Kashmir has always attracted and enthralled outsiders with its scenic beauty, rich socio-cultural ethos and awe-inspiring ‘material and non-material culture’. The scenic beauty is still there but the rich and blooming socio-cultural ethos has seen a huge recession over the years. The culture of love, warmth, togetherness and mutual fellow-feeling has been replaced with aspects that neither seem good nor befitting.
This recession has taken place both in our material culture and non-material culture. In sociological terms, ‘Material Culture’ is that which includes the material artefacts of any culture, like dress, crockery, tools. ‘Non-Material Culture’ on the other hand includes language, ways of celebrating rituals, religious festivals, and observance of customs and mores. Both these types of cultures have witnessed an abrupt erosion in Kashmir. Some call it modernization, but for me it is a ‘cultural recession’.
Our traditional cultural artefacts like Kashur Pheran, Daan (Hearth), Kashur Samovar (Kashmiri tea vessel), traditional clothes like Kashur Tilli Pheran, (embroidered pheran for women), Kasab (headgear for older women decorated by fancy needles), Kangri, etc, have all been replaced by new-fangled, ultra-modern, and outlandish cultural artefacts. We feel slighted in using our cultural artefacts now. We have acclimatised ourselves to the new-fangled things but they do not become us well. In the name of modernisation we have said a sorry goodbye to our culture and have adopted one that is quite alien to us Kashmiris.
The modernised lasses and guys don apparels and outfits like ripped-jeans that are lacking in decency. The dresses smack of a culture bereft of modesty and austerity. The new lifestyle has made this young generation (both boys and girls) what Russian writer Alexander Pushkin calls “Superfluous People” in his novel ‘Eugene Onegin’. These superfluous people are always in conflict with the approved popular culture. They (our modern boys and girls) no longer love to wear our cultural dresses like Khan Dress or an austere Kashmiri Frock-Shalwar, the dresses that reflect culture, modesty, and decency.
Traditionally, as we know, our mothers used to cook everything on the burning hearth (Daan) but nowadays not a single household has it. Similarly in the past, people were preparing tea in Kashur Samovar. The Kashur Samovar tea used to be tasty and good for health. All family members used to sit in peace and the woman sitting in the middle of the room would serve umpteen cups of the Kashmiri tea to each and everyone in the room. Modernised women with craze for new gadgets of cooking no longer use Kashur Samovar for preparing tea. They prepare the tea on gas-burners etc and put it into a fancy kettle. The kettle tea neither tastes well nor smells good.
Preparing food in our culture specific items was good for our health. The foods made by using modern gadgets are inimical to our health. Natural ways of cooking are always salubrious but cooking through electronic gadgets is both unhealthy and tasteless. The outlandish street and packaged foods have also put an end to our Kashmiri food items. We feel elated while having food in a street outside served by some unknown person. This is what in modern terminology is called ‘Neo-colonialism’: soft means of colonising the culture of another people. These street foods have undermined our own variety of foods. We in Kashmir are also heading towards the westernised culture of ‘outdoor lunch and dinner’.
Similarly, our Non-Material Culture has also seen an abrupt change and recession of the worst kind over the years. As foreign languages like Englishhave replaced our Kashmiri language, likewise our traditional modus operandi of celebrating marriages, religious festivals and cultural rituals has also been taken over by the ultra-modern ways of celebrating these ceremonies. In the past, as everyone knows, marriages were celebrated with simplicity and warmth and traditional Kashur Gawun (Kashmiri songs) would enhance the grace and beauty of the sacred ceremony, but these days marriage ceremonies are celebrated with a lot of extravagance and Bollywood and Hollywood songs are played to enthuse and entertain the people around.
The modus vivendi of celebrating our religious festivals has also changed in a short span of time. In the past, people used to celebrate Eid festivals with a lot of happiness and would visit their nears and dears to convey love, congrats and happiness. As I have heard it from my grandparents, people would assemble in the Eid Gah to celebrate Eid. Men used to play games like Kabaddi and Kushite, whereas women used to sing Kashmiri songs (called Rauf) wearing Tilli Pheran. All this has eroded and is present at some places only in residual form.
The traditional joint family structure/ system has also been replaced by the westernised nuclear family structure. The joint family system was characterised by love, proximity, togetherness and unity, while the nuclear family structure is diametrically its opposite. The nuclear family structure seems so drab, wanting in happiness, warmth, love and proximity. Each family member in a nuclear system seems so deserted and divided.
Our traditional and culture specific games like Saze Lung (Hopscotch) Lathkij Louth (Tip-cat) etc have also been replaced by computerised games. The old games were good for the health of the children both mentally and physically. Our children are no longer inclined to them and instead remain glued to computers and mobile phones to play games online. A computer game no doubt makes them mentally agile but it deteriorates their health badly with its continuous sedentary lifestyle.
Some people may strongly differ with my point of view by saying that it is not a cultural recession but modernisation and technological advancement. I am neither a primitive Neanderthal nor a regressive Luddite. I am all for advancement, but not at the cost of our culture. I know in order to get going, we have to be abreast with every technological advancement and all that. But while going along with any advancement, we should not forget our roots and dislodge our culture. We should not allow globalisation to put an end to our culture; the culture that is our identity badge. We should keep our culture intact, respect it, and ennoble it like the European and Western nations do.
The writer is a research scholar at the Department of English, AMU. He has qualified UGC-NET and JKSET for Assistant Professorship. He can be mailed at [email protected]