Beginning a place discourse
By Dileep Kumar Kaul
Whatever happens to us happens only when we are physically located somewhere, that means present at a place. A place contains an environment, natural and, man made, that influences our whole being, our mindset, our imagination, even our language. The imaginations we have about our place keep our sense of belonging to that place alive, even when we are away from it. This homeplace is important for us, to which we return or want to return, after every journey or other engagements of life.
In Kashmir, our elders after performing daily pooja put the water of pooja in river Vitasta which is an incarnation of goddess Uma. This river is so sacred that even if we take only a palmful of its water the sins of all the births are washed away. Like other rivers it is not necessary to bathe in it to get rid of our sins. That is how an ecological entity becomes part of Kashmiri Pandit imagination and formulates its imagination about the homeplace i.e. Kashmir. When our elders had to leave Kashmir, river Tawi is not so near to the residential areas in Jammu so they had to feel satisfied with putting the water of pooja in flowerbeds or wherever it was convenient. Their imagination viz.a.viz their place was affected. An example of place imagination came up when once I was trying to know from one of my aunts the address of one of my relatives in Jammu. She gave me a particular location to which I had to walk from the main road. I wanted to know how far it was from the road. “Not much”, said she, “as much as from here to Ganpatyar (we lived in Habba Kadal in Srinagar).” There were about three hundred kilometers from Jammu to Ganpatyar but she had not been able to separate herself from her place and its dimensions. She was interpreting her present place in terms of her homeplace. This shows that we can dwell in more than one place simultaneously.
But what about those children who were born after exodus? Jammu is the place for them. It is the place for many of us. It has given us a foothold to see our home place from a distance and struggle against the place eroding forces that were unleashed on Kashmir and threaten Jammu as well. How do we define a place? There is space all around us. Distance between any two points is space. We often say that there is a lot of space in some body’s house which means that there is a large area for movement; the extreme points within the boundaries of the house are separated by a lot of distance. But what makes it a place? When we give some value to this space, make it important in some sense, imagine it in a way we want it to be. We make our environment and it also makes us. We construct houses, temples and different community facilities and make our places important. We restore archaeological monuments to make our history alive. Construction of Tulmul at Janipur and Hari Parbat in Faridabad are important examples of place consciousness. The consciousness of these sacred places was so powerful in us that with our exodus we reconstructed these places outside Kashmir because we could not imagine our place without them. This had also a definite political import. This was a part of our resistance against place eroding forces by keeping our imagination of these sacred places alive. Terrorism destroys our place imagination. A homeplace is made a place of death. We reimagined Kashmir in our exodus by creating replicas in the places we moved to. This, if understood in the proper perspective will lay the foundations of a place discourse within the Kashmiri Pandit community.
This is an important dimension of the work that PRAKASH, the cultural initiative of Panun Kashmir has undertaken. American ecocritical thinker Lawrence Buell says that place connectedness is an ongoing discipline demanding hard work and commitment in which we must ceaselessly coach and reinforce each other. This precisely is what the work of PRAKASH is encouraging.
The perceptions of Kashmir as a place for Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims are different. The history of Kashmiri Pandits and their actions through this history automatically gives a value and meaning to the space which is Kashmir. The place eroding politics of Kashmiri Muslims aims at eroding this value and meaning and with that the perspective which is Kashmir. Kashmiri Muslims see Kashmir as a place they have to possess and for that they need to disconnect with its history, myths and stories. For this Lalded becomes very important. It is not without reason that they go on emphasizing in one way or the other that she had converted to Islam and her grave had been found. Recently this was again emphasized in a documentary programme telecast on Doordarshan.
For Kashmiri Pandits Lalded is not a solitary poetess. She is the expression of a people. She personifies those cultural, spiritual and social values that KPs have cherished through the ages and that give value and meaning to space which is Kashmir. Distorting her would mean distorting Kashmiri Pandit imagination of Kashmir as a place. Our imagination was affected to such an extent that many of us would often quote her interpolated vakhs of religious tolerance. This distortion was countered by PRAKASH and path was cleared to reimagine Kashmir in the proper perspective. The difference is to be understood. If Lalded was a shaiva yogini, the meaning of Kashmir changes. If she converted to Islam every body can understand what meaning Kashmir would get. Had Lalded not been synonymous with Kashmir, there was no need to emphasize her converting to Islam. It is just to erode her being as a Shaiva Yogini, erode the meaning of Kashmir as an abode of Shaivism. This is a good example of a place becoming synonymous with some particular personalities.
The distortion of Amarnath shrine is also significant. Here also almost the same story was repeated. Lalded ultimately converted to Islam. Here the beginning of the history of Amarnath was restricted to a point when a Muslim discovered it. In other words Amarnath could not have emerged unless discovered by a Muslim. Again there is an attempt to imagine Amarnath in an idiom of Muslim possession. The very often quoted nomenclature of culturally significant Anantnag as Islamabad is another example of imagining a place in a fundamentalist idiom.
It is not always necessary to be at a place to be influenced with it. Many of our children have not seen Kashmir. There parents speak in Kashmiri and talk about Kashmir. On this basis and on the basis of media images they imagine Kashmir and try to belong through speaking in Kashmiri. In the recently concluded National Convention of Panun Kashmir Sheeba Wali and Shreya Sus, two class X students spoke in Kashmiri. Their Kashmiri was a mixture of Kashmiri and Hindi. It showed their commitment and struggle to belong through the language of their homeplace. They live in Jammu where they communicate in Hindi most of the time. Their Kashmiri had the influence of that language which is the marker of their present place and their present identity. Kashmiri was central and whenever there was a need help of Hindi was taken. This raises hopes about the place consciousness of our future generations. Sheeba and Shreya were trying to reimagine their homeplace in present day context.
A very important task for us, at present, is to get rid of those imaginations which have been slowly made to penetrate into our thinking like viruses. Jammu has given us situatedness. We dwell in it but we have to simultaneously dwell in Kashmir as well. That is necessary to save our present place which is Jammu and our situatedness in it. If we are place conscious we cannot allow our present place to be eroded, and that is possible only by reimagining Kashmir, in the perspective to which it belongs.