Losing language, losing culture

Political stalemate today after fractured mandate and enormous contradictions in our political culture – I wonder if we have any today – are in one sense traceable to loss of culture. And this loss of culture follows disregard or atrophy of indigenous and cultural languages we inherited.

Cognitive psychology informs us that we learn in our mother tongue, that our mind needs to translate in mother tongue and then cognizes whatever it is taught in other languages. What a tragedy if our minds are confused in which language to translate as it is through an odd mixture of non-classical Urdu, Hinglish and parts of Kashmiri that we are initiated into the world of culture. Some of our best na’ats, munajaat, prayers are in Persian and Kashmiri. It means we are evolving into a monstrosity that can’t even pray properly. From both Arabic and Sanskrit – the languages of scriptures – we are already weaned away without even tasting them. It means our linguistic unconscious is quite impoverished to be able to dream dreams that our ancestors fed on sacred languages dreamt. Imported minds, hybrid souls, not aware of multiple signification of traditional dress – do we know that even turns of a turban and pattern on carpets or vases or wood we use in traditional buildings are connected to our background religion and metaphysics? A community or culture that doesn’t care that its students are not taught sciences at elementary level at least in its mother tongue has no right to complain why it is not producing many intellectuals or any Nobel laureates. Here common people are not even aware of world famous school of Buddhist philosophy that developed here or our unique gift to the world of new full-fledged philosophical school – Kashmir Saivism ?

UNESCO has the mandate to promote culture. How sad that we haven’t been able to secure for our language special privileges and couldn’t get projects on truly comprehensive encyclopaedic dictionaries on the pattern of Encyclopaedia Americana or Britannica (we have both Kashmiri Encyclopaedia and dictionary but how comprehensive they are is not hard to see for anyone who is aware of current standards of scholarship and content of regional encyclopaedias prepared in the developed world) sanctioned so far. Our best writers suffer for want of few thousand rupees to publish their writings. Even dictionary of Kashmiri crafts has not been forthcoming. A glorious culture is almost on the brink of oblivion as new generation finds the script used for writing Kashmiri daunting and is not, in this globalization of homogenization of cultures and imperialism of certain languages like English, ready to engage with either Kashmiri language or its “obsolete” and “arcane” culture.

Poverty or decadence in our sense of culture has affected all classes of people. Even most of our professors or secretaries who constitute cream of society can’t read native languages. For whom do our writers write in native languages? Poets are reluctant to introduce themselves as poets. So are painters. So are professionals of some traditional art forms. Sufi poets that we are proud of have been almost written off from our cultural consciousness.  How many from new generation know either the birth place or the shrine of Shams Fiqir or Naimi Saeb or Ahmed Batawer or can explain, even in a cursory fashion, any of their well known verses? I wonder how come we talk of culture in a land of Shah-i-Hamdan and Budshah where people are ignorant of indigenous/Islamic architectural principles that traditionally people took care of before making their houses. They don’t know, for instance, open space inside houses and separate guest room that once characterized houses built in a Muslim culture. Our leaders don’t get tired telling us about the integral unity of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh but are they aware of underlying cultural unity of three regions? Can we ask them what unites Alchi Gompa or Shanti Stupa or Thiksey monastery with Jammu, the city of temples and the Valley of Shrines in terms of underlying principles of architecture and symbolism?

Reshiwaer our elders call our land and I was wondering how many Rishis we know. Our history books mention such Reshis as heirs of 5000 years old history and arguably much older culture, even our key questions regarding culture and identity are a matter of debate.

What a tragedy is that we can no longer claim to possess certain cultural treasures we could claim few decades back. We have lost Ladakh’s world famous traditional culture to modernization. We have lost so many small and big water bodies that one need not to count them. We have lost the culture that respected environment, that revered Rishis who didn’t cut even a twig for fun, that revered springs and greeted water bodies. Losing culture, we lose values and meaning of life and sense of spirit. We disintegrate. And signs of this disintegration are for all to see.