Author: Saadut
•9:42 PM

Long before Facebook existed, the local social networks of Kashmir ran an extensive web of updates, discussions and social inclusiveness. In Kashmir when most of the basic services and occupations were still ‘Kosher’ you had the local native barber whose joint would be the hub of all political and news discussions. The local ‘navied’ would be a political expert who would rhyme his fingers over haircuts with political discussions, opinions and economic discourse. His expertise would encompass both local and the world beyond the state from whatever latency prone news that seeped in those days of a ‘non public internet’ world.

My earliest childhood recollection was Aziz Joo who was a regular at our house for attending the barber services of my father. Aziz Joo wore a white ‘dastaar’ (turban) which was more roundish than ovalish and perfectly matched with his fair face. His long ‘pheran’ had a loose fit with an almost left of corner opening at the top with no buttons, his ‘pheran’ often meticulously clean and ironed. His ‘arsenal’ would be arranged in a wooden box that had black leather straps, which he carried along always. He would not only carry with him his barber services but also news and happenings from across the dwellings. I later heard he would also be sought in other parts to care blemishes or boils, the local dermatologist kind of, his primary prescription would be the ‘malhaam’ a strong variant of the belladonna patch. A man of medium height with dark eyebrows and wide eyes, his pace would be fast for his feet size, often brisk for those calculated timings of his work and attendance. He carried with him a great sense of wit that rarely came to fore in the presence of Dad, he would be of restricted speak in front of him, but would have quick replies to Dad’s inquests. Dad respected Aziz Joo for the wisdom he carried and the knowledge he exhibited, he understood more of the Kashmir political scene that some of the current dynasty political heirs could ever know. Dad narrated an incident that Aziz Joo had been witness to very early. When Sheikh had been dethroned and Bakshi took over in Kashmir, J&K Armed Police had been deployed in parts of internal Srinagar, who were restricting movements of civilians in the city. Kabir’e an old bachelor used to live with his brothers family (his brother’s wife was named Bakhti). On this particular day Kabir’e had ventured out and was stopped near Khanyar by the Armed Police, the lathis were up and the blows were next to fall in place ‘Kouan hai’ (Who are you) shouted the Armed Police, ‘Main Bakhti ka droui houn’ (I am the brother In-law of Bakhti). The policemen who were from Jammu would not comprehend much of Kashmiri understood ‘Bakhti’ to be ‘Bakshi’ and gave him easy passage.

When I grew up the ‘not so far away’ barber Manzoor was the style haunt for local boys; that is before I had been sent to the boarding school. His own hair style was a peculiar mix of two Hindi film heroes; you could not be sure which two although.  But that mix and match was not what he did with the hair styles of boys, his finger created almost that perfect cut you demanded, but not before he had given you an overdose of his recommendations. A slim man of medium height, he would always dress business like, from old bell bottoms to the then in rage parallels, you could not help but marvel his sense of style. Manzoor was well versed with the happenings and ‘puppet mechanizations’’ of the state’s political scene, all the deceit and repertoire and more of it were familiar with him. His shop was the Facebook wall for the local boys, where status updates were posted more frequently, where the RSS feeds would run nonstop for the ‘who and where’ of this small closely knit local society. The newspapers on his shop would change more hands, would get more hits then than a small web page would get in present times. The colour of these newspaper edges would go brownish dark by the evening, by the shuffling of multiple readers who devoured on them. But more than the news that was written on these newspapers were the narratives held on and by this barber shop. It knew the local social trends, was aware of the social pursuits and kept the secrets of many households in these dwellings. It was the virtual local google then. His shop had wide mirrors, stacked with shelves on either side that had genuine ‘Old Spice’ unlike ‘Old Skice’ the fake cousin of this after shave that adorns the UP bhaiyaa run barber shops now in Srinagar. The present barber shops know nothing of our societies, so disconnected from this land they are that they don’t even know how to pronounce the names of local places, the ‘e in Noet’e (Nowhatta) or the Habb’e Kadal often missed by them. The modern barber shops have been reduced to automated scissors that treat all human specimens as to be sheared sheep, subject to the same geometric compass cut.  

During my once in a year holidays from boarding, I would never miss an opportunity to get Manzoor do the hair honors, back there we had be forced to do a ‘no hair must grasp in hand’ student haircut in school.  It was in one of these visits that I found out that Manzoor had also become the local database for the torments of conflict in this area. He had infact even kept a copy of an old ‘India Today’ magazine which had announced the arrival of armed rebellion in Kashmir. He kept the virtual ‘pain, migration, survival and death’ count during the conflict. In good old days, I heard, he would also act as the part time match maker, more often as a social service with some economic benefits. But now the match making scene was dismal, with most of the boys either already been lost to conflict or the living boys lost to joblessness and economic deprivation. With conflict migration taking precedence, families migrated from villages to cities and from central city to suburbs, the brokerage business for new and rental property came into vogue, an opportunity he grasped soon. He soon converted into the local ‘Yellow Pages’ indexing most of the migrations and ‘to let’ positions in nearby vicinities.  But soon this conflict left deep scars on him too. Mid conflict renegade culture came to fore in Kashmir, where a shielded and cloaked armed to teeth force was unleashed upon the local habitations. Manzoor had been identified as a potential prey and from demands of ransom to frequent threats, he soon withdrew into reclusiveness. Ransoms had been paid, but the nocturnal knocks had not ceased. The local social network had soon shut shop.

Now the city has imported workforce, bollywood poster beaming salons filled with the smell of cheap cologne, but you will see no connections to this land, to this society coming from these shops. They have now tagged the local customers by wallet count, names are not remembered, and the old human social networks exist no more.  

18th Dec 2011

Author: Saadut
•10:23 PM

I cannot see the moon from my window tonight. 

I can only see autumn trees wail in distances, mourning the sleeping kids massacred by the king.
I can hear the song of the rustling autumn leaves, who are trying to sing a lullaby, trying to cradle the earth of these sleeping kids.
I can make out the silent sobs of the mother who keeps playing with the toys her child left behind; I can feel the coarse hair of a battered father.
I can feel the darkness in my habitation; I see the feeble light shining in bleeding hearts, the faded fire of these hearths.

I cannot see the moon from my window tonight.

I hear the fruit seller still comes searching for Sameer with the new harvest of pears,
In the narrow interwoven lanes the jackboots that trampled Sameer have not erased,
I hear the friends of Tufail still call out his name, the children in us do hope for miracles like the return of loved ones from no return lands,
I see the picture of a smiling Fida hanging by his home has not learnt the wrinkled expressions he left his parents with
The bloom of the hundred gardens that were stomped has not been replaced; their winters never gave way to spring.

I cannot see the moon from my window tonight.

The narration of children stories still continues in their homes, now their mothers sit alone by the window to weave these characters
The cradles that these children played in lay motionless and blank, creaking sometimes in the still of the night to announce their grief
I see the vortex that has evolved in these eyes, the void of these faces, the questions with no answers.
The silence here creates its own deafening noises, the blankness shrieks almost from nowhere, pierces right through my heart

I cannot see the moon from my window tonight.
My eyes have tired searching for that moonlight, having got drowned in my own torrent; I can only pray for my Kashmir :(

14th October 2011
Author: Saadut
•12:51 AM

What is in a name you might ask? Well everything and nothing. If it was just another town name might have gone unnoticed, but if it is a town in Kashmir by the name of Islamabad it is sure to give ammo for right winged ideologues who despise every mention or resemblance of even a shred of green in Kashmir.

Those who distort history play with the sentiments of the gullible, for whom history may not have been a good scoring subject. But have we not known how distorted and state convenient history comes in modified and adequately parameterized form for the education system in India. Schools often get a rundown, watered down ‘what suits state’ history, most the facts that state considers inconvenient left out. But that is besides the point here.

Islamabad has its own history and a well documented one. In 1763 AD Ismail Khan a Mughal governor in Kashmir laid the foundation stone of a town in south Kashmir named after him ‘Islamabad’. Islamabad also means abode of peace. In his book “The Valley of Kashmir’ Sir Walter Lawrence (1896) calls Khanabal a port of Islamabad.

In another place he writes “The main roads at present connect Srinagar with Islamabad, Vernag and Jammu via the Banihal pass (9,200 feet) with Shupiyon” Please note ‘Shupiyon’ is the original name of present day “Shopian’ that has been modified after the Indian rule in Kashmir. In his book Sir Walter Lawrence mentions “Islamabad’ almost 80 times.
The book “Jammu and Kashmir Territories” by F. Drew also has mention of Islamabad town in south Kashmir.

During the Dogra rule Maharaja Hari Singh invited prominent citizens of Islamabad town to the foundation stone laying of SMHS hospital at Srinagar. All the official invitations by the Dogra ruler had addresses of these invitees written as Islamabad. In fact during the rule of Maharaja Ranbhir Singh there were attempts to rename Islamabad town but they did not succeed.

Records of post received in early 1900’s by a noted intellectual of Islamabad town, from Delhi, Punjab and other parts of undivided India and now preserved by his family were all addressed to Islamabad, Kashmir. The postage stamps of that era have postal seals of Islamabad town.

Until 1990’s Islamabad was the de-facto name of this south Kashmir town: that is till insurgency started in Kashmir. During the insurgency melee Indian security forces had been scrambled and posted across the nook and corner of Kashmir. Now during questioning if a commoner would say he was going to Islamabad, CRPF would immediately connect that to the Pakistani Islamabad and beat the pulp out of these poor souls. Suddenly CRPF personnel started firing on the signboards that read Islamabad; any mention of this name was enforced as a taboo. The signboards of buses that had for decades been reading “Islamabad’ had to undergo a sudden transformation. Security forces wanted Islamabad out of the local lexicon and Anantnag in, for which the security forces exerted much of their muscle, stick and gun power. Locals outwitted them by replacing the bus route boards to ‘Khanabal’, which is the closest stop to Islamabad, thus keeping the idea of Islamabad in their mind and heart. Nowadays Islamabad is back to its rightful place on the bus route boards.

While across India many cities may have been reverted to original names, in Kashmir strangely most of the towns have been twisted out their original names and all this under official patronage in the last 6 decades of Indian rule. ‘Shupiyon’ was modified as ‘Shopian’, ‘Pulwom’ was modified as “Pulwama’, Sopur as Sopore, Varmul as Baramulla and the list goes on and on. What wrong if an overwhelming majority of locals want to use the original name of these towns and places? Any crime this?

Meanwhile in India all the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men could not force change CP to Rajiv Chowk. Some things are better in their original form.

You would want to ask what happened to ‘Anantnag’. Well Ananatnag was originally a dwelling borough very much like Mattan (Martand) and Bijebehada, a subset of the bigger town of Islamabad. The name was later incorporated for the district by state governments post Indian rule. Islamabad continued as the name of the town proper.

In case of Islamabad town in Kashmir, the rightist hate comes from its proximity to the name sake capital of Pakistan, ignoring the fact that when the Islamabad of Kashmir was known such, Pakistan was not even conceived and India was even yet to start her Independence struggle. But since all resemblance to Pakistan in Kashmir is hate worthy be it Islamabad town, the green scarf or the rock salt: the ignoramus cry hoarse against Islamabad. What these bigots fail to justify is the existence of Hyderabad both in India and Pakistan, the existence of pre partition Lahori Gate in Delhi. Why does the Hyderabad and Lahori Gate not want them to press for a name change? Just because these places are not in Kashmir hence attempts at portraying rightist valor will not fetch adequate political returns here.

In fact you will find most of these dogmatic chauvinists enjoying “Karachi Halwa’ from Chandni Chowk, Delhi or a Mumbai sweet shop without bothering about the Karachi in it.

What is in a name you had say? Call Islamabad anything you want, but let it be Islamabad ‘the abode of peace’

Srinagar, 7th July 2011

Author: Saadut
•9:21 AM

In the narrow inter woven lanes of down town Khanyar, Srinagar in Kashmir is a small non- descript shrine of a medieval Muslim saint Youza Asaf also called the Rosabal shrine, the name of the locality also being Rosabal. This shrine is in the close vicinity of one of most revered shrines in Kashmir that of “Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani” also known locally as “Dastageer Sahab”. The Rosabal shrine of Youza Asaf could pass as just another of the hundreds of shrines dotting Kashmir with its Kashmiri architectural roof, typical to most shrines in its choice of green and white, central rising dome with multi tier slopes; had it not been for the renewed interest generated in this shrine by global media and foreign visitors. In the Rosabal shrine the graves of the two saints exist, enclosed within a wooden chamber and the grave stones covered with a green cloth. 

According to the care takers of the tomb, both graves of the Rosabal shrine belong to Muslim saints, one of who is a medieval Muslim saint Syed Nasserudin and the other is Saint Youza Asaf. Saint Youza Asaf is reported to have arrived in Kashmir in 30AD, and of late it is this tomb of Saint Youza Asaf that has become a must visit on the travel itinerary of many foreign tourists to Kashmir, many of them believing that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixion, travelled to Kashmir and lies buried at the Rosabal Shrine under his adopted name of Youza Asaf.  However in Kashmir the locals have rejected these theories, maintaining that the site has two famous Muslim saints buried there.

Are these rumors new founded? The idea of Jesus in Kashmir has been making rounds for more than a century. Russian war correspondent Nicolas Notovitch claims to have visited Leh (in north Kashmir) and learnt about the “Life of Saint Issa” (Issa is the name of Jesus Christ), a text which was later published in French as “La vie inconnue de Jesus Christ” (1894). According to Nicholai Notovich during his travels to Leh (North part of Kashmir) he met Lamas in the monastery who in exchange for an alarm clock and a thermometer, was shown a manuscript which had references about the story of "Issa a traveler from Israel", who had visited this part about 2000 years ago. However the claims of Nicolas Notovitch were contradicted by Archibald Douglas (then a teacher at the Agra Government College in British India) who visited Hemis monastery at Leh in 1895 and claimed that there was no evidence that Notovitch had even been there. Swami Abhedananda a disciple of Swami Ramakrishna travelled to Leh (north Kashmir) in 1922, claimed to have been shown the manuscript having references to “Life of Saint Issa” by the lama, and translated that part of the manuscript, reference for which is found in the book “Journey into Kashmir and Tibet” by Swami Abhedananda. 

According to the propagators of the Rosabal legend, Jesus travelled with his mother Mary, who after being weakened by the tough travel in her old age died in Murre (name of the town resembling Mary) in Pakistan. Murre is 170 kilometers west of Srinagar and close to Rawalpindi. As per the same legend Jesus is said to have entered Kashmir from passes over the meadows of Yusmarg (or Yuzmarg, marg meaning meadow)  which is about 40 kilometers south of Srinagar. 

Ahmadiya sect, a controversial minority sect of a few hundred followers claims that Jesus died a natural death and is buried in Kashmir. The book “Jesus in Heaven on Earth” by a leading member of the Ahmadiya sect, Khawaja Nazir Ahmad in 1952 writes about the 'journey of Jesus Christ to Kashmir' to preach to the lost tribes of Israel (the Kashmiri’s) and about 'his death and burial in Kashmir’.

