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, September 8, 2013

A Shaame-e-Mehfil Like No Other

Amin separates real concerns from bogus rants and in the process shows how the civil society got it wrong

(Dr. Mohammed Amin Sofi, 59, was born in Handwara. He received his early education from the Higher Secondary School in Handwara, and his B.Sc. from the Government Degree College in Baramulla. He subsequently received a Master's degree in Mathematics from the Aligarh Muslim University, and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur. Prof. Sofi teaches and conducts research in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Kashmir. In his leisure time, he enjoys reading books, listening to classical western music, Urdu ghazals and Bollywood music (pre-1980's), and reading newspapers and journals.)


I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears when I learnt, for the first time, that a grand musical extravaganza was being organized at the historic Shalimar garden in the outskirts of Srinagar where the great musical maestro Mr Zubin Mehta would conduct the timeless symphonies of Beethoven, Bach, Hayden and Tchaikovsky. It was indeed a longcherished dream come true as it would provide a life-time opportunity to witness an event that I had attended a number of times, but always away from my homeland in the elegant and sophisticated ambience of a Berliner Philharmonie Orchestra in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe. It is one thing to listen to the soulful symphonies of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert at home but being treated to a live show that would feature the great maestro Zubin Mehta and that too in my own backyard was going to be very special. In my keenness to grab the first opportunity to attend this event, I immediately reached out for my friends and sources in the state administration-especially those directly concerned with this event- to enquire about the logistics involving Govt-issued passes or tickets being made available to those wishing to be part of this occasion.

Up to this point, I was completely unfazed by the shrill cacophonies of support and protest for and against this event by both sections of the political divide and of the civil society on grounds which to me sounded banal and lacking in content. This despite Idreesa Pandit’s exasperation “Will the audience know when to clap” voiced in her writeup “Symphonies of Oppression” that had appeared in today’s issue of Greater Kashmir. I am also unimpressed by the brand of logic proffered by a section of the press that the concert had to be boycotted on the grounds of Zubin Mehta’s political predilections and his hardcore Zionist ideology which has earned him a lifelong stint as director at the Israeli philharmonic orchestra in Tel Aviv. In fact, by the same logic, we shall have to close our eyes to the fascinating world of science and mathematics where the sheer bulk of the many spectacular achievements have been occasioned by scientists and mathematicians of Jewish origin- Einstein’s revolutionary theory of General Relativity and Andre Weil’s deep breakthroughs in Algebraic Geometry are amongst the chief examples. The fact is that whether it is science or art in the form of music, these are essentially secular in nature and it doesn’t behoove reading too much into a piece of art or science as being a lesser piece of creative work, just because it has been conceived by someone who holds a contrary worldview.

This euphoria of expecting to be part of this event, however, soon evaporated until, to my utter dismay and astonishment, I was told that there were no passes or permits or even tickets being made available for the purpose and that the entry was restricted to the crème de la crème of the Kashmir society, comprising mainly the ministers and bureaucrats of the state administration and those flown in from Delhi and other parts of the country, while keeping at bay those who should have been granted a glimpse of this fascinating spectacle even if they were required to shell out exorbitant amounts of money to buy a ticket for the concert! Let me hasten to add that it’s still possible to use personal contacts to arrange a ticket or a pass for myself to attend this event, but that is of no consequence and no reason to plead that ‘all is well’ as long as the local population is sought to be kept away from what could actually be a once in a lifetime event. This together with the fact that in the run up to the event, all the roads leading to and from the venue have either been closed or declared out of bounds for the general public amounts to enacting a farce on the people of Kashmir in the form of a concert which is supposed to be too sublime to be dragged into such unseemly controversies.

