While researching on the cultural metamorphosis and evolution of Kashmiri culture, it comes to one’s knowledge that Kashmiri people were actually descendents of certain tribes of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and some Central Asian communities, who migrated and settled in the valley since time immemorial. Although some historians trace the origin of ethnic Kashmiris’ racial impulses and their cultural composition to the Indo-Greek race, in point of fact the Kashmiri race has over the past many centuries evolved their own peculiar culture and have indigenised the specific impulse of nativity, duly supported with a distinctive Kashmiri psycho-emotional cognition.
In several shades of life, the people of Kashmir have imperturbably conserved their predominant cultural possession with due care and fervent esteem. This is of course not without the profound influence of religion, Islam, the teachings of which show a deep emotional and intellectual penetration among the common Kashmiri masses. It is thus inalienably a part of our culture, whilst Kashmir had been influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism before the advent of Islam. The Kashmiri spoken language harbours many Sanskrit words even today that have not been replaced by Arabic or Urdu words.
The Kashmiris are by and large palpably religious and at the same time highly tolerant to non-Muslim communities. Communal virulence is not part of Kashmir’s socio-religious fabric, on which a common Kashmiri takes pride. The Kashmiri hospitality is world famous and hardly draws a parallel anywhere outside. While the world’s societies have undergone an entire change in the mental attitude that determines how to respond to various situations, Kashmiris, though not unaffected, have adhered to their age old socio-religious traditions of human-centered principles.
The Kashmiris, in general, possess characteristic Roman noses, cheeks and chins. They are in a naively and innocent manner straightforward, down to earth, but lack the Roman sophistication and vileness. Artifice and ruse are not in our genes. Corruption, a product of the political class (political corruption), has been increasing over the past years, plaguing many spheres of life, but it is essentially not in our blood. Even though rampant political corruption over the past several decades might have infected several thousand minds, but what keeps infusing life in Kashmir’s peculiar socio-religious domain is the unending and unshakable faith of masses in adhering to honesty, human dignity, and faith in God.
Helping people in need who knock at doors is a custom upheld with fervour, and if you simply give a lift to somebody, especially elderly women, in your car, you have to be mentally prepared to receive a shower of supplication asking God for your welfare, not once, not twice but till as long as you drop him/her at the destination. Ordinarily speaking, in most of the cases, Kashmiri people are good Indians as long as their interests are safeguarded. The differences over the Valley’s political future had surfaced right at the very beginning as soon as monarchical rule ended. Thus popped up the political scuffle between two divides in Kashmir: the Shers and Bakras, with majority being Shers supporting Late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s National Conference and the latter being with Moulvi Mohammad Yousuf’s Awami Action Committee. The political rivalry played havoc even at family levels and religious levels. The contention is seeded in the sects of society even to this day although political tribulations over the past thirty years has to a great extend cooled the flame. However, even today, unswerving supporters, both Shers and Bakras, would dislike to honour each other in political matters.
Yet there are certain aspects of Kashmiri’s habitual traits that have become part of our culture and which almost every individual wishes to change but fails to do so in collective manner. Kashmiri people have a history of imparting Urdu and English as spoken language to children in order to appear smart when they grow up. We usually do not speak with our children in our mother tongue. Ludicrously, we speak a language that is neither Urdu nor Kashmiri but a mixture of Urdu-Kashmiri, that is to say Kashmirised Urdu. This happens only in Kashmir. And the traffic sense of people in Kashmir? It is a mess. At times it looks as if people driving around are licensed to kill if, although the traffic signals have brought a lot of respite. Traffic jams have become the order of the day, courtesy wrong driving habits.
