I sometimes wonder if my father would sit under the tso: ng, a cotton wick lamp fuelled by mustard oil that used to light homes during long wintry nights, listening to stories from his grandmother. Sadly, I never got a chance to ask him. Perhaps I was too young, or he was in a hurry to leave us early without saying goodbye. Nothing of his childhood ever leaked into the evening family gossip. But stories about his childhood pastime, youth hobbies were scattered in the attic of our house- ‘my wonderland.’ The storybooks like Jung Nama, Alif Laila, Rustum Sohrab, and Gulraiz with garish sketches on their covers and old novels stuffed in one of the Sandals immensely testified his love for beautiful and powerful stories during his childhood and boyhood. The booklets on Kashmiri Sufiana Mausiqi and its different Maqams and old gramophone record player, bunch black discs some broken and a few intact did tell he had been music lover perhaps a connoisseur.
Whether he had heard stories from his grandmother or not. But I could imagine, he defiantly would have heard stories in chaste and mellifluous Kashmir from his mother Khayr Ded- my grandmother. I don’t know if my grandmother real name was Khadija, or it had been shortened or distorted to Khayr Ded as was in vogue those days. However, the Khayr Ded name sounded excellent and meaningful like many other Kashmiri names adopted by native Muslim women. What made me believe that my father might have heard some grand stories, of course with a moral from my grandmother, after all in her seventies for me, she was the most extraordinary storyteller? More eloquent and fluent than the ‘Sazandars (barads) that often visited Ramzan Khan’s Mandi (timber depot) adjacent to our home in the wee morning hours and put ballads of Rustum and Sohrab, love lore of Laila Majnu and Heemal and Nagari to music.
In Ded’s quiver of stories, our no ancestors had made it from the dusty plains of India along the banks of Ganges to the land of lakes and peaks. In our family basket, there were no stories of our forefathers having climbed over the rugged mountains of Afghanistan or crisscrossed the vast deserts of Arabia to land in the lap of mountains and high peaks. The only story in the family bin was that we were natives who tended a smallholding; somewhere on the Srinagar-Baramulla road. And in one of the devastating floods some three centuries back, it had been washed away, and the humble house crumbled with all belongings carried away by the gushing waters. To eke out a living, the pauper family had made it to the city. Instead of living a parasite’s life, like a drone shifting from flower to flower, they had moved from one blue-collar job to another. Almost living the gypsy life, they had changed three homes before making it to the house around the Jamia Masjid where my father and I were born and adopting it as their permanent abode. The date and year of the new dwelling could be found in the stamp papers of Dogra Durbar, lying in the iron safe fixed in the wall of a room. But, it never caught my imagination, even during my youth, to know exactly when the house I was born was built. My grandmother once told me that she, as a bride, had walked from her father’s house into the three-story home of burnt bricks constructed by my grandfather during the times of Old Maharaja. It perhaps could be at the turn of the nineteenth century because, in 1963, she passed away at eighty. The family could trace its genealogy to three generations only before my father, Sadiq Joo, my grandfather, Aziz Joo, his father and Ahad Joo, his grandfather. None in the family precisely knew when it had graduated to Islam. However, the general impression was it had happened in the fourteenth century when Mir Muhammad Hamadani, the illustrious son of Mir Syed Hamadani, was moving around the valley with missionary zeal. What religious beliefs our ancestors did follow before adopting Islam as their way of life would only be a surmise. The family might have passed through many vicissitudes, lived through more challenging times and cherished many beliefs and faiths. Living near nature might have shaped their worldview about religious beliefs and moulded their character. If they followed Mahayana doctrine at any point in time will be wild guessing. Of course, at the time of coming within the fold of Islam, the family might have been part of the broader spectrum of religious beliefs in fashion.
Nevertheless, I have vivid impressions that the family followed the Naqshbandiyah Sufi order. The legacy passed on to the family from my grandfather’s times was in the family narrative. For this native family esteeming Naqshbandiyah order ostensibly, there could be no reason other than living near four-hundred-year-old Khanaqah Naqshbandiyah (1633 AD)- an abode of peace, tranquillity and spirituality. On the third of every month of the Hijra calendar, a samovar of Kehwa and basket full of bread was carried to the Khanaqah- my elder sibling and I might have done this errand job dozens of times. On this day, devotees collected for Khatamat – special prayers in the Khanaqah. On many other occasions, a big majama copper plate filled with halwa was taken as an offering to the Astana on the premises. Every year on the 3rd of Rabiʽal-Awwal, the Urs of Naqshband Sahib was observed with solemnity, friends and relatives were invited to a multi-cuisine lunch or dinner. The tradition continued as late as the eighties of the past century till the family was fragmented and shifted to various other localities. Both my father and uncle were proficient enough in Persian and Arabic; they remembered scores of naat and manqabat as the adage goes by heart.
In far as contours of face my father, he resembled his mother as my uncle resembled his father. Like his mother, my father was lean and tall, with a typical hooked Aryan nose five feet and ten inches in height and my uncle round-faced, quite stout five feet six to seven inches in height like his father. I was also curious to know how my dad looked in his childhood; as I started getting attracted more towards my father after he ceased being a Saturday visitor, my curiosity to know how he looked as a child intensified. Perhaps making a family album during my father’s childhood was not popular in our class of people; it might have been fashionable ‘ with the aristocracy.’ Someone has said, ‘dads are always heroes of their sons-‘that may not always be true, but the truth is that every child imagines how his father looked at his age if he was his mirror image or not, and they looked into old family photo albums. There were no albums in the sandooks in the loft or on shelves. Still, some group family pictures in frames pegged to the greenish clay daubed walls, feasted at by silverfishes on corners, provided a window to know about costumes and jewellery in the fashion in the recent. A large family picture in a paper mache frame was hanging from a wooden peg on one of the walls. The frame perhaps had been made by Aka Malik, the patriarch of Malik family, the only Shia neighbours we shared Pa’chi baharunwith- the wooden planks compound partition. Mohammad Malik, another scion of the family and his wife and three sons lived in our neighbourhood during my early childhood. I have fond memories of Sa’ka (perhaps Sakina), wife of Mohammad Malik- she was pretty elderly, brimming with love and affection. Some ace photographer had taken the photo with the vintage wooden camera on a tripod under a dark cloth cape. These wooden cameras outside many photographers shops in Basant Bagh and Gow Kadal areas had a great attraction for me during my school days. These were used as late as our days at the university campus to take the class photographs. In the 12/15 Inches, family picture pegged on the wall probably shot in autumn of 1930, when my father was eight or nine years old, I have seen him wearing a fez cap and a three-button coat touching his knee caps a crumpled trouser standing on one side of the photograph. Men were sitting on a wooden bench. Those in the picture were Sidiq Joo and Ramzan Joo, my grandfathers from father’s and mother’s side and their brother Habib Joo. And there was one Qadir Kak, who was not a member of the family but had been brought up by the family. There were a lot of stories about Qadir Kak’s tomfooleries and cowardice in the family tales. Out of many of his pranks, one often found a mention:
Whenever the royal procession passed through the street of our locality on its way to temples on the foothills of Koh-i-Maran (Hari Parbat), people needed to raise the slogan “Maharaja Bhaduar Ki Jai.” Instead of Jai, Qadir Kak had cried Kai (vomiting). The horse-mounted soldier (ra’sali) had chased him through the lanes of our Mohalla, and he had taken shelter in huge earthenware granary and out of fear, he had pissed inside’.
All women in the picture were dressed like other native women; long pherans were touching their knees, the headgear adorned with lots of silver pins- some with tiny turquoise tops. My father might have graduated to a suit from his three-button coat after finished his education and joined the Maharaja’s Government. However, I always saw him wearing a well-ironed suit, an astrakhan cap and Ambassador Shoes.
to be continued……
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist