Imaginary homes turn real for Kashmiri Pandits
25 April 2002
The Times of India
CHANDIGARH: Born to wander and suffer (as some would say) for the last six centuries at least, and yet retain that healthy appetite for life, the Kashmiri Pandits are that rare breed that has effortlessly converted survival into an art form. To celebrate amidst deprivation and to sink roots and flower forth in alien environs seems to their special talent that has made them simultaneously the object of admiration as well as envy.And so it goes with the 500-strong community of Kashmiri Pandits in the city, who have settled here since the early Nineties.What sets them apart is this very special bond of togetherness that glues them in good times and bad. Although they like to describe themselves proudly as ‘‘the purest Aryan race’’, their past history of displacement, migrancy and homelessness, made all the more poignant by more than a decade of militancy in the Valley, suggests history’s f a v o u r e d metaphor of the ‘‘Wandering Jew.’’A look at the history reveals that Kashmiri Pandits were the original inhabitants of Kashmir. It was only when Buddhist king Rinchen took over the throne in the 7th century, some of them were displaced.Later in the 14 century, Sultan Sikander initiated the exodus of Pandits from Kashmir. But despite the unfriendly conditions, the pandits still continued to retain conspicuous hold on Kashmir for long. These long years of exile have clearly sharpened their survival skills and made them stubbornly hold on to their unique culture.Learning-proud, aristocratic in their feeling for life and culture, the community takes justified pride in their knowledge of rituals and ancient scriptures.The community folklore has it that many scriptures in Sanskrit were authored by the Pandits. And the first individual to produce Vedas in writing was also a Kashmiri Brahmin, Pandit Vasukura.Their literary talents can be judged by the contributions of Pandits like Kalhana, who wrote Rajtarangi, on the history of Kashmir and Lal Ded, the mystical poetess. ( If you dont know Lal Ded, check out the serial on Doordarshan).Deeply spiritual and valuing inner life, Pandits are ardent devotees of Lord Shivas. Shivratri, to most of them, calls for celebration and grand festivities.And if all of you are out on December 31 to celebrate the New Year Eve, for the pandits, the party begins on Navreh, which, as per the desi calander, begins in April with the onset of spring. holding the promise of renewal and rebirth.Other festivals which find a prominent place on the pandits’ calendar are ‘ Ganesh Chetturdashi, Janashmatmi, Durga Ashtmi and Ananta Chodah.Well if it is Kashmir, than the talk of the cuisine ccannot be sidelined. The exquisite Wazwan with more than 24 varied dishes is a veritable delight for non-vegetarians. Special tea ‘Kewa and Namkeen Chai’’ are the favourites. Even if their latest modelled houses may have centralised heating system, ‘kangri’, (fire pot) finds a place on the shelf. ‘‘Effort is to preserve the culture of Kashmir, even in this city life,’ says Nancy Ganjoo, president, Kashmiri Sahayak Sabha.Weekly classes on Kashmiri languages are being organised at Kashmir Bhawan for the youth, along with classes on ‘Sharadalipi’ (original script of Kashmir). The community in Chandigarh also brings forth a monthly magazine Sundervani, as a medium to reach out to each other.But at the end, it’s migrancy and a consistent pining for a lost home that accounts for their moments of highs and lows. Jia Lal Hundoo, a writer, says that dispersion has been the biggest causality for the community. The joint family system, where generations lived together, is losing ground with all the attendant economical and social distractions, he says, conjuring up a community that has mastered the art of living with crises.