From Chutneys to Srinagar
And how Allahu Akbar became a phrase of fear in Kashmir
7 pm discussions that turn into existential stories from the past present and the unattained, misled and tweaked future.
Here sitting cross-legged in this dim lighting with my brother’s arm on my feet and my gran beside me on the left knitting a round pattern with a pale white colored woolen thread, her chashma low on her nose and her ‘dejhoor’ shining in the dull light. My bua sitting in front of me with a cup of steaming tea and her favorite crime patrol playing on her phone left unattended. With our aimless discussion about arbitrary things, from the seemingly, never-ending pandemic and strangely mint chutneys. I mean, how we jump from pandemics to chutneys and eventually talking about Kashmir is just something that I don’t find very shocking anymore. These ‘discussions’ always and I mean always take a 2045 Km drive and reach to where my grans heart is.
Even though I’ve heard this a million times before in my 23 years of existence, hearing it for the nth time doesn’t make it any less emotional or any less shocking. Reminiscing in her childhood, my gran spoke about how Raja Hari Singh used to visit their father and uncles in their house on elephants, I remember asking her the first thing that came to my mind instantly as a child when she first told me these tales; “How did an elephant fit in the door?” I mean, giving due credits to flats in Mumbai we wouldn’t be able to fit a horse inside a house if we tried and that still is a considerably smaller animal. So, unfazed she answered, “coorie the house was big enough to fit multiple elephants through the door, so rest assured the elephant was comfortable” I could have asked her so many questions that time she told me an actual King visited them often, but how the giant elephant fit in the door was what I found very intriguing at that time (so, definitely I had my priorities straight) then she would tell me how they would run after hens outside their Muslim neighbor’s house, and ‘them’ being herself, all her siblings and some nephews (who were the same age as her!) which was a bunch, to say the least; since, people actually lived not only in huge houses that fit elephants but also had huge families, my gran being the youngest of her five siblings, was and still is very mischievous. Now, you might think why did I mention the neighbors being Muslim and the kids running behind a hen in their house, that is because Hindu families believed hens and chicken were dirty and not to be touched or eaten, Kashmiri brahmins not only condemned chicken they did not eat garlic or onions (so, they were practically Jains who ate meat); and these kids being defiant just found pleasure in running behind that small creature for their playtime and actually catching hold of it whilst the eldest siblings prepared a fire to cook it in their courtyard and later eating the poor thing they ran after all morning, (Matlab could have spared him the marathon). The next day, the lady from the neighbouring family was seen roaming around looking for something and that something would never be found since it had found its home in these innocent kids’ stomachs.
Seems like chickens tend to fly away from unaware keepers.
You know that feeling of being overwhelmed, when you are talking about something and a tap in your mind just opens, flowing memory after memory not minding the context or the jump, you just keep on saying what comes to mind and that is how we landed to a place called Habbakadal right after, where the huge house with elephant visitors was my Grans Matamaal, Habbakadal was her Sasural or rather my gramps home where my great grandfather sat with his paintbrushes and canvases in the attic to paint his next creation and read his next manuscript, my great uncle who was called “Tathaji” by all, loved to sit on the window sill of the third floor, not because it had the coldest breeze and warmest touch of the sun in winters but because it had the best view of the entrance of the house and also the street from which his nieces and nephew (my father) would come back from school and to of course ward off his nephews' many admirers and hide all the love letters my gramps received daily. Now, mind you it was after he had three kids already, what was funny to me was that my gran had made a pile of these unopened letters and she told us this while laughing, he of course never opened these letters, but that did not stop these ‘admirers’ (in plural) to stalk him and write him letters of unrequited love. I mean, I would love to watch my gramps being followed and letters being dropped off for him from a window in the house too, so I completely get where Tathaji was coming from. Later, he would wave at his grand nieces and nephew who ran on the street with their school bags towards home to their mum's ‘haakh batte’. So, my next question was very obvious (obvious to a gen z kid) why did they run home for rice and sabzi? Why would someone run with utmost thrill and zest to come home to just rice and leafy vegetables? The answer to that came very simply to her and she replied, “we lived for simple life pleasures and small things, no scratch that, everything made us happy”. With a small pause and an evident twinkle in her eyes, all while still knitting that white round creation “Going to the broadway on horse carriages, watching movies, stitching new clothes by describing the latest trend in movies and what Jaya Prada or Sharmila Tagore wore in a specific song, watering plants, removing the snow from the front yard and slipping on the road and having a leg bury 3 feet under the snow while walking, all these small things brought us pleasure”.
