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Peace Watch » Kashmir-Talk, Memeiors, NostalgiaKashmir » Of My Pandit Teacher and My Concern About Him

Of My Pandit Teacher and My Concern About Him

Z,G. Muhammad

It was a few day back, I  visited my favourite childhood haunt, Badamwari. After years– decades that I strolled in Bagh-e-Waris Khan- it has been done up nicely, but somehow I felt some artificiality in its new get-up. I don’t know why every new construction, including the beautiful chiselled limestone fountain, looked to me in a clash with its ambience. Everything looked alien to me. Perhaps the new construction living true to our traditional architecture did not sync with my childhood memoirs- that I hold so dear to me. Still, the visit took me on an extraordinary odyssey down memory lane. I  remembered many things connected with the almond blossom festival, which I have written about in the past. I remember the songster with his rusted megaphone singing popular lyrics and selling small marriage song booklets. Khaliq, my 3rd primary friend, a school dropout- roasting water nuts in a heap of dry grass under the shade of Chinar in Devi Angan. I remembered Hakim, another dropout school friend selling cigarettes and beetles on a kiosk outside the Kathi-Darwaza, and magicians   Muma Bazigar, that master trickster who puzzled me, my peers. I did place tattoo makers- with Hindus and Muslims crouching around him, waiting for their turns to get tattooed.

But it was the steeple of the temple distinctly visible from the garden that made me remember an excursion to the park led by our class teacher Kashi Nath. It was the day  I had entered the premises of a temple for the first time. I had watched scenes inside the temple at the foothill, where long limestone led to the Shrine of Makdoom Sahib almost every Monday and Thursday- the two days that my friends and I visited the shrine. I often enjoyed the flickering flames of brass lamps on the brass plates dexterously moved right to the left by the devotees while chanting the hymns inside the temple. I hardly understood the chants, but I remember that all choruses in praise of deities were not sung in Sanskrit or Prakrit. I could make out that some songs were sung in Kashmiri also.

On entering the temple premises with our teacher, my classmates and I saw the images of Hindu gods and goddesses inside the temple. I had seen photos of gods and goddesses on the wall calendars hanging in the two shops chemist in our Mohalla- Damoodar and  Jagarnath. No sooner did we enter the lawns of the temple than our teacher Kashi Nath sat in front of a Saddhu. Saddhu was pounding apple peel and walnut in a small chiselled stone mortar. I thought that this was the staple food of Kashmiri Hindus, including my teacher Kashi Nath.

There were only two Pandit boys in our school, and they were sons of our teachers, Shamboo Nath and Kashi Nath Koul- the best science teacher. Out of two boys, one  Dilip Kumar was my friend. Though fifty per cent of teachers in Islamia High Schoo were Kashmiri Brahmans, most of my friends and I  hardly knew anything about their lifestyle and food habits. In the past, I have written about how teachers like jet black-haired, Kashi Nath Koul, well combed and immaculately dressed mathematics and English teacher Hardiya Nath, wooden faced history teacher   Dina Nath and hard of hearing yellow turbaned dressed in Sherwani Arjan Nath. I had written how they had played a role in moulding the life of thousands of boys from my school., some of whom earned a name in medicine, engineering and bureaucracy. On seeing the Saddhu in the temple pounding apple peels-

A year or two after witnessing the Saddhu eating his food in the temple, when I started visiting the residence of my teacher Kashi Nath, I learnt that our food habits were almost the same. But there was a difference; we ate food in tinned copper plates or bowls known in local parlance as tour, and the pandits preferred to cook and serve food in brass utensils. There also existed a difference in the terminology of most of the food items. The Kashmiri pundits ate mutton as voraciously as Muslims but called the slice of mutton by a different name- the Muslims called the piece of mutton “nati-phoul’, and the Pandits called it as “nane-phoul”. Salt tea they called as Sheer-Chai, and we knew it as noon-chai, green leave tea, Kahwa they called as Moughal Chai.

Notwithstanding, the Kashmiri language was the mother tongue of both communities. But the elite among the two communities tried to use words from their favourite languages in their routine conversation, thus adding religious bias to thousands-year-old language that had survived many tides of history. No Pandit boy or girl called the book ‘kitab’ but preferred to call it ‘pustak’. No Pandit called water ‘aab’ but chose to call it ‘Peen’. They never called ‘rice’ as bhata but ‘ann’ and so forth. In my childhood, I have never seen any Kashmiri Pandit family having their tea in chinaware cups. They took tea in bright small brass cups known as ‘khous’- and would hold them with long sleeves of their pherans or with a handkerchief.

It puzzled me when I saw my teachers, Kashi Nath and Shyam Lal Labroo, having tea in brass cups instead of green transparent chinaware cups. These cups carrying state flags at their base were freely available at the cooperative shops at cheaper rates. I would often get worried if they burned their fingers and lips. Why do they drink hot tea in brass cups? This question haunted me. I had no answer to this poser.

One day I enquired from Kashinath’s eldest daughter called Nana; I don’t know her real name. She was a senior to me by a couple of years- I think she was reading three classes ahead of me. Why were they not drinking tea like us in Chinaware cups? Nana-   replied that chinaware was contaminated, filthy and unhygienic and brassware was clean. We clean these cups with sand and ash and purify them to please our gods and goddess- she said this was done to please Mouj Bhagvati.   The staple food for both Muslims and Pandits was rice and ‘hak’ ( collard greens). I have seen my teachers, both Kashi Nath Rani and Shyam Lal Labroo having food in the room adjacent to Choka (kitchen). The eating would start with a ritual. The moment a deep brass plate known in local language as that, with mounds of rice on it, was kept before them, they used to say namaskar (salutations) to it with folded hands. Then they would make a few rice balls and keep them on the side of the plate. It was known as “hoon-mat” (rice ball for dog) and then served to street dogs. I do not know the religious background of the practice — there are many memoirs about my teachers lurking in my min

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