In 1973 a local journalist Aziz Kashmiri in his book “Christ in Kashmir” claimed that Jesus was buried in Kashmir and died here at the age of 120. The writer has since passed away but his book continues to rekindle the legend. 

Professor Fida Hassnain a former director of Archives, Archaeology, Research and Museums for Jammu and Kashmir claims Kashmiri’s originate from the "10 missing tribes of Israel" and that was the reason Jesus chose Kashmir as his destination, to preach among his own people. Prof Hassnain claims that Kashmiri’s were driven out of Israel by the Assyrians in around 720 BC and came to settle here (in the new countries) after that. Incidentally Prof Fida Hassnain has also co-authored a book “Roza Bal, Beyond the Da Vinci Code” with Suzanne Olsson. Olsson also claims that the connection between Kashmir and Jewish traditions is strengthened by the presence of graves of the Prophet Moses and his brother Aaron at Bandipora and Harwan in Kashmir.

Sir Francis Younghusband who was the then representative of the British crown to the Dogra king of Kashmir, in his writings ‘Kashmir’ (published in London 1909) wrote (page 112): “Here may be seen fine old patriarchal types, just as we picture to ourselves the Israelitish heroes of old. Some, indeed, say… that these Kashmiri’s are the lost tribes of Israel and certainly, as I have already said, there are real Biblical types to be seen everywhere in Kashmir and especially among the upland villages. Here the Israelites Shepherd tending his flocks and herds may any day be seen.”

According to some reports Kashmiri or Kashahmiri are Hebrew words and an attributive name of the Israelites. The root is Kas(h)ah, similar to the Arabic kashiya. Famous Arab traveler and historian El Bironi in the 12th century wrote, "In the past, permission to enter Kashmir was given only to Jews." There is yet another legend which speaks of King Solomon having reached Kashmir Valley and aided the people of Kashmir in successfully regulating the main river of Kashmir (Jehlum). In fact according to same legend the name of Shankracharya hill located in central Srinagar is Takht-e-Sulieman (the mount or throne of Solomon), locals still prefer to call the hill by that name. Of course there is a majority who disagree with the legend of ‘King Solomon’ and believe that the name “Takht-e-Sulieman” was actually given by Shah-e-Hamadan (Amire Kabir).

(A late 1800's photograph of Shankracharya Hill, then captioned 'Solomons Throne' proves that the hill was called such centuries ago also.)

Mullah Nadiri in “Tarikh-i-Kashmir” (History of Kashmir written in 1420) writes about how the existing Hindu structure on Takht-e-Sulieman (now Shankracharya hill) was restored by a Persian architect during the reign of Raja Gopadatta (79-109 AD) and during the renovation, the following was found inscribed on the steps in old Persian: “Dar-een wagt YuzAsaf dawa-i-paighambar-imikunad.  Sal panjah wa chahar”. This translates into “At this time, Yuz Asaf announced his prophetic mission.  In the year 54." And also was found inscribed “Aishan Yuzu paighambar-i-bani israil ast” which again translates into "He is Yuzu, the Prophet of the Children of Israel." The inscriptions of the temple stand since destroyed but may have been recorded by other historians as well. A pillar next to the temple was torn down in the later part of the last century after the temple had already been renovated, and a TV transmission tower was erected in later years.

Locals at Rosabal, Khanyar in Srinagar claim that in 2002 American Suzzane Marie attempted to desecrate the shrine by wanting to start digging and exhume the remains of the saints, which was not allowed by the locals as it is considered UnIslamic. Following strong protests from the locals for hurting their religious sentiments, she had to leave Kashmir. Since then the sanctum sanctorum of the Rosabal shrine has been closed and is opened for locals only on rare occasions.

According to Sam Miller (BBC correspondent) if legend is to be believed Jesus attended a famous Buddhist meeting held at a Buddhist Monastery, at Chandapora near Harwan, in the north of Srinagar city (site is also called ‘the Buddha site’) in 80AD. The site is known as a historical place of Buddhist learning and also for its Buddhist artifacts and terracotta.