The discipline in serving meals in marriage ceremonies is so distressing that every among us speaks foul of it but repeats doing same during his turn. The Kashmir’s Wazwan dishes are world famous. Preparation of Rogan Josh recipe is taught in international culinary schools. Rogan Josh is Kashmir’s Chinese Pizza. It is said that Wazwan was imported from Iran and Central Asia to Kashmir but ironically its traces are not found in the past history of these regions. Wazwan has probably evolved indigenously in the Valley over the past some centuries. Meals are hardly served on time and at times you would be taking lunch many hours late but usually nobody would like to miss it. Four persons would thrive on a Trami (one big copper plate) consuming 4 kg of mutton and rice that is supposed to contain 10,000 kilocalories as reported by the doctors. If you have to attend another marriage next day, you would not mind to eat it again.
The Wazwan forms indispensable part not just of marriages in Kashmir but also other functions at home. Even on 4th day of the death of people, the special cooks are called to prepare Wazwan with the belief widespread now that it would bring peace to the soul of the deceased. Many reforms to initiate austerity in Wazwan failed in the past, and the special Kashmiri cuisine remains in full form. This culinary art of Wazwan is not prevalent anywhere in the world outside the Valley. Even Bollywood stars like Sanjeev Kumar and Shashi Kapoor were so zestily fond of Gushtaba and Rista varieties that these were prepared for them especially in Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi whenever they used to visit it.
Kashmiris are perhaps the only Muslims in the world who celebrate religious rituals of Milad and Meraj with fervour. Although Kasaabe (a traditional head cap worn by rural women and urban Pandit women) in recent times has been replaced by more sophisticated dupattas or head scarves, and full burqas of the past are replaced by Abayas and Niqab among women, wide-spread westernisation is still invisible in Kashmir. In Kashmir several clans of people from time immemorial are known not by their real name but the sobriquet (nicknames) based on their profession or sometimes arising out of a habit or tradition of the kindred or sire of the clan. Many Kashmiris are recognised by this cognomen rather than the original surname. This practice is sometimes derogatory and uncomplimentary but is common in both rural and urban Kashmir. Although Sayeds, Bukharis, Peers and Muftis hold themselves at the top of the caste chain, but mundanely their societal life is engrossed in typically intricate complexities that are creation of their own, rendering them uncomfortable in many walks of life when compared to the easygoingness of other castes. These castes generally would never like to have marital relations outside the ambit of their clan. What is peculiar to Kashmir is that if a person named Ghulam Mohammad Bhat is downtrodden, he would often be called as Mahmud, but if he belongs to a well-off background, he would find himself being called as Bhat Saab.
Kashmiri people might be seeking to be disciplined in many purviews of society but definitely not at all in hospitals where attendants of patients can cross any limits of violating discipline to visit their patients admitted. Where there is a placard hanging the wall in a hospital ward depicting “silence please” there would be more noise. And when a critically ill patient passes away, the ward authorities find the situation intractable and have to call for security. The doctors on duty find themselves going underground.
Despite the fact that road accidents do not happen very often, but our vehicular traffic sense on roads is a mess. Driving in busy streets and markets in the city and towns is a kettle of fish. This is further complicated by the dilapidated road network around Srinagar and other major towns. The R&B department constructs roads so recklessly that repairs are needed every 4 months. This is how our roads have been taken care of over the past 70 years. And when water supply or electricity goes off in a town or village, the authorities would care a hang until mass protests start blocking roads and putting rest of the public in trouble for none of their fault.
During my early youth I would see moped bicycles driven by diesel engines hovering around Srinagar city and groups of men in the downtown shouting at them: ”oos khis khis”, a typical Kashmiri term which always filled me with hilarity and bewilderment. I could never understand the motive till a friend of mine revealed to me that street dogs were instigated against the moped scooters, as those looked very awkward while being driven on the roads. In this way people poked fun and mocked at moped scooterists. Like the uncertain weather here, Kashmir’s political environment has always been unpredictable: nobody knows when it will churn into a tempest and when calm down of a sudden. This is at least what our forefathers, fathers and we have been watching on and on.
—The writer is a Professor at SKUAST-K. Shaheenzaffar123@gmail.com