Literally, the evenings during the Jashin-I-Kashmir presented a lively scene as kaweyenewol, which thrilled children and made them jump, knock and cry slogans against a cruel Governor of the yore. Like crows to their destination, people, poor and hardy, wealthy and elite, flocked to floodlit Shalimar garden as the sun, after sparkling golden the waters of the Dal Lake, finally dipped in its depths. The glittering ‘celestial chinars’, dancing and shimmering fountains with lilting tunes of Santoors and melodies of Rababs filling the air would have made the Moghul Emperor Jehangir envious, not to say of the underclass and toiling Kashmiris. Compared to many classmates and Mohalla buddies, my elder brother and I were lucky to relish these merrymaking fabulous late evening nights as ‘Sahib’s children. One or other junior of the father addressing us as ‘Sahib’s ‘sons took us around the garden. With its roots in feudal and colonial times, this tag gave us airs of privilege and made us look at our father as a larger-than-life personality. Those who could not afford to hire a Tonga for going to Shalimar and other Moghul gardens, or afford Dal Wasun, a two or three-day excursion in a Donga to the lake for enjoying the glittering musical royal nights went to the Numaish. The downtowners had to walk just a mile or two to enjoy the aesthetic effects of the finest Zool at Numaishgah and enjoy a whole night of entertainment, folk dance and music. During day time, there was a lot more entertainment for the commoners; wrestling, marathon cycling, football tournament, the game buzzed all over the city. The tall, heavy and stout wrestlers were paraded through the streets on open cars through the city’s streets. My uncle and half a dozen of his childhood busy were great football fans, and without fail, they watched all major matches played in uptown Srinagar.
There was an entry ticket For entering into Numaishgah; for children, I think it was one Anna, and for elders, it was two Annas- one eight of the rupee. Again, whenever we visited the Numaish, we strutted a bit on finding a person waiting for us outside the grounds with entry passes; we paid no money. One of our cousins, Mama Mir, had earned a distinction for having mastered the art of Bajali Zool had the charge of illuminations at the Numaish.
For his best work during the Jashin-I-Kashmir, the father was awarded a medal; it was either a silver or bronze medal, indeed not a gold medal. It survived as a family heirloom for many years and was kept in the iron safe, and finally, what happened to it? I don’t know. People had won the half-battle for freedom of expression on the Dogra Durbar implementing the Glancy Commission recommendation. The news about winning a medal for his work might have been published in Khidmat official organ of the National Conference, the party in power. But in our locality, it had spread through word of mouth, making him a celebrity in his own right in his friends and clan. These were almost newspaperless days, except a few weekly no independent dailies were sold at newspaper booths. This half-won battle was also lost in 1948 after most newspapers closed down, leaving behind official organs of the parties in power.
Many in the neighbourhood and nearby Mohallas had started pinning hopes with him for jobs. Mama Peer, a tall turbaned peer Sahib, claiming his descent to twelfth-century saint Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jillani, was first to seek employment of his son Mohammad Shafi- we fondly called him Shafi Peer. Mama Sahib often visited our house for naiz. Many others in the vicinity and our relations were to follow him with their requests for jobs. Those were the days when people got employment in the government at lower levels on proverbial ‘empty cigarette packets. At his morning ‘Awami Durbar’, there hangs a tale, some robust educated young men called on Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad for employment. He had passed orders for their appointment as Assistant Sub-Inspectors Traffic (ATI) in the newly created traffic department on an empty cigarette packet. And the story was very much on the grapevine, and everyone, including children, believed it as gospel truth. The employment was given on the asking’ was the new mantra; there was perhaps truth in it. Sharing his story, one of our top poets and scholar from a non-elitist family told me that it was those days that his cousin was appointed as lectures in Degree colleges without asking for it. Both of them were postgraduates and were working as teachers in Islamia High School on a paltry salary. The story of liberal policy adopted by the top executive towards engaging the jobless had emboldened the lower wrung officers to follow the boss. Some of our relations and acquaintances had got jobs in the government through my father. One of the beneficiaries was Ghulam Ahmad, Ama, as he was called the son of Saja Appa, my grandmother’s friend; for this favour, she often prayed to God for the welfare of our father.
