A song for snow: Arif Ayaz Parrey
Guest post by ARIF AYAZ PARREY
The beloved is like snow after a chilly wind. The beloved is a bright sun after snowfall. The lover is like the cinders in a kãger that refuse to die. The lover is the immortal heat of ashes.
In the 2008 Hindi movie Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! the playing out of virtues of theft in a world of (corrupt) systems is not the only delicious element. As a matter of fact, even more lovable is the song Tu raja ki raj dulari which echoes Shiv’s plea to Parvati after she has hopelessly fallen in love with him, and chosen a path of austerity competing with his asceticism. Tu raja ki raj dulari mein sirf langoti aala sun, bhaang ragd ke piya karoun mein kunde sote aala sun. He tells her. “You are a king’s royal darling, I possess only a loincloth (Will tiger-cloth be a more helpful description here?), I drink ashes which I grind on a pistil and mortar.” Now there are several ways of looking at this parable. At the surface, and then again at its very core, it is a narration of one of the major themes of storytelling: An independent, beautiful and strong woman poignantly falling for a clumsy, reclusive and basically loser-type man, against better advice and to much heart-ache all around. But this characterisation holds only at the surface, the patriarchy of this theme works through the neat device of depth, the woman is strong, but only on the outside, quite literally when you know that Parvati once shed her outer mantle which became a powerful warrior-goddess in its own right, but in depth and beyond the obvious, she is a woman after all, while the man, clumsy, reclusive, scrawny on the surface, has an inner strength which can gulp Halahal (funnily enough called zahr-e-Hilal or ‘poison of the crescent-moon’ in Kashmiri) without much ado or do the Tandav when he feels like it.
On the other hand, if there is a god in the Hindu pantheon who can qualify a Kashmiri, it has to be Shiv. Who else loves mountains so much? Who has snow as his/her second-nature? Who eats ashes and drinks smoke and fire (which we do through the kãger)? Who else is so distant, stubborn, capricious, a bull and a fish at the same time, with a sense of humour so subtle and dry that other than his few snowy companions everybody has to scratch away the ice to get to a laugh or smile? Who wears poison around his neck as if it were a muffler? Who never forgets, never forgives and can destroy the world if he begins to see with all the eyes he has? Who can restrain the mightiest rivers of emotion in his carefully-knotted hair? I tell you, Shiv is Kosher.
Which begs the question, if Shiv is Kashmiri, what is Parvati? Daughter of the mountains. Daughter of the king of snow. Younger sister of the river of catharsis. Tu raja ki chori se mare ek bhi dasi das nahi, shaal dushaal oadan aaye mara kambal bhi kabhi pas nahi (“You are the king’s daughter, I do not have a single servant, you move around wearing shawls and dushawls, I do not even have a blanket.”) The question of das dasis is quintessentially ironic. All of us must have heard people in Kashmir as well as in India, while praising their respective deities, say something to this effect: ‘I have been very blessed not to be dependent on anybody. I have my own small business, workshop etc. In fact, some ten, fifteen people are dependent on me by the grace of the god/goddess.’ The state of being absolutely blessed is not to be in slavery while having a few slaves to wait upon oneself. (I will come back to this shortly.) No wonder democracy is like rumours of snow in Delhi, always heard, sometime felt, but never really believable. No wonder most Indians can sleep well over the fact that while they are no longer slaves themselves (at least in theory) they can continue to enslave Kashmiris (theoretically and practically). Is it a wonder than even some Kashmiris detect no irony is such an arrangement?
Other than the class divide which is bursting through the seams of the song all along, these lines hold another motif. For some reason, I have always associated dushawls with Lahore, with Amritsar, with chunni and ostentatiously big glasses of lassi. Parvati a Punjaban? Paroo. From somewhere around the foothills of the Himalayas in North-Eastern Punjab or Himachal? (Though that takes us a fair distance from Lahore-Amritsar) It is an interesting thought. Here I am also reminded of Shiv teasing Parvati about her dark complexion after which she performs a most gruelling diet therapy to lighten her skin-tone. Are Kashmiri men in general fairer than Punjabi women? I don’t think so, if you are not talking about the lower class Punjabis, the peasants, the Dalits. Then again, most of the Kashmiri population, peasantry, used to be atleast some shades darker till India’s economic restructuring of the state (from 1960s onwards) led them into the indoors of bloated government departments where they lost, among other things, their hard-earned colour. Would Kashmiri men (and women) taunt the skin-colour of a person? In most cases yes. In the narration of the legend of Laila-Majnoon, for example, the fact that Laila was as black as the night (and her name) is usually glossed over in Kashmiri households. The teenaged stone-pelters facing off Indian soldiers in the streets will sing, “CRPF waala, dood mein daala, phir bhi saala, nikla kaala” while the soldiers, on their part, and because India is a secular democracy, shout, “Har Har Mahadev.” The missing part of this conversation takes us back to the 1990s and early 2000s when these stone-pelters, barely more than toddlers at that time, would hear Indian soldiers call their fathers, uncles, elder brothers, grandparents napunsak, darpoke, gaand phatto and comment on the whiteness of the skin of their mothers, elder sisters, aunts, grandmothers, the size of their boobs, the broadness of their bums while the adult men cowered into the collars of their pherans for fear of being beaten or worse. As I said, Shiv never forgets, never forgives.
There is more than a fair point to see Parvati as a Kashmiri too, a king’s daughter without doubt, but one who loved the outdoors and picked up a tan during her extensive travels in the Kashmiri countryside. The sun still burns brighter in Kashmir than it does in the plains. The next lines Tu baaga ki koyal se, yadda barf paddi hari ghaas nahi, kis tariya jee lagge tera, shatranj, chopad, taash nahi (“You are the cuckoo of gardens, here there is only snow, no greenery, and there are not even chess, chopad and card games to keep you engrossed.”) certainly hint at the sporty nature of Parvati. (And builds a bridge to other romantic couplings, Oscar and Lucinda, for example.) In such a case, Shiv is quickly transformed into a Bakrwaal, a nomad who has a larger quota of snow and mountains in his life than even the Kashmiris who live in the valley-beds. This creates an interesting permutation of meaning. If a Kashmiri can tell a Punjabi that you are the cuckoo of gardens and there is snow here, no greenery, a Bakrwaal can tell those who live in the valley-beds the same thing. Kissi sahukaar se beha karwaa le, mein khalis totte aala sun (“Marry a banker, I am penniless.”) garnishes both these permutations with interesting details. For when a Kashmiri tells a Punjabi to marry a banker/moneylender because he is absolutely broke, it cannot but carry the residue of the 1846 sale of Kashmir by the British to a Dogra king, after he had assisted them in defeating the Punjabi Sikhs. The sale was to a tune of what is now a mere Rs. 75 lakh (Nanakshahi) and is the reason why India continues to think it has a right to meddle in Kashmir. On the other hand, a Bakrwaal telling a girl in the valley-beds to marry a moneylender would immediately attract the left-over meaning of Kashmiri Pandit sahukaars being better-off than the peasantry, predominantly Muslim, who are better-off than the Bakrwaal, the nomad Kashmiri Muslim. The rise of Muslim sahukaars in the present absence of Pandits in Kashmir is explained more by the state of being absolutely blessed which we talked about earlier than any communal rationale.
For many centuries now, Kashmiris have understood that beauty, fresh air and water, abundance and peace aren’t enough. Human beings need much more than that to live; honour, a control over their own destiny, a capacity to love and be loved. The case of Amarnath and the way it is being used to project India into Kashmir, even if that means Kashmir is left only with half of the water it presently has (the Kolahai glacier, breathing distance from the millions of pilgrims who have started to flock to Amarnath, unchecked, is the major source of water for Kashmir valley) is a confirmation of this knowledge, not its realization. That is why the poetry of this place has a perennial shadow of loss, death and helplessness over it, even when it is a song about the flowers in the garden and water rushing over pebbles in a brook. Perhaps, it is not just the centuries of servitude, the dishonour, the powerlessness over their own lives, perhaps it is the nature of this place and what it teaches you about life and death. When you see snow cover a young sapling in winter like the Indian state covers the memory of its genocidal juggernaut (Jagannath, I should be saying – why mince words here — Vishnu is an Indian Statist, somebody who will sustain the Order howsoever unjust and terribly oppressive it may be for those who are not part of the ruling classes, but you know what, Shiv had him. ) in Kashmir and then see that same sapling growing, branching and flowering in spring and summer the next year you are exposed to something to which people of the Indo-Gangetic plains never are. You understand that life is not the same as death, murder is not the same as brotherhood, rape is not the same as honour and slavery is not the same as integral part/jugular vein. Either you are exposed to all this as a three-year old or you would have to read Russian novels followed by South American short-stories. It is therefore not a tall claim when the next lines assert Main duein mein tapya karun tu aag dekh ke darr jaegi, rakh gol ke piya karoun mera bhaag dekh ke darr jaegi, sau sau saanph pade reh galle mae naag dekh ke darr jaegi, tandav naach kare bann mein rang raag dekh ke darr jaegi (“I keep simmering in smoke, the fire will scare you, I dissolve ashes and drink ‘em, the tiger of my fate will scare you, I have a hundred vipers on my neck, the snakes will scare you, I do the dance of death, the music of my life will scare you.”)
The concluding lines, Tane julfan waala chhora chahiye, main laambe choti aala sun (“You need a man who lets his hair down, I’m the one who ties his hair in long knots”) paints one of the rarest images in Hindi cinema. The only other instance I can think of such an image is that of Udea jab jab zulfein teri, kãwaarioun ka dil macchle (“The way you hair flies in the air, is a flare for the hearts of virgins.”) from the film Naya Daur (1957). The lover is like warm breath bellowed into a simmering kãger. The lover is a tsalan raking the embers. The beloved is like the hourly-update on freedom. The beloved is a heavy sigh of relief on receiving the good news. It is such a pleasant surprise to discover that nationalist India comes closest to being India when it is farthest from itself.