Kashmiriat: Myth and Reality
by D. N. KaulThe
word Kashmiriyat has, for some recent past, been bandied about a lot. This
has happened in lectures and in writings, what by the so-called intellectuals,
rabble-rousers and others. M.J. Akbar dwelt on it is his book on Kashmir
and so did Dr. Karan Singh in his recent article in the 'Times of India'.
The word is a Persian
derivative from Kashmir and is normally meant to imply the characteristics
of a resident of the Kashmir valley. These characteristics include moral
and ethical attributes, socio-cultural behaviour-pattern and a fellow-feeling
suffused by humanistic values. The epithet also implies a non-aggressive
supine way of life.
Long years back, at
the commencement of the current century the Websters dictionary contained
a word Kashmirian. The word was explained as referring to fair-complexioned
residents of the sub- Himalayan Valley of Kashmir, whose traits, as per
the dictionary, were characterized by unethical behaviour, undependability
and devious ways of social and business conduct. I remember, how, as youngmen,
bubbling with local patriotism we condemned the editors/compilers of the
Websters dictionary as prejudiced imperialists.
Many of the long-listed
attributes of Kashmiriyat such as humanity, hospitality, fellow-feeling
transcending distinctions of religion et all sprang from sheer backwardness
of the people, both the Pandits as well as the Muslims. Members of both
the major communities which inhabited the valley carried with them an aura
of what may be described as nursery innocence. The people by and large
were unspoilt. Kashmir had remained cut off from the rest of the country
from the 11th century. Even Albiruni has mentioned how only Jews were allowed
in. The impassable mountain fortresses guarded the generality of peoples
and their "natures' naturalness". In primitive societies with absence of
glaring class-distinctions, the basic human traits of mutual help predominated.
Cunning and competitiveness seeped into human nature much later. In view
of Kashmiri's sequesteredness and economic backwardness, these attributes
Sheikh Abdulla, with
whom I had the privilege of working for two years as the head of the Dept.
of the State Police, was also, in the Roosevelt fashion, given to late-evening
fireside chats before restricted but acquiescing small gatherings. Sheikh
Sahib was hardly modern in the sense in which this epithet is used. Dressed
immaculately in Western style he remained an admirer of the oil- wick lamp
perched high on a niche in the wall with famished school-going children
poring in the dim light over elementary books in Urdu & Persian. I
used to repudiate this attitude, this eulogizing a primitive, poverty-born
culture. With such backward if not primitive people to rouse, Sheikh Sahib
became a rabble-rouser par-excellence. One could feel that beneath his
sneaking admiration of innocence born out of backwardness, social and economic,
lurked a fear that once the innocence gets rubbed off by the impact of
modernistic forces, his own leadership will get challenged and this is
precisely what happened.
Kashmir now has a good
number of upwardly mobile technical intelligentia who are engaged in cut-throat
competition with the Kashmiri Pandits who dominated the bureaucracy and
the technocracy for a period as also with fellow Muslims. Lower down, in
the commercial circles similar competition is ubiquitous with all its ugly
traits of undercutting, corruption and what have you.
In this ambience, we
will be looking in vain for innocence and nursery naivette which were eulogized
as the high water-marks of Kashmiriyat and which are still propagated as
being present in Kashmir. The Rishis who are supposed to have deeply influenced
the behaviour-pattern of the Kashmiris are a nearly forgotten lot, except
when they come handy for political ends. In fact Lal Ded and Nund Rishi
were essentially deviants who opted out of the growing social degeneration
and found solace, not in the multitude, but in a mystical oneness with
the Supreme Being. These great souls have not influenced or contributed
to Kashmiriyat- a changing concept. I would be surprised if a modern technically
trained management or computer specialist or an engineer or a bureaucrat
can reproduce a single wakh of Lal Ded or a Tukh of Nund Rishi. Even those
who possess their works-a microscopic minority-have relegated these to
the top shelves as the "Great unreadables". Lal Ded advocates introversion.
Which modern Kashmiri would opt for that in an age whose slogans are grab
somehow and consume? It would be unfair, if not wrong, to deduce the characteristics
of a people from the great mystics they may have produced. What is happening
in Italy is not even a travesty of Dante.
So the present day Kashmiri
carries no influence of the poetry of Lal Ded or Nund Rishi and knows other
Rishis only on their annual Urs festivals. With the spread of the vast
network of communication and politico-communal pulls emanating from diverse
national and international sources, the Kashmiri is completely transformed.
A strong dement of narrowness has permeated his thinking as compared to
the catholicity of the age of innocence. Where and what is Kashmiriyat?
It is no use holding on fondly to shibboleths when the reality is so disagreeable
and disgusting. Humanism & fraternity transcending the communal divide
and broad and Catholic outlook born out of innocence and lack of awareness
are ephemeral in their very nature. These traits are enduring only if they
are an outcome of a long period of marination in educated and cultured
social environment and of a true appreciation of what religion means and
stands for. This is true of the European peoples. In our present evolutionary
state we are a fanatical, narrow-minded people who burn neighbours' houses
and places of worship and shoot as a pastime, partly to prove that the
Kashmiri is macho & not supine. Kashmiriyat of the classical times
has got completely atrophied from people's behaviour-pattern and ethos.
It will be a long wait and only sustained evolution and education will
re-civilize us into decent Kashmiris. The suppressed devilry must expend
Did the editors/compilers
of the Webster's dictionary have an uncanny prescience in seeing through
and beyond the veneer of our apparent and ersatz goodness? Obviously, they
had! It is time we discard our blinkers and see the reality of Kashmiriyat.