In its edition for Indian subcontinent Lonely Planet made a mention of the Rosabal shrine and the legend associated with it, however with a disclaimer. The disclaimer not withstanding, this entry in ‘Lonely Planet’ has had a cascading effect with foreign tourists flocking to the area at downtown Srinagar in search of the tomb. Pertinently in the Bible there is no record of Jesus Christ’s life from the age of 12 to 30, a period also known as “the missing years”, most Christians believing that Jesus lived in Nazareth during that period. It is during this “the missing years” period that the propagators of the legend of ‘Jesus at Rosabal’ claim that Jesus had travelled to Kashmir.

In fact the historical pointers or references available, including the reported Buddhist manuscript at Leh, the inscriptions found at Takht-e-Sulieman, similarity of Jewish words in Kashmiri, do not prove his burial legend at Rosabal : they could  however at the most  just come close to the legend of his visiting Kashmir and then going back to Nazareth.

And if you still are trying to make an opinion about the claims of Jesus in Kashmir remember there have been other claims of Jesus visiting parts of world including England, for which famous poet William Blake had said "And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England's mountains green? And was the holy Lamb of God on England's pleasant pastures seen?"

In his film “And Did Those Feet“ Dr Gordon Strachan (Church of Scotland minister) claims that it is "plausible" that Jesus came to England for his studies 2,000 years ago and may have visited  Penzance, Falmouth, St-Just-in-Roseland and Looe, (in Cornwall) and also Glastonbury (in Somerset) where legends of Jesus do exist. But all of these fables and assumptions of Jesus visiting Kashmir and / or England have not been backed by any concrete evidence hence remain as just stories.

Both Muslims and Christians dismiss the rumors of Jesus buried at Rosabal shrine and claim them to be blasphemous, Christians believing that Jesus was crucified and Muslims believing that Jesus was taken to God: both religions also believing in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Some locals claim this rumor was started by local businessmen and shopkeepers to attract foreign tourists and the rumor got a flip after being mentioned in Lonely Planet. Even professional historians dismiss the rumors as baseless, but then the legend has already found its way into tourist guides, numerous documentaries and books. The Rosabal legend has already inspired a fiction thriller “Rozabal line” by Ashwin Sanghi, a sort of sequel to Dan Brown's “Da Vinci Code”.

Fact or fiction, but the legend around the shrine has aroused renewed interest in this place that has long been hot bed of insurgency, turmoil and been befit of any major economic activity. The legend of Rosabal could have far reaching results for the tourist traffic in Kashmir. If the legend continues to grow the foreign tourist traffic could register a steep growth. However the interest in the tomb has to be separated and segregated from efforts to desecrate it, which could inflame religious passions locally. Science can surely find alternate ways of establishing the truth related to the legend of Rosabal, without disturbing the peace of the saints buried there. 

The claims and the legend regarding Jesus in Kashmir have not been based on any concrete evidence till now and any linking the Jesus legend to Kashmir will need concrete scientific basis than mere books, documentaries and hearsay.  Till that time the legend of Jesus in Kashmir will continue to lure travelers to the Rosabal shrine in Srinagar, Kashmir, and writers will continue to weave stories around the fable. 

May 23rd, 2011) 

My Personal belief is:

"That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise;-
—Holy Qur'an, (An Nisa 157-158)

Author: Saadut
•8:37 PM

          You will find plenty of book reviews for all kind of written material. From cookery books, kiddy stuff to those heavy literary classics. But very rarely do we see Book shop reviews, probably we never want to read what these treasure stores would want to convey to us. Our hunting minds wander thru racks & rows, wanting to search out a new refreshing read or wanting to find that looked after print.

