Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The heritage of J&k architecture

By: Salman Nizami

Winston Churchill once said, "We shape our buildings in the beginning; ultimately they shape us." Throughout history, architecture has been a symbol of success, glory and a sign of strength for great dynasties and civilizations. Be it Megaliths of Stone Age or Petronas of today's jet age, people have always used architecture to prove their superiority over others. It has always been a symbol of pride and reflected the character of the rulers and their strength. Examples are many; Pyramids of Egypt, Collosium in Greece, Taj Mahal at Agra, Buland Darwaza, Qutub Minar etc. Architecture is nothing but a reflection of the culture and traditions of its people. The great Islamic architecture which spread throughout the world reflects the great Islamic era of finest art, character, culture and stability.
Architecture cannot be same everywhere. Every place has its own culture which ultimately shapes the architecture of its region. As the culture develops over centuries, so does the architecture and as the culture changes, so does the architecture. Jammu and Kashmir has its own culture and traditions which developed over the centuries and ultimately shaped our architecture. The architecture that we see today is no reflection of our culture and traditions because our culture and traditions have changed to a greater extent. Our culture is changing everyday. There were specific unique qualities in the kind of spaces that our traditional houses had which had become a symbol of our architecture. ' Dan' (chullah) was a very special and a unique space that our traditional houses had. Firstly it would cook the food. Secondly it would heat the water in the boiler which would be behind the 'dan'. Thirdly it would provide charcoal for the kangri. And last but not the least it would heat your kitchen space which was also used as a common seating place. That is why every kitchen used to have a 'choki' (kind of low bed).
Culture cannot be created artificially. In the same way cultural and community spaces that have been developed over the years cannot be designed or developed on paper. It is a result of traditional and cultural or community activities of the common masses and whenever such places have been designed by architects, they have usually failed. The best example that can be given is Chandigarh. Before the partition, Lahore was the cultural hub of Punjab. As a result of the partition of Punjab, Lahore ceded to Pakistan. There was need of a cultural hub like Lahore in Indian side of Punjab. As a result Chandigarh was designed by le-cobusier, a foreign architect, to replicate Lahore. But it never served the same purpose as Lahore did. Lahore is a result of hundreds of years of evolution. Same can be said for new Mumbai. It could not replicate the historical places like Colaba, Fountain, Cuff Parade, Victoria Terminus etc. Same is the case in Jammu and kashmir also. We cannot create the historical places or markets that evolved over the years and even those that exist today. Places likein Jammu Hari palace,Raghunath Mandir,Bahu Fort ,Mubarak Mandi Complex,Rani Charak Mahal and in srinagar Hari Singh High Street, Maharaja Bazaar, Maharaj Gunj, Gadi Koche, etc cannot be replicated at any cost. The buildings in these markets in srinagar reflect in the purest form the kind of architecture that Jammu and Kashmir had. That has almost vanished completely.
As a result it becomes more essential to preserve these kinds of structures which reflect our culture and tradition. Many of these historical buildings can already be seen in deteriorating condition because there is no law or an act in our constitution which could protect them. And till now, there seems to be no initiative from the side of government to save these rich heritage buildings which reflect our past. The whole stretch from Hari Singh High Street to General Post Office has a number of old buildings which reflect the old and traditional Kashmiri architecture. This is just a small belt in the heart of Srinagar city. Old and traditional houses and markets lie unattended on the banks of river Jehlum which was our main source of transportation and as a result its banks developed.
Surely there has been a gradual change in our culture and the resulting change in architecture too. Nothing in this universe is there forever and change is inevitable. But the question to be asked is weather these changes have changed the quality of our lives for good or not.

