Interactional Potential of a Place

By  Dileep Kumar Kaul

January 2012

A site attains meaning and becomes a place when people become emotionally attached with it. Such emotional ties are cause primarily through past experiences or memories that are associated with a site. When we talk about a place many memories and emotions are recalled. These memories and emotions may remain dormant amid the daily struggles of our lives but are recalled nevertheless, off and on. These experiences or memories are recalled in the present and lead to future experiences that are imagined and anticipated to be possible within that place. As the past experiences result from interactions among people, and their interactions with the site, its environment, natural and man made. All these interactions, with and within the site, result in a set of expectations for future interactions within the site. Thus sets in the continuity of meaning for the site, and all that happened within it that lead to its meaning and made it a place. This continuity of meaning when internalized by the people living on that site forms a sizeable portions of their identity and strengthens their self esteem. As the past experiences are interactional, so is the present, the interactions in the present owe a lot to them and the future experiences that are imagined and expected in this present constitute the interactive potential of a place, in simpler terms, the possibilities we see for ourselves and the place.

At every point of time there are some objects present in the environment of a site. These objects may be physical, social or abstract.  Physical objects may be natural or man made things, social objects are our relatives, poets, sages and spiritual people. Abstract objects are our philosophies and moral principals. All these form the basis of our interaction; constitute our past, present and the interactive potential of the place we live in. Out of these objects some emerge above others and play an important part in establishing the meanings of a place. These are poets, sages and mystics. These form a large part of the interactions of the people living on the site. No need to say that every Vaakh of Lalded is taken as a mantra and listened to with a feeling that one may be spiritually liberated. Take Ghulam Ahmad Mehjoor. His poems are listened with emotion and reverence.  Such is the case with many other poets and mystics. The poems and their creators are important objects in the environment of a site. They encode spiritual energies associated with a site, which are significant to make it into a place. The site taken from the point of view of its physical existence is also an object and a poem, or any other thought for that matter comes into existence through interaction between all these objects and then become a part of our interactive past. Same is the case with sites within sites. There may be such sites that impart meaning to the site within which they are situated. Amarnath is such a site, the contribution of which towards imparting meaning to Kashmir and making it a place is significant. It is a very important site of interaction from times immemorial.

Mehjoor was not an ordinary poet. His intense attachment with the natural environment of Kashmir is known by one and all. He had an understanding of ancient culture of Kashmir and revered it. This is evident from the fact that many years back when the official script of the Kashmiri Language was being decided Mehjoor had suggested Sharda. He understood that only this script expresses the ancientness of Kashmiris as people. He comprehended it as the key element of their interactional past. And what could happen to such thinking. His proposal was rejected and Nastaliq was decided for. Why? Because it has a Muslim character. For the muslim character of the script the interactional past of the people and place was rejected. This shows that place eroding forces were at work at that point of time as well. That place is not important for these forces, islamisation is. This process exposes an important proselytizing strategy. ‘Nastaliq’ has nothing to do with the interactive past of Kashmir. It does not carry the consciousness of Kashmir as a place. It is associated with some other place. Thus while proselytizing the consciousness of another place is imposed so that the local place consciousness remains subservient to it. Adoption of ‘Nastaliq’ as the state script of J&K was not a small happening. It was aimed at breaking the continuity of meaning of Kashmir as a place about which ‘Mehjoor’ was so concerned. This was an attack on our interactive past. Sharda was a product of the interactions of our ancestors that defined our place. Nastaliq was the product of an alien place and it was imposed. The local place consciousness that ensured the continuity of meaning of Kashmir as a place was eroded. Sharda remained confined to horoscopes and was forgotten. It was another step towards cultural dementia and ultimately, a cultural neurosis.

Physical/ecological objects were also given the same treatment. Take the grand ‘Booni’ the sacred tree which was christened “Chinar”. Booni is a feminine word and the tree has been considered motherlike in Kashmir. But it was named “Chinar” as during autumn its leaves become so red that they appear like fire. This word decimates the original cultural meaning of the object. The sacred meaning is changed into a very mundane meaning based on mere appearance, that too, in a particular season. The sacred meaning of such ecological entities contributes towards the meaning of the whole place. The interaction of ‘Booni’ with the people of Kashmir is well known and its leaves have been used in rituals. When the sacred meaning is made to regress into just mundane meaning, it again breaks the continuity of the meaning of the place and leads to cultural dementia. In the same way river ‘Vitasta’ aka ‘Jehlum’ has been treated. ‘Vitasta’ is a sacred river about which it has been said, “Sati Devi nadi bhootwa Kashmirayam vinirgatah” , i.e. mother Goddess ‘Sati’ became a river and flowed through Kashmir. Vitasta is mother Goddess ‘Sati’ herself and imparts a sacred meaning to the site that is Kashmir. Again ‘Vitasta’ is replaced with the word ‘Jehlum’—no sanctity, no rootedness in the preceding interactive past of Kashmir. This shows a thorough process of manipulation of objects in the interactive past of Kashmir, replacing them with alien contexts or nomenclatures so that Kashmir as a place slowly loses its significance and way is cleared for proselytization. It is a strange kind of violence of nomenclature to ensure that the sacred cultural meanings of the objects present in the environment of a place are destroyed and decimated and are lost in some remote corner of the consciousness of the people living in the place, thus eroding their place consciousness.

