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An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

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Preservation of Culture, Identity & Heritage

by Raj Nath Bhat

Kashmiri pandits are spreadvirtually across the globe, though their numerical strength is low outside India. Within India the largest segment resides in Jammu; a good number of them also live in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Chandigarh. Kashmiri Pandit Sabhas/ Forums have come up in almost all the cities of the country, except in Chennai, Trivandrum, etc. There are a couple of International Forums in Europe, US, etc. Besides economic and political issues, all the Sabhas/ Forums have been dominated by the vital issue of the preservation of our language and culture. But this issue has an unusual edge of complexity to it because of the various displacements that our community had to face during the past seven hundred years. So the problem and the issue related to it have to be understood in a perspective that is broader than one might assume.

The displacements of Kashmiri Pandits have created four different kinds of groups whose perceptions, needs, and outlooks vary. The first group comprises pandits who left the valley between the 14th and 19th centuries. They still retain their surnames like Raina, Koul, Nehru, Kathjoo etc. and a few cultural and ritualistic traditions, too. For instance, the wearing of ornaments, aTh and Dejhor by married women. Since they moved out of the valley when communication links were quite primitive, they could hardly maintain a link with the community back home.

After the major displacement of the community in 1990, they found it difficult to come to terms with the new situation. Initially they were not sure of whether to reestablish the bond with the parent culture and tradition or keep aloof. With the passage of time, a large majority has realized that identifying with the parent community can be the only reasonable move.

The other group comprises those who moved out of the valley between 1930 and 1989 for finding suitable employment because employment opportunities for them had shrunk considerably, especially after India became independent. Disillusioned with the state of affairs that prevailed in the valley, meritorious persons were forced to leave it along with their families. These had most of their siblings/ kinspersons in the valley. The displacement of 1990 anguished them a great deal for a large segment was nearing retirement and had plans to go back and settle in their ancestral towns/villages in the valley. Their dreams were shattered and the pathetic condition of their displaced kinspersons added to their pain. They are a part of the displaced community, emotionally, and psychologically. The third group constitutes the displaced Pandits of the 1990 catastrophe. They have endured hell all these 16 years. Their agony is difficult to put in words.

The fourth group consists of a few thousand Pandits who continue to live inside the valley. Their negligible numerical strength and spatial distribution may make it difficult for them to retain their faith for long, I fear.

The last two sections are the storehouse of our culture, language and traditions. The numerically strong third section (the displaced of the 1990) is in a difficult situation economically, socially and psychologically. They have to make a new beginning somewhere, somehow. It is this segment and their progeny that can continue to live our heritage and pass it on to the future generations. But due to the trauma they have suffered, they are unaware of what they are about to loose. The wards of the first two sections are comparatively secure. But they have little or no exposure to our heritage. All the three groups of our young generation in displacement need to be persuaded to come together and plan out strategies for preservation and refinement (if that were needed) of our traditions and culture. This is an intelligent generation, ambitious, adventurous and enlightened. But as far as the significance of one’s identity is concerned, their understanding of its importance is minimal if not zilch. The community elders need to zeroin on this generation. They can be guided and persuaded to play a pivotal role by getting together frequently, breaking communication/ psychological barriers to create an awareness about the preservation of our identity. They could be motivated to arrange language teaching/learning classes, compare competitions on our revered scholars, both Buddhist and Shaiva/Vaishnava history, religious festivals, social customs, rituals and rites and so on and so forth. This will enthuse them and a fraternal bond can thus be built among them.

We, as parents, need to give a profound thought to what our progeny can be just twenty five years into the future when the anguish of displacement would have faded out, if not completely effaced, from our minds. And the whole generation will surely be multilingual, proficient in Hindi, English and a couple of other Indian/ foreign languages, but with no knowledge or understanding of Kashmiri, which they will claim to be as a mark of their identity.

Kashmiri is a label we shall continue to have whether you like it or not. The significance of such a label is rarely realized when one is young and struggling/ enjoying. It assumes importance when one grows to realize that s/he needs to know about her/his predecessors, pedigree- their achievements, follies, aspirations and dreams, failures and successes, their day to day life, food habits, customs, festivals and festivities, rituals and rites, ceremonies and externals, attire and etiquette, beliefs and superstitions, myths, legends and history. One’s ‘pahchan’ as a member of a ‘biradari’ begins with the knowledge of one’s mother tongue- the first link to one’s identity. This fact cannot be realized in one’s teens or adolescence when all is either going goody-goody or sorrowful with a person. It is at the stage of adulthood that the crisis of identity begins to strain your nerves. And if you get to be spiritually inclined, the lack of the knowledge of your mother tongue anguishes you a great deal. The knowledge of one’s mother tongue hasthe potential to bathe you in spiritual quests.

Kashmiri is studded with poets whose spirituality and knowledge makes one ecstatic. Lalleshwari, Zinda Koul, Bhagwan Gopi Nath, Parmanand and many more awaken you to the realization of the Supreme Soul, the Shiva and Shakti. Translations would help but if you have a command over the renderings in original Kashmiri, your depth of understanding turns out to be profound.

A lack of command over the mother tongue turns you into an alien among your own kith and kin. You imagine being a member of your community without understanding the subtleties and nuances of any of the festivals and ceremonies, rituals and rites you participate in. With the passage of time you are forced to recreate yourself as a member of some other group but your heart wails for the loss that you have suffered - the knowledge of your mother tongue and the history and myth that make you a being of a particular community. You wish to be in your imagined home and to live that imagined culture but you are ill informed or not informed at all. There is a constant churning going on inside you but there is no visible light that could deliver you. You begin to seek memberships of cultural bodies and forums where you believe you would find yourself, know yourself. Your urge to belong intensifies. You are anguished.

This (your urge to belong)happens because your parents were possibly less awakened. They provided for your education, your welfare but they cared little about your adult aspirations and cravings. They were unaware of the fact that a respectable command over one’s mother tongue is the entranceto your home. You can imagine realistically about your ancestral home in your adopted home only if you are proficient in the mother tongue.

I believe that no matter what, there comes a stage in one’s life when you yearnto know yourself. This yearning is nothing but an urge to know one’s past history, culture and beliefs. It is here that the ‘seeker’ finds her/himself handicapped. S/he may not speak out openly, but in the heart of hearts, s/ he feels sad about this limitation. One must remember that it is the recognition that your community extends you, which makes or unmakes you as an actor in history!! A tight-jacket module for the preservation of one’s mother tongue cannot be spelled out for a community which is scattered all over the country and beyond and whose numbers vary from place to place. Another significant point that needs to be spelled out is the material gain that a young mind accrues to the learning of Kashmiri. Learning of Kashmiri does not guarantee one a decent job or something, so why trouble one’s mind! The psychological gain that one obtains with the knowledge of one’s mother tongue is difficult to appreciate at a young age. We have to realize that if we don’t wish our progeny to suffer from a sense of lack of belongingness, we need to speak to our children in Kashmiri at home. It may not be possible to provide them special courses in Kashmiri, but mere use of it at home will work wonders. We live in an age of electronics where computers, audio-video gadgets are available all over. There is a need to develop audio-video materials on festivals, ceremonies, rituals, and rites and so on to allow our young to have a view of the celebrations that accompany them. Families scattered in various nooks and corners across the globe need to know about Shivratri celebrations, Navreh and birthday rituals, death rituals and rites, marriage and child-birth rituals. This can be made available through the medium of audio-video gadgets.

How many parents do not want their kids to perform their last rites according to our tradition? It is our duty to let them learn what this tradition is all about. It is our duty to let them have a broader understanding of our culture and language. A child has the genetic potential to master several languages simultaneously. We should not deprive her/him of the mother tongue. Let it be her/his language of intimate discourse with you and your kinsmen. We will thus be performing the duty of a responsible parent. We cannot blame them if they do not share our beliefs and traditions.

We have the resources to provide for such inputs. The project Zaan has done a commendable job with their Kashmiri-Devnagri script and language teaching materials. Many more efforts are being made across the country. There is a need to create awareness about the fact that you cease to be a rightful heir to your heritage and legacy if you shun your history, culture, beliefs and language. It is possible for our community elders to arrange weekly (Sunday) classes in community centers where Kashmiri could be taught. We are now adequately equipped with a standard Kashmiri-Devnagri script in which scores of books have been published and many more are in the offing. This script is easy to teach and it provides characters for all the vowels and consonants of the language. The training in the pronunciation of vowels and consonants special to Kashmiri can be given by using audio-video recordings. The project Zaan and many other centers across the country need to come together to develop programmes based upon real life conversations between participants in different situations. This should be followed by a question answer session with the participants to the programme. Kashmiri employs a huge chunk of words that are similar or partially similar to Hindi words. A corpus of such vocabulary items is available in print that every Sabha ought to procure. We can persuade our young that learning to speak Kashmiri has other advantages: you can learn so called difficult sounds of languages like Chinese and German with much more ease. Kashmiri, German and Chinese, and many other languages, use the consonant sound ts very frequently. Similarly, the central vowels E, I have a high frequency of occurrence in Kashmiri which again puts a Kashmiri knowing person at advantage while learning languages with these vowels.

Several cultural organizations across the country have been organizing contests where school/ college-going students are made to make presentations in Kashmiri. This is an emulative practice through which the best of contestants from different regions could be brought together for a final round of presentations. This will bring about a sense of cohesiveness among our young minds and their urge to contribute will enhance. There is a need to think collectively and inculcate a sense of togetherness amongst the young. They need to know each other and to realize that they have a mission to accomplish. The role of parents is of paramount importance at every step. Those parents who are themselves less proficient in Kashmiri ought to attend weekly classes along with their sons and daughters.

This will create an atmosphere of competitiveness at home between the parent and the child. Since children have the natural/ biological potential to learn a language faster, they will get an opportunity to correct their parents. This, you can imagine, will boost the child’s morale and his/her performance will show a tremendous growth.

There is ample literature on Kashmiri available in print/ electronic form. ‘Naad’ has been bringing out conversational lessons every month; ‘Project Zaan’ provides materials in electronic as well as print forms. There are many books exclusively on teaching of Kashmiri published by Mysore based Central institute of Indian languages. What is required is the will to use it at city, colony, sector, mohalla level depending upon the size and space of the community. And the onus is on the elders of the families. No outside agency can do anything in this regard if we lack the right motivation? The inter-caste/inter-regional marriages are on the rise with our young sons and daughters. A marriage between a Kashmiri girl and a non- Kashmiri boy brings to an end the girl’s identityas a member of Kashmiri Pandit community. Her kids can in no way belong to our community. They will assume a different surname and belong to their father’s community. A Kashmiri boy taking a non- Kashmiri wife gives his Kashmiri surname to his kids but knowledge and exposure to traditions and culture is negligible. We can see the instance of Pandit Nehru’s daughter. Her illustrious sons had no links/bonds with Kashmiri culture. Frequent get-togethers may bring about a decline in such extra community marital alliances. Weekly/ fortnightly/monthly meetings, festivities/hawans will serve a twin purpose; bring community members together to share their experiences and enable our young to know one another and possibly find suitable life partners. In 1990, we were forced to fleethe Valley, to sever our ties with our ancestral land where our pedigree had lived for over five thousand years. Shaiva Kashmiri was there even before Kashmir knew any Buddhists, Sikhs or Muslims. The land was known not only for her bountiful rivers and mountains but also for the scholarship that it cultivated for over three thousand years. It is recorded that when Patanjali completed his commentary ‘Mahabhashya’ on Panini’s Ashtaadhyaya, he went over to Kashmir to consult and seek the approval of the pundits in Kashmir before ‘releasing’ it to the world of scholarship at large. A Buddhist scholar, Kumar Jeev who was trained in Kashmir, is a legend in Chinese history. He, it is believed, translated over a hundred Pali texts into Chinese, which saw Buddhism flourish in China. The Pandits have been a peace loving ethnic group, fond of good foods, fruits and flowers, and above all scholarship. You may recall that after the displacement of 1990, the uprooted community was extremely concerned about the education of their wards, food and shelter was accorded a second priority.

A friend of mine from Jammu expressed his astonishment at seeing young kids appearing from nowhere early in the morning and their parents escorting them their way to some nearby school, in most cases, a tent school. This has been and may continue to be the basic desire of our biradari - pursuit of education, knowledge and gyan and understanding. Sanskrit has been the language of intellection of our ancestors. This fact must not be ignored. It is an august duty of our generation to inspire and persuade our young minds to study Sanskrit and master it. Our ancestors mastered many languages simultaneously and Sanskrit occupied a pride of place there. In the present materialistic world, parents assume that engineering, medicine, and management are the only worthy areas that their wards ought to opt for. It is an ill conceived thought whose consequences can be fatal for our progeny. The areas of knowledge are many. We should aim at excelling in all areas including the study of Shastras and Vedas. This will ensure glory to our future generation and those that follow them.

There are many communities in our own country that have suffered the trauma of displacement but they ensure that their kids learn the mother tongue at home. Can we emulate their example? Instances are many, but I bring forward just two: Bengalis who had to run away from what is now Bangladesh and Sindhis who flew Sindh in Pakistan. Bengalis are scattered in various states, so are Sindhis yet they speak their respective mother tongues at home. There are many other communities that deserve to be emulated in this respect. Instances are : Malayalis, Tamils, Punjabis, Gujaratis to name a few. I was amazed to find that just four Gujarati families in Asmara, North East Africa had successfully preserved their mother tongue after nearly a hundred years of migration there! And their kids spoke chaste Hindi too just because, as they put it, they were amply exposed to Hindi Films right through their childhood and youth. The families sought brides for their sons and grooms for their daughters from Gujarat. There was not a single case of inter-community marriage reported.

May our renewed quest for preservation of our culture, identity and heritage make it happen across the country and abroad so that our progeny does not suffer the pangs of a lack of identity, as do many communities in several countries across Europe and the Americas. Love Kashmiri, Learn Kashmiri! Be a rightful heir to your legacy and history and culture!

(Author is Head, Deptt. of Linguistics, Banaras Hindu University)

Source: Milchar

  

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