She described it in complete fervor how she used to drop off her best friend at her home and the two of them would come back to drop the other off back home, umm…confusing, right? Let's try it again, so basically ‘B’ drops off ‘S’ at S’s house, and then ‘S’ would come back with ‘B’ to drop her back??? that concept was completely out of my head and laughter boomed in my ears as she said: “be asis temis gare travne gasan, pate aes so mein travne yevan”. And she described the distance as a meager few kilometers, where after a long day of spending together she walked her friend home and then her best friend came back to drop her home. I mean what in the tenet state were these women on? Least to say they became friends in school and still are best of friends who talk absolutely every single day for hours on end. These people knew how to cherish friendship and happiness unlike us who crib and cry over things we don’t have.
She further spoke about how one day in her exam at school, she didn’t know how to cook a meal so, her older sister tricked her teacher who was a relative, and cooked something instead for her in between a whole class. First of all, pray tell who asks you to cook in a school? for Ramsay’s sake! And second of all, how does an older sibling get in a class and cook for you and thirdly how and emphasis on HOW do you trick a teacher long enough to cook a meal? Anyway, after the dish was on the stove getting cooked, her sister left and the teacher came back to class, my gran felt accomplished got the food off of the stove, plated it, and added a round colorful woolen mat under the plate (which she knitted herself) for extra marks, maybe that was their apsara pencil back then.
(Needless to add, she was still knitting that round white pattern while speaking, and now had added some red woolen strands to it as well.)
Moving forward, she again spoke her heart, cursing the terrorists “Trath Yeman Ugarvaidiyan” for creating a drift and getting them away from their houses in Kashmir.
Whenever she hears the azan even now in her 70s, 30 years after the migration, for a split second, she thinks something bad is coming. Whenever I ask any Kashmiri who lived in the region during the migration and at the time that led to the ultimate migration (or rather forced eviction) of Kashmiri Pandits has the same answer to my question of how did they know something was going to happen? Their answer is always very clear, if “Allahu Akbar” was shouted on the street, it always led to a crowd of terrorists coming together. So, it was like a war cry for the terrorists and whenever one of them wanted their fellow ‘’colleagues’’ to assemble, they shouted the holy phrase that meant “God is the greatest” which they still practice. And their loud “Allahu Akbar” always led to shooting people or destroying property and this wasn’t only for the Hindus there, it was also for the Muslims as well. Which in turn stained the Islamic religion and their preachings, leading to hate for that religion.
Terrorists leave no one when it comes to what they want.
This one instance, where my gramps once told me about the day he was stirring rogan josh in their kitchen and heard a loud “Allahu Akbar” when he looked out from the window he saw some terrorists surrounding a man at gunpoint and shooting him. And this other time when my father was coming back for his engineering college to visit home during the turmoil phase, he heard a loud shout and ran towards the next alley late at night only to see a young boy merely 10 or 12 holding an AK-47 and shooting a lady on the street. They made sure to always say the name of God before shooting someone, like what they were doing was something that God told them to do or would forgive.
I believe we have one creator and that creator has many names and we’ve turned them into many religions yet ultimately no god supports this neither will forgive their sins even after praying five times a day and fasting for a month. Especially, no god or saint would ever ask his followers to get more people to follow them forcefully, does he need more votes? What is this, a presidential election and you give some biryani and Daru to convert people so that they vote for you?
These people, who are not even worthy of being called humans have stained this religion, all whilst taking god’s name in vain and creating this fear of the Islamic religion in people’s minds. Since that is what one would relate to after seeing the same thing, right? Pavlov already proved it for us, you ring a bell and give the cat some food, repeat it enough times, and she will associate the ring with food. And, in a similar way when these terrorists scream “Allahu akbar” before shooting innocents repeatedly, people associate that phrase with terrorism. They’ve created this phobia which is not very easy to be forgotten or changed.
Adding some pictures of this beautiful motherland Kashmir which I never got to know up close, but have many stories to associate.
Also, enjoy this man selling vegetables in India’s only floating vegetable market in Dal Lake. Enough of those houseboats
Kashmiri terms & words that I’ve used here:
Coorie: Beta, Girl
Dejhoor: A earring made of gold with a long chain and hexagonal pendant worn on the ear after marriage by a woman, like a mangalsootra
Trath Yeman Ugarvadiyan: F*** these terrorists
Haakh Batte: Saag and rice
PS. This is an excerpt from a series that I’ve been writing on Kashmir and my family which is making me understand my culture, my family, and my ancestry in a better light.
Thank You for reading this! If you have any points of your own, do let me know :)
PPS. I in no way am suggesting or spreading hate for any religion, stating a fact. also, everybody has their own personal experiences.