Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gods' court marriage

I am late again. It is close to midnight as I drag my feet, climb the eighteen stairs that lead to my first-floor flat, and gently knock at the door with my car keys. A faint cough sounds from inside – that is my father’s way of telling me that there is no need to knock again, he is awake. In a moment the door opens and I am let in.

My clothes reek of cigarette smoke. My dinner is kept on the table, covered with my mother’s old shawl to keep it warm. After tearing open the day’s posts – bank statements, old copies of magazines which should have arrived a week ago, books, free passes – I sit down to eat. On the table, beside a reclining Ganesha, there is an almanac and a tattered copy of Shiv Mahimnastotram.

“Don’t eat anything impure tomorrow, it is Ashtami,” my father’s voice almost gets drowned in the hum of the ceiling fan. A siren begins to blare somewhere and, on the road below, the watchman, probably drunk by now, strikes the electric pole with his cane.
By “impure”, my father implies eggs, meat, and, if possible, alcohol also. Every month, a day before the Ashtami, my father issues this advisory.

I don’t know how to use the almanac that has guided my family and thousands of others for generations. For us, the Kashmiri Pandits, the entire life cycle is dictated and, perhaps, led by the minute calculations of the planets. For as long as I can remember, a thick, blue book has been arriving at our home every year around Shivratri and then, for the rest of the year, our lives are governed by it. Every month, on Ashtami, for instance, my father keeps a fast, after consulting the almanac.

The almanac decides everything for us – when to get married, when to enter a new house, when to buy a new car or when to join a new job. The last one is a very touchy issue at my house since I change my jobs so frequently that even the muhurat – the auspicious timings – fall short.

Over the years, though, the almanac has somewhat faded from our spiritual consciousness. There are times when my father no longer remembers the Shraadh – the death anniversary of my grandparents; on those days he is supposed to keep a fast. After he has had his breakfast, he then remembers it all of a sudden. But by then it is too late.

He spends the rest of that day looking at the wall in front of him.

Barring Ashtami, no other auspicious days such as Amawasya and Purnamasi are remembered any longer. Even if they are, no one cares about them any longer.

Even our festivals and marriage ceremonies have changed altogether. Shivratri, for instance, would be at least a week-long affair back home in Kashmir. I remember, as a child I would accompany my father to Habbakadal, built on the banks of the river Jhelum. We would get fresh fish and then earthen pots required for the puja from the Muslim potter.

For other puja paraphernalia, we would visit Kanth Joo’s tiny shop. The old, toothless man would be sitting on a cushion and over his head was a pulley through which ran thread used for tying up small and big bundles of almonds, cashew nuts, silver foil, vermillion, lotus seed, sugar cones, chestnut flour and what not.

At home, mother would cook three varieties of meat and fish curry apart from spinach and, of course, the Haakh. The electrician, sweeper and many others would come and ask for small tokens of money. The children would play with sea shells and men would gamble for the sake of fun.

In the spring of 1990, no ceremonial conch would be blown in the Pandit households. We were too scared. On the roads, young men, their LT jackets stuffed with weapons, roamed around, looking for potential targets.

On the fourth day of Shivratri, a hush prevailed on the banks of the river. Families arrived silently, to immerse the gods in the water.

In the dark waters, devoid of floating earthen lamps, the newly-wed Lord Shiva and the goddess looked as if they had eloped and then solemnized their marriage in a court.

In Jammu, and elsewhere too, we now have Chowmein stalls in marriage parties. Instead of Lalded, the youngsters would rather listen to Latino. The marriage ceremony itself, which took close to eight hours, is now finished in two or three. Nobody has time.

Jobs are waiting. Traffic signals are waiting. Friends who don’t what Ashtami is are waiting.

The next day, I am at the press club with a group of friends. There are fish fingers and grilled chicken on the table. I pick up a piece and bring it closer to my mouth.

Suddenly, I remember last night.

I remember the look in my father’s eyes and the cream-coloured wall.