Not only these non human mother figures, but the human mother figure of Kashmir, “Lalded” also, gets the same treatment. Our interactional past cannot be possible without her. She was the result of the culmination of traditions of spirituality and poetry and with her began a new tradition of both. That way she as a single personality represents the ethos of Kashmir which truly can be termed as ‘Lalded Consciousness”. This fact is acknowledged by all significant mystics. The core idea behind Lalded Consciousness is transcending all dualisms. It is this concept of transcendence that has driven sages and mystics of Kashmir from times immemorial. Lalded had transcended all dulalisms through “Shiva”:

Gagan tsuy bootal tsuy

Tsuy dyen, pawan tu raath.

Arg tsandun posh ponya tsuy,

Soruy tsuy tu lagizi kyah.

(you are the sky and the earth

day, breeze and night are you

offerings, sandal, flowers and water are you,

you are everything, so what is there to offer you.)

True to this Lalded consciousness the great mystic poet Ahad Zargar makes the statement of his transcendence in very daring ideological terms:

Safri mehmoodas dovnus tan

Kufru islamu nish shruts gav me man.

Vucch ahad zargaran doun kuni zaath

Pamoposhu manzu gayi padu kaaynaath.

(during my spiritual journey my soul was rendered pure of blasphemy and islam. I saw both belonging to the same creed i.e. encouraging dualism. This universe was created out of a lotus)

Such things could be written in Kashmir only. Ahad Zargar’s thought, like Lalded takes us to eternity. The terminology he uses goes back to times immemorial in our interactional past. As such a thought would give rise to such interactional potential of Kashmir which would have no place for any dualisms he was subjected to fatwas more than once and he, as he had been always, remained undeterred.

As such a personality as Lalded could not be given a different name to change her context narratives were built around her to prove that she had converted to Islam. Such attempts failed because Kashmiri mystics and scholars opposed such lies and these narratives were rendered meaningless. But the ‘Lalded Consciousness’ remained as a core element of the interactional past that constitutes the place consciousness of Kashmir. If we take the discourse of ‘Kashmiriyat’ that too, is a place discourse attempting to confine Kashmir just to a socio-political concept of religious tolerance, the most general example of which is that a Muslim king Badshah brought back those Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir who were hounded out during his time and that of his predecessors. Here also the Muslim King is glorified and the Kashmiri Pandit doctor who made him to do this is kept subservient to the persona of the Muslim king. Shirya Bhatt was a Kashmiri pandit who as a doctor treated even the enemy of his community without any malice is a brilliant example of what can be called the ‘lalded consciousnesses.’ He was an enlightened soul who had risen above any dualism.

Not only this, the consciousness associated with those places within Kashmir, that are important from the point of view of meaning they impart to Kashmir, has also been diluted. We can take the sacred site of Amarnath for an example.As per muslim narratives Amarnath was discovered by a muslim, forgetting the fact that the site is mentioned even in Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. Here also, a Muslim is the chosen one even by Shiva. These distortions were resisted by KP scholars. Amarnath has a lot to do with the Interactional potential of Kashmir. Pilgrims from all over the world flock in Amarnath every year, despite threats from terrorists. Most of the pilgrims are from India. In fact, Amarnath makes Kashmir Indian which was an eyesore for anti amaranth agitators some years back. But the agitation in Jammu created problems. This agitation was significant as it tried to establish the Interactional potential of Kashmir, and showed that Jammu was concerned about it. It showed that any attempt to distort or damage the interactional potential of Kashmir may not be taken hands down. In this way Jammu established its interactional potential as well and showed Kashmir as a part of it. This shows that one place, at a distance from the other can be used to  fight place eroding forces unleashed on another place that leads to the preservation of interactional potential of both.

If we take just these objects that we have discussed (there can be many more distorted in different ways), in an interconnected arrangement with their original meanings we can see a portion of our interactional past bubbling with the activity of life. And just apply the violent nomenclature and distortions they have been subjected to whole of the activity vanishes, a stagnation, a vacuum is felt. A total cultural neurosis occurs, leading to a community that has a shattered self-esteem with an absence of a cultural initiative to anticipate a potential interactivity for their place. With their interactional past loaded with such alien meanings that stagnate the objects constituting that past nothing of their actual past remains that can be carried into the future. No sense of interactional potential of the place is felt. It must be kept in mind that the interactional past and the interactional potential of a place are intertwined to constitute the place attachment. When anyone of these is distorted and decimated, a negative valence is attached to the place and people lose interest in it.

But our imagination of a future life in our place cannot be blocked by such distortions and violent nomenclature. We have to go farther and farther into our infinite interactional past where the sage Kashyap made Kashmir inhabitable and if possible we can go farther than that also. We can think of the remains of Burzhama.  Those were our ancestors who lived in Kashmir about 10,000 years back. Those could have been the times when dualistic discourses did not exist. They lived only because the wanted to live. The natural beauty around those ruins is still stunning. They must have worshipped that which is still a better option because nature knows no dualism.

*(The author is a prolific writer and a poet)