(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 68, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)
The Enigmatic Kashmiri
There are many commentaries, theories and statements about the behaviour of a Kashmiri. A number of foreign authors have written in their books about the character of a Kashmiri. The most detailed description has been given by Sir Walter Lawrence in his well-known book, the “Valley of Kashmir”. Apart from bringing out the worst traits of a Kashmiri, he has also commented on some of his good qualities and the possibility of improving these. It would be very interesting to reproduce certain excerpts from the book about the character of a Kashmiri.
“The theory held by the Kashmiris themselves is that they were once an honourable, brave people, and that they were reduced to their present abject state by continued foreign oppression. But some who have made a special study of the Raja Tarangini inform me that, long before the days of foreign conquest and oppression, the Kashmiris were noted for their cunning and dishonesty. It is useless, therefore, to speculate on what the Kashmiris once were. But when one reflects on what they now are one cannot help the thought that many races, had they lived through generations of oppression, like the Kashmiris, might have been more cunning and more dishonest”.
“The Kashmiri is very loud and voluble. He is also very persistent. A Pandit, whose petition had been three times rejected, appeared a fourth time, and I told him that if he presented another petition I should have to report him to the local official. The next day the Pandit appeared with a paper in his hand; he was at once ordered to be removed, but explained that it was not a petition but a poem which he wished to present. The poem recited his grievances”. “In intellect the Kashmiris are perhaps the superior of the natives of India. They are very quick in argument, and they never abandon a case unless they are convinced that it is hopeless, and they always insist on knowing the grounds of a decision. The commonest Kashmiri can talk intelligently on most subjects, and they have a great aptitude for sarcasm. The valley is so small that news of the palace and its doings quickly spreads, and the administration and its officials are discussed in a very critical and often very shrewd manner. They believe that every man has his price, but are quick to recognize ability in their rulers”.
“The Kashmiri can turn his hand to anything. He is an excellent cultivator when he is working for himself. He is a good gardener, and has a considerable knowledge of horticulture. He can weave excellent woollen cloth, and can make first-rate baskets. He can build himself a house, can make his own sandals, and makes his own ropes. There is scarcely a thing which he cannot do, and as there are no middlemen like the Banyas of India, the Kashmiri is his own man of business. He understands profit and loss, and does not often make a bad bargain. He is, of course, like all orientals, conservative, and does not accept very readily crude suggestions regarding reforms in agriculture”. “In his home life the Kashmiri cultivator is at his best. He is kind to his wife and children, and one rarely hears of divorce scandals or immorality among the villagers. A woman who has behaved badly is a marked character in the country, and public opinion is always against her. The husband sometimes chastises his wife, and the men talk somewhat boast- fully of the necessity for maintaining discipline in their houses. But as a matter of fact the wife, both in Musalman and Hindu houses, is all- powerful, and I believe that, as a rule, the Kashmiri lives in awe of his consort. The Kashmiri wife is a real helpmate, and joint work and joint interests give rise to a camaraderie between man and wife which is very healthy”.
“In many respects the Kashmiri cultivator resembles the Irishman as described by Lever. He certainly possesses the quick wit which is so characteristic of the Irish, and has a deep-rooted objection to paying rent. There are many points of resemblance between Ireland and Kashmir. Both are small countries which have suffered or derived benefit from the rule and protection of more powerful nations, yet have never welcomed any change or improvement. Both Kashmiris and Irish love a joke, are fond of harmless deception, and are masters of good-humoured blarney. Both are kind to their children and the old folk. Both have the same disregard for the first principles of sanitation, though the interior of a Kashmiri hut is probably cleaner than that of a similar class of dwelling in Ireland. One day, while hearing petitions, I noticed an elderly Hindu villager standing on his head. He remained in that position for nearly half an hour before I asked him his business. He then explained that his affairs were in so confused a state that he did not know whether he was standing on his head or his heels”.
“The Kashmiris are fond of singing and of song-birds, and it is very pretty to hear them singing as they dibble in the young rice plants or break the clods with their wooden mallets. Some of the songs are full of poetical thought, and the airs are sweet and plaintive. They are fond of the beauties of nature, and the city people take their tea out to the almond gardens when they are in bloom, and sit rapt in delight for hours together. The almond gardens in the vicinity of Srinagar are most beautiful when they come into bloom in the early spring”.
“It is difficult to describe a people's character, but the account I have given of the Kashmiris is already too long, and there is no space for anecdotes which might perhaps give a better clue to character than general remarks. I would, however, add that the Kashmiris possess an individuality and national character which will cling to them wherever they go. I have seen men who have returned to Kashmir, whose ancestors left the country two or three generations ago. Their dress was changed and their manners had changed, yet they retained unmistakeable signs of a Kashmir origin, and their ways of thought and of speech showed their descent. The Kashmiris are fond of their own country, its food, its water, and its dress, and, though oppression has driven them out of the valley, many have come back and all are loath to leave. The Kashmiri proverb, ' Tsari chu kand thari peth karar,' which means that a bird is content when it is on its own branch, is often quoted by a Kashmiri when the advantages of service in the Panjab are pointed out to him”.
“Finally, though the character of Kashmiris leaves much to be desired, I think that it is to their credit that it is not worse, considering the few chances they have had for becoming truthful, manly, and self-respecting. A man who can be beaten and robbed by anyone with a vestige of authority soon ceases to respect himself and his fellow-men, and it is useless to look for the virtues of a free people among the Kashmiris, and unfair to twit them with the absence of such virtues. The Kashmiri is what his rulers have made him, but I believe and hope that two generations of a just and strong rule will transform him into a useful, intelligent, and fairly honest man”.