“One fresh lime please,” I tell the waiter.


hera said...

evocative, moving, bahut nice

pooja said...

Are u crazy..?!!? How do you manage to write so well :D everytime I read your posts, I feel am living them. Esp.an old post "Lets remember each other by name", I really thought it was u and not sm fictional character.

And this one...well...hmm.. thats how I feel everyday, trying to behave like a true KP and yet failing as misreably.

Aditya Raj Kaul said...

Wasn't that actually in my mind? Brother, you surely read it and carved it out in beautiful words.

Thanks Rahul, for this post capturing vividly what has been happening with us - KP's. A different angle altogether and a new connotation. Though I haven't grown up in Kashmir but I do get emotional with every touch of my homeland. You are lucky to have stayed in the valley; images of which knock in my dreams every night.

I just can't move away from your blog. Its Air, Water and Food for me atleast..

enigmatic silhouette said...

Beautifully expressed.........all of us probably go through the same delima every day and keep feeling guilty all day if the fact that it was ashtami that day struck us after biting on that piece f chicken!!!! LOL! :)

Aaditya Dar said...

i remember the little blue almanac :D very well written..

Rahul Pandita said...

Pooja, as Pytahgoras said: Imagination is nothing but memories of past birth.
Aditya, memories now have a homeland.
Aaditya, Enigmatic, thanks to you.
And Heather: Paddy clarke ha ha ha.

rashneek kher said...

Rahul"the kashmiri pandit" has arrived.


Manish Mattoo said...

Must confess this is my first visit to your blog and i sure have missed out on something great all this time.Thanks for putting in words questions which test so many of us everyday!!And so beautifully at that!!Loved it.

Kamal Hak said...

I simply envy you. Great writing.
Kamal Hak

hera said...

Thanks, master.

Anupama said...

This is what I wait for..Amazing !!

naveen pandita said...

I could hardly ever imagine that a comic hunting imp of 'The Yembarzal' would turn into such an impressionist...one who has deftly captured our life and times...welll done Vicky!

Naveen pandita

naveen pandita said...


Rahul Pandita said...

Rashneek, thanks for those lovely poems last night.
Manish, thank you.
Kamal ji, it is nothing in front of "Greh Devtaa."
Naveen, so you remember the longing for comics? I still read them.
Hera, master? Who? Me? Nah.
Anupama, to tell you the truth, I wrote this so that you didn't have to wait. I am glad you liked it.

soulinexile said...

As usual...
Zuv' chum bramaa'n...

Hey...but the Lord's marriage point is a bit debatable - since Herath isn't about Shiva' marriage in Kashmiri context... the way rest of India celebrates it. Herath is about Vatukh and Bairav pooja - not Shiva's marriage :-)

geetika said...

as usual great piece of writing...i m sure most of the kashmiri youngsters can relate to it very easily...u definitely r a man of words...keep the good stuff coming in

Ashutosh Raina said...

An excellent overview of the thoughts and description/importance of "ALMANAC" for Kashmiri Pandits. And this is a personal experience for most of us.

Yes, our culture, rituals, ceremonies are going through a phase, wherein we as community youth, should act as custodians and need to preserve it, so that our future generations feels proud to be part of such a community :)

Anonymous said...

I am touched.

Rohit said...

Amazing article and written in a fantastic way. Thanks Rahul, do keep posting such thought provoking articles.
If anyone is interested Mr. Vijay Handoo has published a Kashmiri Table calendar. He can be contacted on 91 9958788044.
This calendar gives all the information about Ashtami and all our auspicious days.


Anupama said...

I am delighted that I did not have to wait for long. The next post looks interesting . Will go thru later some time.

Rahul Pandita said...

Thanks, Geetika. Had great fun the other day.
Soul, I am no authority on Shaivism or for that matter anything else. As a child I was told that Shivratri was about Shiv and Parvati coming together. Personally, I would like to stick to that.
Ashutosh, Anon: Thanks indeed.