Notwithstanding his lofty intentions of presenting Kashmir and its culture to the rest of the world which had informed his conception of the idea to organize this show in Srinagar, it seems that Mr Michael Steiner is oblivious to the ways in which this event has been allowed to be hijacked and exploited by certain quarters to advance their designs in presenting a picture that is not there. As such, Mr. Steiner’s refrain that this concert is for the people of Kashmir and for their rich cultural heritage sounds a trifle hollow. How on earth can that be if those for whom this event has been conceptualized in the first place, have been kept out of bounds of this event as bulls in a china shop! That certainly betrays a devious streak in the thinking of those who have provided the necessary wherewithal for the ‘successful’ organization and culmination of this event, never mind the mindless vandalization of the area surrounding the venue which has been declared a heritage site. To those who scoff at the idea of connoisseurs of classical western music grabbing their first opportunity to attend a concert in Berlin or in Vienna while boycotting the one being held in Srinagar as being hypocritical-as a TV anchor had decreed in a recent news show- let it be told to him that such shows conducted elsewhere are purely for reasons of entertainment and are by no means sullied by the prospect of political games being played in the name of entertainment.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Parsees Enrich Kashmir's Heritage ... but you would not know it from the narrative gripping the valley today

Zubin Mehta, a Parsee, is bringing his orchestra to Kashmir for a special concert in the Shalimar Garden on Saturday, September 7, 2013. The 90-minute concert, reminiscent of musical programs in the garden from the days of Mughals, will be telecast live in over 50 countries. While the entire civil society of Kashmir has exposed its myopic character by denigrating the musical concert organized by the German Government, thank heavens for people like Saleem who look into the same canvas and recall the connection of Parsees with the valley

(Mr. Mohammad Saleem Beg, 62, was born and raised in Srinagar. He was educated at the S.P. College and the Gandhi Memorial College, receiving his Bachelor's degree from the latter. He was awarded a EEC fellowship in 1998 which allowed him to attend study courses at Universities of Luven, Belgium, and Trinity College, Dublin. Mr. Beg entered the State government service in 1975 and retired in 2006 as the Director General of Tourism. In the 31 years of public service (which included two deputation assignments in New Delhi), Mr. Beg promoted local arts and crafts, and raised public awareness of Kashmir's rich heritage and architecture. He was a leading figure in getting Srinagar listed as one of the 100 most threatened heritage cities by the World Monument Fund in 2008. Mr. Beg has traveled extensively and has attended numerous conferences, including the 1997 UN Special Session on Environment in New York, and the 1997 Kyoto Convention on Climate Change in Japan. His articles and essays have been published in various publications. Since retirement, he has remained active as the Convener of the J&K Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage - INTACH.)

Parsis and Kashmir

The forth-coming performance of Zubin Mehta, born in 1936 in a Parsi family in Mumbai, has rekindled our interest in a very rich but lesser known Parsi presence in Kashmir. Parsis or Zoroastrians are the followers of Zoaraster known as Zartusht in the Islamic world. Muslims are intimately acquainted with this religion as it is the only non Arab belief that finds honourable mention in Holy Quran. Islam equates pious followers of zartush, mentioned by Arab name Majusi, to the men of piety from semitic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Zartusht lived some time in 6th century BC in Middle Asia, then comprising Iran and Afghanistan with a lineage tracing to a spiritual family from Balkh, Afghanistan.

The close affinity of Zoarastrians with the semitic religions, especially Islam is well documented in the literature of the two religions. Majusis, like Muslims, believe in one ness of God, Ahur Mazda, and offer prayers five times a day. The only surviving monotheistic belief at the time of prophet of Islam (pbuh), it therefore evoked keen interest in this religion from the Muslim saints and scholars. The first Majusi who came in contact with the prophet (pbuh) and converted to Islam was Hazrat Salman Farsi. Recognizing his superior spiritual prowess and piety amongst the believers, Prophet (pbuh) showed great affection towards him and called him among the Ahl bait, a distinction bestowed to no other Muslim. Salman Farsi made great contribution towards establishing a just, honest and egalitarian society in the formative years of Islam. The Zoarastrian thought and philosophy was integrated into the larger fabric of Muslim society in the form of what is known in history as the Iranian influence. This subsuming gave Islam and the world the great Abassi empire, the zenith of Islamic faith, art, and culture.