Educating Kashmir

By: salman nizami

A law is over due for the education setup in Kashmir which should be implemented for a common core curriculum for all schools, the setting of educational standards and which addresses the issue of discrimination in between Jammu and Kashmir and else where . 'The most important thing about this law should be that at state level it should set up a code of conduct (stipulating non-discrimination) for the school system. Reform is long overdue in a state where since the beginning of the tumult in 1989, education has been hostage to crisis and to outdated teaching methods that emphasize rote learning rather than developing children's reasoning abilities. Reforms have been hampered, however, by the lack of an education infrastructure at state level. Nineteen years on, children still attend untidy and tented classes, and there are dozens of schools that provide segregated teaching under one roof. Textbooks are often loaded with outdated information. In one of the latest edition of Greater Kashmir this issue was raised, wherein the information in our civics and history books are as old as 20 years. Never updated, never corrected. I have been witness to one of such shameful story that involves the education department. There is one primary School Kathimaidan, Zadibal , that was shifted to one of the rooms of a private house in The JKPCC colony of Badamwari, I visited that school lately and was surprised to see that students from five different classes studying in one room with 4 teachers in it. I have forgotten the number of times I have approached the Education minister, the Director, and who not? Although there is a piece of land that has been earmarked by the LAWWDA to the Educa-tion Department for the construction of this school, but believe me no one is serious to take the resp-onsibility. The most shameful answer I could get from one of the officers of the education Department was that , " It's the MLA of the Area who has to exercise pressure on the department to have it done , or raise a question in the state assembly , If he is not interested why are you ?
Coming back to the curriculum, you ask such question to any one in the school education and the response will be that they are already working on it, the multiple curricula that existed until now created a patchwork of incompatible teaching systems. I don't know how far they are correct but if they are then the new curriculum should ensure that children of different parts of the valley spend most of their time in school together and, at the same time, take classes in designated 'national subjects' such as language, Culture and literature. If ever the school education department ensures that a new curricula will be updated then the following things should be kept in mind.
New Methods
The overhauled curriculum should throw out old teaching methods which, leaves the student reduced to the status of passive recipient, to be crammed with facts. 'The student should now be expected to observe, resea-rch, draw conclusions and participate in team projects, not just be served ready-to-use definitions.' 'A curriculum should be a detailed description of skills, values, competencies and attitudes that students should acquire,' 'The only objective defined should be the amount of knowledge to be fed, substituting the outdated.' Study like students and not like Robots. The teachers will have to be retrained for the new curriculum and the use of new multi-media methods. 'At the end of day , if you see schools in the villages you will find out that not a single teacher is aware about how to use Internet , although there is a strong desire on their part to learn new things. Our education is good but many things have changed in the world and we have to keep up.' Now or Never The latest education system should be included which requires the state to ensure that education of children is 'in conformity with their (parents') religious and philosophical convictions. With the new school year starting from March, and the assembly session in January there should be a consensus among all the parties that the new law if ever made should be passed in the upcoming session, if it needs to be. Although bureaucratic web or some vested interest may not let this happen but this is high time to think and think fast.' For Kashmir, modern-izing its education system is a priority if it wants to keep pace with outside world. Educational reform is one of the conditions that must be fulfilled by 2009 for J&K to join the other states of the country. We can't remain isolated, and if we play it smart Sadiya, we can finish first. Passing the new law will be a first step towards this, but Kashmir still has a long way to go before its education overhaul is complete.

Welcome winter

And we see the whole valley trapped in what can charmingly be called as ‘winternet’, writes SALMAN NIZAMI

