keroseneLamps004By Irfan Bashir

All of my family members are sitting in a Hamaam enjoying the mild warmth of the stones. Someone is pouring noon chai from a samawaar in a traditional cup – a round pot without a handle. Everyone is wearing a pheran and holding a kangri. Some careless but experienced hands are stirring the hot coal inside the kangri. They are all speaking in Kashmiri and someone casually asks me: “Why are you not wearing a pheran?” As hard as I try, I couldn’t respond. I ask myself was there really a time when Kashmiri culture was a culture in the literal sense of the word? The answer is to my amazement is ‘yes’.

Except a few traditions like Wazwaan – an originally Iranina cuisine adopted by Kashmir and pheran, the Kashmiri culture seems more or less an ancient tale. A very dominant part of me also knows that soon these few cogs will fade as the younger generation in their callousness will discard these leftovers as old and useless elements in the fabric of the emerging ‘we don’t give a damn’ society.

I feel guilty but if truth be told I have myself never been keen at following the Kashmiri culture and traditions. It’s not that I don’t like my culture. It’s just that I feel like there is void between me and my roots. Had it not been for my mother, I’m sure I wouldn’t have known the little broken Kashmiri that I know today. And honestly speaking, I for sure know the generation after me would not even know the very existence of our language.

People ask me, “Why are you so distanced from your culture?” After an extended period of awkward silence I simply say, “I don’t know” But I do know. The answer for me lies in our history. May be the scenario would have been different, if our parents would have taught children how to speak Kashmiri before teaching them English or Urdu. But as fate would have it, the Kashmiri culture is passing into oblivion and there is very little that can be done about it.

If for a moment, a blame game was to be played, everyone would be equally found guilty. Earlier, there were rumors that Kangri and Ale-hache (dried gourd) were carcinogenic and much to my bewilderment everyone believed it, especially we the younger generations. No one searched for the truth and the result is for everyone to see; today we will hardly find younger people with a Kangri forget about having Ale-hache for dinner. Six months ago, I met my cousin who had come back to Srinagar to tie knot. He was telling me how he had forgotten everything in Kashmir and couldn’t recognize anything. He said, “I made myself forget about Kashmir. Look at everything here. We drink tea with sodium chloride in it, which is an integral part of washing powder.” I wanted to tell him that we no more add it but instead just flashed a guilty smile.

Change is an integral part of the fabric of our existence but this is not change; this is murder; murder of Kashmiriyat and everyone is equally responsible.


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