Rajesh Moza said...

Marvellous piece beautifully written. Congrats Rahul ji. Even almost 2 decades after our displacement from the valley and exposed to the material world outside, we are still very simple at heart. Little small things like "Jantari" and "Herath ceremony" still attracts us. These small things are an integral part of our existence and make us different from others. I hope, these small little things remain with you and with me and with all of us. Always.

Ramesh Raina said...

Dear Rashneek,
It was a nice feeling. Your story has given me new hope and made my resolve strong that we should make our children learn KOSHUR LANGUAGE.
Frankly speaking, my wife is a devout KP woman going to Bhagwaan Gopianthjee Ashram at Pamposh Enclave Everytime and following all the days like Ashtami, Navami as per JANTARI meticulously but when it comes to make my son of 2+ learn kashmir, we tend to fight a lot. In fact I have seen many kaSHMIRIS telling me" Live in rome as the romans do" implying that we shouldnt not stress on making our children learn KOSHUR. But i have firm belief that unless we make our children learn kashmiri, they wont understand Koshur Culture described by you.It is our moral duty to mae out Children learn Koshur and inculcate Koshur Culture and traditions in them so that future KP Generations may not curse us, the way I am cursing our forefathers who didnt allow present KP muslims to convert back to Hinduism few centuries ago.
Good Luck.

Ramesh Raina

Nomad said...

Hi Rahul,
In the Gods Court Marriage you have completely captured the guilt I have felt about not being a KP enough and somewhere you have captured the essence of rootlessness that we face.

And that one slide in your Graphic novel @ Mamaji's call captures the distances that have crept inspite of all the modern era tools to reduce it.

Thanks for bringing out in words what I have for so long felt but was unable to express.


Nerupama said...

Hi Rahul,

You have amazingly put across your experience and thoughts.I am sure every KP goes through this when he/she remembers somehow that the particular day is Ashtami or Amavasya or Poornamashi.


Sheen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheen said...

Your writing flashes back all the memories of Kashmir as if its just few days back we have left our homeland.

Ashok said...

Dear Rahul,
If you permit, I would like to publish this in our qtrly news letter VYETH, published by Kashmiri Migrants Welfare Association, Noida.

Ashok Manvati

deepshikha said...

Excellent article. Its wonderful how similar the koshur parents are. Ashtami is one day which no one ever forgets. I remember being intrigued by the janthari when I was younger. Theres so much in that book! also, since you mentioned ashtami, theres something so special about the food cooked for the faaka. its the same regular kashmiri food but tastes divine on ashtami!

Rahul Pandita said...

Dear All
Many thanks for the reponse.
Ramesh Ji, you are welcome to use it anywhere you like to. Thank you.
Sheen, many thanks for passing by. I can see that your one comment is deleted. I don't know how. Perhaps you had hit the post button twice.
Thanks, Deepshikha, Nerupama, rajesh, Nomad, and all others.

arvind shah said...

well written, a portrait of facts drawn by reason and coloured by emotions

arvind shah

vikram said...


Excellent piece of writing. I especially remember the sequence of your almost regularly reaching home past midnight, your father opening the door and your food ready on the table - all this when I used to drop you home those days.

Stay in touch, need to talk.
my id -vikramjpatel@gmail.com


The girl next door said...

Hi Rahul

Chanced upon your blog accidentally while googling ..

Must say this post made me miss my growing up years in Meghalaya . yes surrounded by insurgents ..

Great job ! Will be back for more reads...

Anonymous said...

Hi Rahul,
Bhaut khub,accha laga padhkar,esa lagta hai ki ye mere bhi kahani ahi.,ye sawal aapke shamne balki puri nayi pidhi ke samne hai.samay or pristhitiya alag ho sakti hai.khas kar aapki or hamari pidhi joki ajib virodhabhao me ji rahi hai.bachpan doordarshan ke sath bita,collage me star plus or useke bad " ftv "asliye hi asamanjs hai.

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