The winter has once again announced its arrival. Rather it has already made the announcement. The whole valley is reeling under cold wave and the temperature dipping to - 5° C. But it is no news. If we believe the elderly citizens, then winter was cruel and harsh in those days, and such people are surprised on seeing peoples approach towards modern winter. They believe human beings are responsible for this dramatic climate change, as we work against Nature and don’t protect our planet. But cool-cool winter without snow is just like a rose without smell. At present, the winter is experiencing a dry spell. I hope, not a magic spell. For the last few years, it has been a deserted winter. The suns believing in ‘make hay while the sun shines’. Chalai-Kalan leaves us crippled. For a moment, people are enjoying dry days. It seems as if the sun will break all the records. But now, people understand the importance of snow and are praying to God, “Where is the snow?” So, we request God for white snow flakes, dancing all the way, as the farmers are worst affected and are experiencing drought like situation. I don’t know whether snow has arrived or not by the time my words go into the print, but when I am writing it, we are suffering from bad cold and dry cough, not even cured by syrups and expectorants. We understand ‘All things bright and beautiful’. Every thing is important in its own place. If Dev Anand as disguised saint in ‘Guide’ could help the villagers to bring rain, then our prayers for snow will not go unnoticed. By the time, this article is published; ‘God’ must be smiling or may be He will take time to check the overall situation. Humorously speaking, when the wish of snow will be granted, and I hope it’s, then people will desire for dry weather. How can we forget the unforgettable winter of 1997? The winter had shown its true colour and the people quivering and shivering. The lakes were frozen, as mercury recorded -12° C. People wished to see the blue sky and almost forgot the existence of sun. I, too, was thinking of how bad winter is. Winter should never come. But if spring comes, how can winter be behind? The four seasons have to be punctual and work in accordance with the rules of Nature. Now a question arises, what does winter mean to Kashmiri people? Winter may not be called as romantic season, where the sun seems to be in oblivion and playing hide and seek with clouds. But I don’t think that we abhor the winter months, as we are ready to face the irresistible experience with a gracious smile. Winter is always mast-mast, and bidding adieu to severe winter, people may think ‘Oh! no, not again!’. Winter in Kashmir without snow and cold cannot be imagined. The truth is that every Tom, Dick and Harry eagerly waits for first snowfall of the season. Children are excited and start playing with snow balls and make snow Gods. After snowfall, the barren branches of trees are painted white. The mountains present exuberance with shimmering white snow on their peaks, looking like gorgeous blonds.
When we talk of snow, how can we forget Gulmarg in winter? A number of sports lovers visit the valley for skiing and even various children participate in adventurous sports. Kashmir Tourism Industry has already lot of plans to boost and woo the tourists, but the famous ‘Darbar’ move shifts to winter capital Jammu, like the migratory birds moving to warmer places.
Due to heavy snowfall, our valley remains cut off from the rest of the country for a number of days. And look who is benefited? OK our shopkeeper brethren. The various essential commodities disappear from godown and shops. It happens all of a sudden. Some shopkeepers fleece the customers and charge exorbitant prices. What to do? The consumers have to obey like ‘Yes Boss!’ The pulses and cereals understand the pulse of people and their impeccable taste, especially in winter season, but I am afraid to say that cooking gas and kerosene oil disappears like a ghost. The Government claims there is no need to panic, but Kashmiri people are already immune to such tall claims. One can see helpless and hapless people standing in queues to get kerosene and cooking gas.
Frankly speaking, people face bravely the chilling cold amidst gloomy and somber atmosphere and work freely. They believe in laying something for the rainy day. Now-a-days, people keep warm by using electric gadgets in their home, but the old cultural ‘Kangri’ and ‘Pharein’ can never be dominated by modern electric appliances. When winter sets in, people stock enough rice to meet their demand, as the rice is a staple food for Kashmiri. They like to consume hot, spicy and saucy food. Kashmiri people cannot live without meat, as mutton is consumed at an alarming rate i.e. Kababs, Goshtaabs and above all ‘Hareesa’. The favourite vegetables consumed are Tomatoes, Spinach, Greens, Garlic, Onion and Nadroos. Your mom or grandma is ready to serve you peculiar salt tea or ‘Kaheeva’ with an aroma of cardamom and cinnamon in as extra-ordinary vessel called Samovaar. Unfortunately, only few people use this vessel. Oh! I have forgotten to mention Hoaksabzi (Dried vegetables) and dried fish (Hugada) - still liked and consumed by people.
Winter may be mild or severe; people take the world by stride. Old people have enough time to discuss and gossip at the barber’s shop. The topic includes electricity and water woes, sports and politics. The embarrassing but pleasant movement cannot be ignored after heavy snow fall. For instance, the water pipes and taps do not resist the lowest temperatures and it seems as if they are on strike. People burn wood to make the frozen tap to melt and gurgling gushing sound of water makes them have a sigh of relief.

Beggars: Here. There. Everywhere ..................They are omnipresent and the menace of begging is simply becoming unbearable, writes SALMAN NIZAMI