Busy as a beaver in connection with the Jashin Kashmir celebrations, father perhaps could not attend to his routine office work. So on many occasions, his colleagues Tika Lal, Badri Nath, Shamboo Nath, Munweer Lal, and Abdul Rehman, carrying a load of files on their bicycles on one or other holiday, arrived at our home to do the office work. Of them, Tika Lal and Shamboo Nath were prominent because of coloured turbans. Tika Lal’s son, later on, was teaching Chemistry at Islamia College, my alma mater. Some of Pandit colleagues of the father were terrifyingly orthodox Brahmans; they would not even take tea prepared by anyone in our family in light green as high-quality porcelain cups sold at the state cooperative outlets. On the bottom of these beautiful cups, the state flag was embossed. That was true about Balaji also ( Balbhadra Sapru), who came to our residence for the tuition of my brother). To host these colleagues on such occasions and Eid festivals, my father sought the services of Radha Krishana. On Eid, most of the Pandit teammates and junior colleagues of the father dropped in at our home in wee hours, what was called Eid Salam, perhaps a feudal tradition? One day earlier to festival Radha Krishna got a brass samovar, about dozen of brass cups, cakes and Biscuits from Balaji and Sons a bakery shop at Goni Khan, Amira Kadal. He prepared Saffron Kehwa; they called Moghul Chai for guests of his community also served same to them. Radha Krishna was a carpenter in the department; perhaps the only member from the community who had taken to carpentry was not married. Every August, he visited the Amaranth cave to have the darshan of Lord Shiva. He perhaps was an astrologer, and we children heard words like Mangal, Shukra, Brihspati, Shani and Rahu and Ketu from him only, without knowing what these meant. For his piety and truthfulness, our father had a lot of admiration for him. My elder sibling and I also had established our rapport with him got our bookcases and writing desks made by him.
The uncertainties and instabilities of the times we lived through might have taken a toll on many stories and anecdotes relating to the father. Nonetheless, as a singer and lyricist, waxes’, ‘memories die hard, love dies harder still, when all is said and done, I am my father’s son. I, too, am my father’s son in much as having inherited the passion for my alma maters from him. I was in class three (som) section C; I had barely been in my new school for six months. On a terrifying late-night, perhaps in October, the stillness was spoiled by the raucous and ear bursting sounds of the ringing of bells of fire engines, followed by continuous tolling of the bell in one of the minarets of the Jamia Masjid. There was a commotion in the home. Everyone, even children, came out of the bed and rushed to the house’s top floor to locate the places on fire. The sky was red, and the leaping flames and embers flying in the air were distinctly from the third floor of our house. Our school is on fire; my father was crying; his mother joined him, pounding her chest, and with tears raining from her eyes, she too was crying Molvi Sahib School is in flames, save it, save it. To douse the fire, my uncle and father, with canisters, ran towards the school, a ten-minute walk from our home. My elder sibling and I also wanted to join them, but our mother stopped us. Drenched in dirt and water, they returned after the fire was doused, leaving behind mountains of debris all around. I still remember the troubled face and sunken eyes of my father. The iconic three minarets high school building a piece of architecture had wholly gutted. His worry was Mirwaiz Yousf Shah, who the Maharaj had banished in 1947 from entering the State, and he continues to be in exile the building, even if it constructed, will not have its old grandeur. My elder brother’s classroom, which was in the high school building, was now wreckage. But, our class that was in an old building had escaped the massive fire flames. The three-story building that housed the third, fourth and fifth primary classes was the oldest building, perhaps constructed in 1910 or 1912 when the school had graduated receiving the government grant. On that day, maybe that was the first day when I saw him not going to the office. Like chimney-sweepers, he and many other old students toiled from dawn to dusk to clear the rubble with scores of students. Amazingly, the school started functioning a week after the fire. The government erected massive tents with royal grandeur on the school grounds. These tents belonged to Toshkhana; the Dogra Sarkar used these for hosting royal parties, Safari and on hunting trips.
….to be continued
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist