it was always troublesome to participate in baraat of the bridegroom as it would mean having dinner at (eleven forty five) midnight and coming back to home in wee hours of morning. This participation was hectic for one and all. Some of us argue that Baraat must proceed at night as during darkness as it has its own charm. I am not here to compare advantages or disadvantages of Baraat at late hours. What is important is the comfort of our guests. They should be comfortable with the timings of baraat. To me, if at all it should be, it should preferably be at 9 O’clock and by ten the guests should be free.

We should celebrate our nikah in a simple manner in a mosque as approved by Islam. The mehr should not be fixed so high that it becomes unreasonable, and if purpose is to make the groom to stay in marriage. Let us not think of situation which should not arise.

In the first place, I do not understand why should we imitate the traditions of others and take our own guests to the residence of bride, as if to win over the wife. It appears as if we are going to attack enemy territory and we collect booty from them. If the groom desires to throw a party to his friends, it should be given at his own place. I am not averse to celebrate the day, but celebrations should be within permissible limits.

Islam treats marriage as one of the most sacred and auspicious occasions, for it establishes the unit of society. Our marriages are more or less akin to Hindu marriages, the cheap display of wealth, intermingling of sexes and our mothers and sisters wearing semi -translucent clothes with loads of gold and diamonds present a livid atmosphere. Three decades back a friend would be debarred from access to the tent of women folk. Only closest relatives were allowed to arrange a hand wash inside the tent. Strangers were not given access. Our elderly women imitating their younger generation are one step ahead, the make up and their tantrums! We seek Allah’s blessing for the couple when we recite khutaba-e-nikah, Allah will not like any gathering where His laws are violated with impunity. Allah will not like any marriage which is not celebrated according to tenets of Islamic laws. Instead of seeking blessings, we seek wrath of Allah. Instead of showering blessings, our behavior and gatherings, we deserve to be wiped out like earlier generations. It raises issues of what is permissible and what is prohibited in Islam. It is obligatory on the proposed groom that he should not accept precious gifts, and all the more important on him, who has put up appearance of a Muslim.

The groom can give a feast at his own residence to his friends and relatives. For that a waleema can be hosted.

Yesterday I met a person who was blessed with a daughter. His face was a bit drawn, I enquired from him what was wrong, he replied that our sense of shame has died. He pointed out that our women folk have to be educated, that in case they want to get an oil based injection which is normally injected in the thigh, you can seek a lady compounder or nurse for this purpose and you do not have to down your trousers in a shanty medical shop, where a chemist injects without any hesitation or any guilt. Does it make any sense?

Wastage of food is another area which needs to be looked into. The traditional five dishes in wazwan was to an extent reasonable but over and above the additions and innovations have led to extravaganza. wazwan has been contentious, because it has weakened us through our gastronomics. It was used as a tool for bringing down governments in the valley. The shift to buffet, no doubt has reduced wastage and saves precious time of people who value time, but the tradition of having food in traem along with three other guests is in keeping with our tradition.
The question of abolishing traditional wazwan and replace it by standing buffet is no doubt a welcome step, but traditionalist argue that if it is food alone which is to be consumed, the purpose is accomplished, wazwan provides time for socializing. In this jet age, where time is a constraint, where relations have become fragile and weak, the sentiments and emotions, for each other, and mutual respect for each other has faded away in presence of materialistic values, wazwan provides the medium where you collide with your relatives and friends. Friends you could not see because of mechanical and material life styles. The argument of wastage can be addressed by allowing the waza (cook) to serve that which you can consume. The host does not want to finish the feast (lunch or dinner) in hot haste. A humble request to serve various dishes not in a scurrying manner but after ample time is given for clearing the earlier servings.

During militancy, we have witnessed original fire power, but fire crackers were not allowed. Lately we in ostentatious display of wealth burst crackers for thousands of rupees, without caring hoot for those who laid their lives for us. Some of us are sick, elderly people, some have to appear in examination, we hardly bother for them and indulge in extravagance.

We must introspect, if we are Muslims, whether we are to follow way prescribed by the Quran and sunnah, or we follow way of satan. Choice is ours.

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