By: Salman nizami

This manifold inflow of outside beggars has increased their population in Kashmir. From big streets to pavements, from zebra crossing to midway paths, from empty lanes to traffic-jammed roads, beggars have acquired omnipresence in Kashmir. Beggary once conjured up images of old figures in rags, a passé for the present situation. Now the camera captures a different view, beggars too have undergone what we call a technological revolution. They are today before us as young women, young girls, small children and their new born babies too are invited to have the feast. Just wait for a few moments on a roadside and you are surrounded by beggars. And every time you turn against them, their prayers suddenly change into bestial expressions. They curse you as if you only earn for them. They have even changed their lifestyle. They speak Kashmiri (though in broken syllables), they wear burqas, kamez shalwar, phiran - everything to resemble and adjust to our surroundings.
And our local beggars, who have transferred themselves from these busy streets to hold their positions on the stairs of our Holy Shrines, their presence has twisted the stairs in a new way, it seems as if the stairs are embroidered. At the shrine of Makhdoom Sahib, I am reminded of a non local beggar, who in my opinion should be enlisted in the Guinness book of world records. His skill of beggary has an artistic taste, worth praising (or the other way worth cursing). Well dressed, with a little beard, supported by crutches (pretending as if he is disabled), and for this pitiable appearance, he calls for a sea of sympathy from the deep core of human hearts. And when the dusk spreads its arms, he blows his cover in that darkness. For a common being like me, a single rupee holds value but for these birds in rags, money has no value, it scatters upon their feet by their single yell. They do not have to stretch their muscles; they have tricks up their sleeves for gaining compliance. They begin with a deep request— ‘Kuch poise dena’ and when you put your hand in your pocket, the request escalates to a large amount, ‘tees challis dena, ab pachas dena’, applying the foot-in-the-door technique. And where it fails to work they ingratiate through the door-in-face technique:
‘Didi? Behanji? Kapda Hai? Chawal Hai? Suin Hai? Roti Hai? Phir Kuch Paise Dena?’
To add more spice to their art, I am remembered of an incident of an old beggar who frequently visits our locality (may be yours, too). He sings all the known children’s English rhymes at every doorstep (as if he had been a student of pre primary department of some Oxford University but had unfortunately left his schooling only in kindergarten). He was one day overheard taunting the masons at work and praising his art. Our religion says, “It is a sin to refrain from giving alms to poor and needy but he is a sinner who gives to a healthy and young”. Begging is not a crime. Beggars are no criminals. But our frustration has grimed the picture. Unemployment here is widespread. While the non local beggars are cursed for being uninvited guests, the locals are idols of falsehood. Found mostly at Makhdoom Sahib shrine, the person begging is no poverty line beggar but hails from a high caste, or what we call as from a Khandani background, who has spend his 20-25 years in the service of beggary. The way he behaves seems as if he is mentally in poor health but the next time when you see him well dressed, perfume sprinkled in a religious gathering as a perfect gentleman, don’t get confused in comparing and contrasting the two faces, they both are one. This is no mocking or ridiculing this class, maybe there is a solid, concrete reason behind these sudden beggars or other beggars of the false kind. But maybe there is no reason at all—getting money through idle living has only encouraged them for more begging. Dissatisfaction is a known element of human nature. Sir Edward Dyer writes (“In praise of a contented mind”):Some have too much, yet still do crave: I little have and seek no more. They are but poor, much they have, And I am rich with little store. They poor, I rich; they beg, I give; They lack, I leave; they pine, I live. Even after having everything, if we crave for more, what crime then beggars do if they beg, if they yell, if they cry, if they complain of their disdainful lives? We blame them for falsehood and dishonesty, for piquing through tricks; but have we ever peered inside our soul before putting them to question? Are we honest in our work? Are we sincere in our dealings? If not, we have no right to prove anyone guilty or hang the necks by the noose of corruption. In this godforsaken place where bureaucracy, nepotism, corruption, deception, treachery etc are the daily affairs of the crowned heads, which verdict is dishonored if the underprivileged community subsists through falsehood? Whatever be the content, the issue finally ends as usual: “Begging is a menace”. The progress of a nation should not be counted by its technological development, but in terms of the number of the beggars it lullabies. More beggars, less progress; less beggars, more progress. If a nation has to tower in development, it should first work for the development of its own people and not that it should first have the thoughts to land on the moon at the running cost of its people. I cannot say beggary can be completely erased, because as long as the terms ‘poverty’ and ‘below poverty line’ exist, so long will beggary also exist. But we can, at least make efforts to minimize its multiple growth, apart from on and off discussing the Kashmir politics.
Beggary which we consider today as a menace was long back a group of people upon whom hanged the humane clove of sympathy like a cool hand on a fevered brow. But now the distortion it has taken in itself cannot end with the clichés like people have changed, the atmosphere is changed, human nature has changed, or the times have changed. But if anything has changed that is the beggary itself. Earlier sympathy shadowed this community. One could clearly read the miserable tale embossed on the wrinkles of their forehead, but today they state their CV before you, following their sugary prayers, and then the chestnut, “if you refuse to give today, remember one day will come when you will lament but the time would have gone a thousand miles away from you”. To remain dinged to your sanity in this dilemma is even aching than to bang your head against a brick wall. Flustered in this rapid networking of beggary, we can publish articles, pamphlets, journals, letters, novels, books, hold debates, seminars on the issue but can we ever put a final full stop to beggary in action? William Shakespeare in (King John):Well, whiles I am a beggar, I will rail, And say there is no sin, but to be rich; And, being rich, my virtue then shall be, To say there is no vice, but beggary.