          My city is a small unit, till recently not plagued by endless malls and heaps of shoppers tippling on top of each other in those multi storied robotic expanses. Back in time the shopping areas of my city did not aim at copying modern tastes of architecture by implementing monstrous structures in cement and iron but lately my city too has been ravaged by winds of ‘westernized shopping block change’ in its own way. Traditionalism taken over by sick counters and tight passage-ed shopper spaces, showcases crying out vulgar distasteful, invert hanging stuff and heaps of fake modernity. My childhood the shops had a serene ambiance to them, price tags were not sticker-ed on top of each other and discounts like 40+50% seemed fraud.

          In my childhood of all the shops, my favorite used to be the book shop on Residency Road, an extended space with treasures inside. On the next floor of the book shop was the Indian Coffee Shop. Unlike the modern day coffee joints where couple sweet talk or corporate fake smiles and pretentious reign, this was a different world in a cosmic existence of its own. The coffee shop would be frequented by writers, journalists, professors & a whole lot of intellectuals for their slow sip -multi talk chatter. The furniture here was plain and simple but could be no match for the level of talk heard here. I still remember the simple poster on the wall of the coffee shop, which in many ways portrayed the openness offered. Such joints today would be called a waste of precious real estate, but then such ideas & the simple intellect as were nourished in those days have become a rarity now. The proximity of the coffee shop to the ‘book shop’ gave the book shop part of its clientele. The other clientele of the book shop being the foreigners who were more interested in those color glossy travel books and the picturesque Kashmir postcards. My interest in the book shop would be for the precious Enid Blyton, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain’s stuff. How prized those dreamy books were for me like virtual trophies of a conquest, of precious possessions; of something I was proud of calling my own. Every visit to this store I would sneak into the ‘heavy books’ just to see what the grown ups were looking into. The Jane Austin, Dickens, GB Shaw, HG Wells, Munro, Jane Austin, Walter Scott: all shared their own spaces with each other. It was only some years later when I high school that I swam into these oceans. The book shop surely exhibited no light effects of the modern disciplined book store counterparts. The wooden racks and the stack of books on the sides were guided to by poor lights by today’s standards. You need to squeeze into a tight gaze to tide thru the treasures in these rows. The only books that could be easily found were the traveler & hobbyist ones since their cover cried for colored attention. But the book shop owner carried the index of all these treasures in his mind. If you seemed lost in the maze, he could direct you through your search with his eyes closed. Human mind did score upon modern machines here.

          My visits to the shop became once a year affair as soon I ventured westwards for studies. My vacation visits to Kashmir would be incomplete without a visit to the book shop, even though I would not purchase much from here, the book shop staying immune & unaltered by the change happening in book stores in the outside world. During the start of turmoil years as the coffee shop shut & the visitors to valley evaporated, the book shop wore dull attire. I could see the pain in the emptiness of the book shop, the cries of outside agony overran the vacant spaces. The books seemed to have taken my homelands grief on to themselves, for the rack huddle of Wells, Munro, Shaw and their counterparts seemed in its uneasy form in the book shop. On these rare visits whenever I touched the books on the racks they cried of relentless agony. The ‘Reginald of Saki’ had lost his satirical touch & ‘Clovis’ was less impressive now. Sometimes in my vagueness I would climb the stairs of the coffee shop, knowing that it was lost to time, but hoping that with a miracle I could reinvent it in its old form. Perhaps the Munro, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Lamb, Ruskin’s had not been able to shake off the Enid Blyton in me. Did I refuse to let go the ‘magic faraway tree’ into childhood fantasy & imagination?

          What probably the violent years down the road & across the square could not do, capitalism did. Many years back the book shop was taken over and transformed. The last of the Mohican's had fallen down.
          The other book shop that I now frequent resembles plain geometric shapes. Automated indexes, a computer operator directing by machine assistance and the cold air stares me in the face. I buy books in this book shop; I cannot buy imagination & peace of mind.
          I yearn for the old days in Kashmir, I yearn for peace. 

16th Feb 2011