The research on the forgotten parsi presence in Kashmir has an interesting and revealing backdrop. In 17th century a pathbreaking book surfaced which took the religious and temporal scholarly world by storm. The persian book was known as Dabistan or Dabistan-i- Mazahib (treatise of religions). This book gave a fair and unbiased description of the faiths of the time, the details of which were mostly obtained from the followers of the respective faiths. At a time when the religious scholarship was plagued with contestations, this book evoked tremendous interest. The book was attributed to Mulla Mohsin Fani (d 1671), a poet, renowned Islamic scholar and a popular figure in Kashmiri literary world. Fani seems to have been much ahead of his time and must have gone against the then prevailing traditional ethos. He was declared murtad for committing blasphemy by his co religionists (Sufi, Kashir). Subsequent historic writings attributed his being declared murtad to the book, Dabistan-i. mazahib, purported to have been authored by him. The book was first published in Calcatta in 1809 followed by a lithographed reprint by Ibrahim ibn Noor Muhamad, Bombay in 1875. This historic fallacy needs separate treatment by someone who is more into the concept of irtidad and the persian scholarship in Kashmir, a subject that has received scant attention from our historians.
Dabistan, for reasons of its great importance in understanding the religio-political environment of 17th century, has been put to some genuine scholarly scrutiny. Professor Athar Ali, Prof. Of History AMU, Wilson fellow, Wilson Woodrow centre for scholars (d 1998) took up this honorific task. He has come up with astounding facts about the authorship of the book. He has categorically established that Dabistan was authored by a parsi, Mobad, a disciple of Mobad Hoshyar, a parsi spiritual personality who lived in the company of other saints and mystagogues of his time. Here we enter into a hitherto lesser known world of parsi mystics of Kashmir. The author comes to Kashmir some time in 1630, where he records intellectual contacts exclusively with parsi priests who were living as a community in sects and sub-sects in Kashmir. This revelation has also opened up vistas for further research about our parsi heritage. He records his meetings with another mobad Hoshyer, mobad Sarosh, Pilazar, a follower of Shidragi sect of Parsis; Raham of paikari sect, and Andariman belonging to Alari sect and Shaidab of akhshi sect. He also meets yogi Ishar kar. Interestingly his first contact with a muslim mystic has been when journeying out of Kashmir, Arif Subhani in NWEP. Later on he meets Mahmud fal Hasiri in Kashmir who narrates a story about a parsi saint, disciple of farshad who again had lived in kashmir and who was known to Hasiri. He also meets ashur Beg, a sufi, who narrated a personal encounter with a parsi divine, Farzana Bahram.

We all know that Mian Mir whose disciple, Mulla akhoon was the spiritual master of Dara Shokoh for whom Dara built a sarai, madrasa and a hammam in the mughal city in Srinagar, Nagar Naagar. Mobad also meets Mulla Ismail sufi, another disciple of Mian Mir in Kashmir. While in Kashmir he also meets followers of Akhshi, a parsi sect whose followers had assumed muslim names. These saints were well versed in persian and Arabic and had extensive knowledge of persian literature, Islamic beliefs and mystic thought. Dabistan reveals substantial presence of parsi saints from different sects who found this land conducive to their spritual amd mystic urges revolving round the tenets of their indivisual faith and belief. These revelations, brought to light by Prof. Athar Ali, open up new vistas and a need for delving deep into the period literature using Dabistan as reference point. A new definition for resh waer, the land of saints as kashmiris call their country,is awaiting some masterly treatment so that this rich mosaic is exposed and presented to the world at large in the form in which it evolved and flourished here.

Reverting to the concert of Zubin Mehta at Shalimar on 7th Sept, it is very well known that the spirit and influence of music patronized by sufis and mystics resulted in music becoming the integral part of all flourishing muslim societies. Many great philosophers of Islam, including al –Kindi (d866), Al-Farabi(d950), Ibn Sina(d1037) wrote profusely on the theory of music and encouraged its performance. Al-Kindi argues that music can turn anger into calm, grief into joy, avarice into generosity and cowardice into bravery.

One is reminded of this treatise when one looks at the great work Zubin and his brother are doing in occupied territories of Isreal where they are lighting the tender hearts and souls of Palestinian children in villages like Nazareth and Shawaram by treating them to music therapy. The concert has been named Ehsaas-i-Kashmir. We hope it will measure up to its title and present the feelings of Kashmir through the medium of music.

The following urdu couplet points towards the expectations from the concert.

 ‘Kya zulmatoon main geet gaye jayein gey Haan, zulmatoon main zulmatoon ke geet gaye jayein gey’