Benazir killed ....Do we see chickens coming home to roost?

Benazir killed ....
Do we see chickens coming home to roost?

By: Salman Nizami

The monster of suicide bombing, once endorsed by our merchants of faith as the shortest route to paradise, is now heading home to have his day. Charsada mosque leaves nothing unsaid. Liyaqat Bagh completes the story. Fifty human bodies sliced to death on the day when joy visits our homes. It was the day of slaughtering sheep they thought, not knowing they will have to be slaughtered first. There was more in store just a few days after when Benazir was blown off to the constituency of no return. What happened in Pakistan on Eid and the week to follow makes beasts hang their heads in shame. What it does to humans is beyond description. Once again we face the same question of infusing violence into a society and expecting it to be used for a ‘just cause’. Killing one Aftab Sherpav or one Benazir Bhutto means having a hundred more massacred. Does not matter as long as weapons are used to establish the law of God on the land of God.
Benazir Bhutto is no more. Those who saw in her the proxy of George Bush in Pakistan did not rest before seeing her off. Differences apart, one would have loved to see her lose in the elections, not to die like the way she did. Benazir’ initiative to marshal her men against anti-American force desperate enough to flow oceans of blood was cut short. But what next? Where is Pakistan heading to? Or where does this state excised out of a bigger continent as separate homeland for Muslims find itself. If killing is the only campaign you can launch against your adversary, then the only way to serve a nation is to prepare a list of those who deserve to die and mark them off one by one. Does the solution lie in physically eliminating all individuals and demolishing all institutions. Then the only target we can successfully achieve is destruction. No doubt what is happening right now is an expected outcome of the policies once adopted. The people against whom Pakistan as state is engaged in fighting alongwith America are no aliens descended from Mars or Jupiter but the denizens of the same land. They are the same people you once pampered, patronized and pushed along to further your own political ambitions. The terror State used against them, they are using back against the State. Are we reading the post script of the blood-chilling stories with Pak forces and American Army together crushing tribals in the frontier. Is this Waziristan taking on Pakistan? Is it profit of the mill spent on the mill? Then it was the story of their bravery making rounds, now the saga of barbarity is the theme of the music we all face today. The same bomber who is ready to blow himself off after killing you, yesterday was prepared to do the same after having your projected enemy wiped off. The results were same. Blood then, blood now. Only the targets change, methods are same. Imagine they are allowed to hold the reigns, what will become of the world they rule. All these endevours are aimed at replacing oppression with chaos and the latter can prove worse than the former. Whether it’s an aggressive ambition or her accepting the challenge to fight these frenetic elements which proved too dear to bear for Benazir is a question of different tenor. The matter that bothers at present is that of survival. If you want to impose justice through bloodshed, a silent injustice is a better option. At least there is some space for you to make your voice heard. This way the only voice you hear is the boom of a bullet which knows only to silence you. It may be a plain naiveté to call Benazir’s killing a mark of commitment to democracy and a sacrifice to restore freedom to a freedom-choked Pakistan. Of course it needs courage to accept the risk involved in regaining a lost throne, but pairing it with values like dedication and selflessness may be too unrealistic a statement. Death is a human tragedy whatever the politics involved, but history is too merciless to be influenced by the fragility of emotions. The woman who risked her life and knew the danger her comeback was fraught with, finally paid the price the other group had fixed for an adventure like this. May her soul rest in peace. Aameen. If today Benazir Bhutto’s killing is flaunted as triumph, tomorrow Musharraf will be a bigger bet and then Nawaz and then ——. The land of the pure will be turned into a bay of blood, a churchyard where if you want to be at peace, you must die.