Monday, November 22, 2010

Of Weddings in a Village

Made a slap-dash trip to Breswana recently to attend a family double-wedding. Photo-story follows [click on pics to magnify]:

Started with road trip from Jammu towards Kishtwar on NH-1B; disembarked 8 hours later at small roadside town of Prem Nagar. Where one crosses a footbridge to get to the mountains on the other side. At this time of the year, the Chenab has shrunk considerably because the source waters in the mountains are now freezing etc. Do the geography yourself.
Here is the bridge we cross and the other half of Prem Nagar built into the facing mountains. It's about a hundred metres max, if that, though when I was little I distinctly remember it being about 5 kms longer.
Once at Prem Nagar, the horses await, and we start our upward ride: 3 to 4 hours at a comfortable amble. Pits stops and refreshments are to be had as you like it.
 Ahem. By the way, this is my new gorgeous black mare. So far I call her Black Mare, which is #FAIL.
Finally reached my home in the hills after sunset, and it was c-c-c-cold, but aha! What's this I spy in my room? Verily it is a blazing fire. Zzzzzzz.
After a great overnight rest, which was preceded by fresh warm buffalo milk and a good hot water foot bath, I awoke the next morning to play with the pups and a few village shrimps. Boy on left is our in-house Gujjar kid, Hashim Din. Boy on right is young Irfan, who has some sort of mental disability and is still stuck at an infant's level of mental development. He's great with animals. :)
Close up of baby cocky spangrel [Cocker Spaniel+mongrel mix], Motu, at his favourite spot, under the dahlias in the sunny front yard.
Anyway... Wedding time, and we head to the next village where Shahida and her brother Nisar were both getting married on the same day. Shahida to leave for her new home, and Nisar to bring his new wife in.So this is the path we take.On foot and horseback, as the road allows.
Now, a village wedding in my ilaaka is of monstrous proportions for the very simple reason that everyone in a village is related to everyone else in the village... and very often the adjoining few villages as well. So a general invite to the whole world and its family is sent out, and since weddings are fun times and provide a rare reprieve from their daily lives to our hardy village peeps, everyone takes advantage of these occasions to come out in numbers. Huge numbers.
What makes a village wedding doable, for even the poorest of people, is the fact that everyone pitches in. Every single family offers something to the wedding preparations. People will either bring milk, curd, ghee, livestock, rice, wheat or whatever they have to help the host families do their thing. This is apart from the cash gifts they give to the bride and groom.

This particular wedding I was at was expected to host 700 peeps at each meal. And so cooking preparations were awesome to witness. The Culinary Department at such dos is the biggest deal. An outdoor cooking camp is set up, with logs, gigantic vessels and impressive manpower at work the whole day. They are in charge of providing chais, rotis, main meals and other special requests for special guests from time to time.
At meal times, the guests are called in batches to the eating tent. Catering units form a human chain and after the hand-washing routine [in Kashmir, hosts go from guest to guest, after they are seated for a meal, carrying the 'tash-nerr' (which means receptacle and kettle respectively) for them to wash their hands in], the preserved plates are brought in piping hot from the cooking area.
The pre-served plate will normally have a bed of rice, some chutney and a few pieces of meat from the various dishes on the menu. Then one by one, a line of servers start making rounds carrying huge buckets serving various curries or topping up plates and refilling rice as the case may be. Water bearers do their thing simultaneously. It is most wonderful to watch a well-oiled meal service in action.  [Please note, this is not a Waazwan. This is a most simple wedding meal practised in the poor mountain areas of our district. Waazwan happens in proper Kashmir, i.e. the Valley.]
Here is the young team of Caterers at Shahida and Nisar's wedding.
Inside the wedding house, the aim of the game apparently is to cramp as many human bodies as possible within the smallest confines, then sit and talk loudly or sing folk songs as the mood sets on you. :) The ladies and kids come decked up in their finest, they sit, chat, meet long-lost relatives, gossip and in general make for a very noisy and entertaining scene. For people who don't like crowds [guilty] it is a bit much, and I found myself standing outdoors, in the shamianas or secluded in a separate room with no intruders. Still, most interesting to watch.
 The men and women sit separately, with most of the men involved in the actual running around and wedding work. The ladies just have it easy.
And so, Day 1 of the Wedding, which was Mehndi Raat. Shahida's girlfriend from college in Doda came up to the village to do her mehndi and makeup.
Cute decorations for the next day, when the two brides would be seated side-by-side: One, the new incoming bride and the other, the bride to leave for her new home. [Check out the heart garland. #WIN!]
 New bride arrived in a paalki. Her village was about two and a half hours away, on mountain roads- which means uphills and downhills! Most impressive of the paalki-wallahs.
 And soon after, Shahida's groom arrived. [On one of our horses. :]
 Here are the two lovely ladies. Shahida, screen left, and new bride, screen right.
Cash garlands are a very big deal here, as in UP and Mayawati. Except these are believable sums, and ten rupee notes.
Another funny tradition: After the baraatis/groom come to the bride's house, a select group of close lady relatives from the girl's side, gets to come to his room and stare at him for a while. After many awkward moments, and a heavy silence, suddenly every one of them thrusts cash gifts at his loyal companion, who accepts these token as part of his duties. Scene ends.
Here is Zaana Auntie, Shahida's Ma, seated near the groom [but not talking to him: shy].
 Here is the dashing groom Nisar, happy to have brought home a blushing bride.
 And that was that. A most eventful wedding happened. Masses met and good wishes passed along for the next generation. There were no fights which is surprising for such big gatherings. Much chai was had, many songs were sung. One pretty girl left and another took her place. Lots of animals gave their lives for a good cause. Burp.

Back at the Haji homestead, on the morning of my departure, was hanging with our horses in the fields.
Groomed Black Mare for a bit and she was like, "WTF?" Zanskari horses are not namby-pamby and she was really irritated as I brushed her coat. Tee hee.
Quick stop at the school before rushing out. It was the first day of HPS's annual examination for the year 2010. Kids praying hard at assembly just before the event. :)
Examination hall was created outside in the winter sun because it was chilly inside the classrooms and most magical outdoors.
 Hehehe. Check out little Rubina applying herself as she works out an answer.
 Back home to say bye to the two pup faces: Motu and ThinSo. [ThinSo is stray boy we picked up from the streets in Jammu. He's a nutcase.]
 Farewell shot of the school as I left for Jammu.
Downhill is about 3+ hours of walking. We don't take horses going down because of the steep descent, big boulders and generally unnecessary leg-breakage-risk. In this pic, you can see my poor Abba limping along heroically with his cane for support. He had hurt his feet something terrible earlier and they were not healed yet. Toenails falling off, bleeding etc. But he did the trip and did it well. Hero!
 Here we are resting about halfway down. You can see the bridge at Prem Nagar at the bottom.
 Quick stop at our Doda digs and the office of the Amina Trust.

And another quick stop at Kishtwar, my mother's hometown, for a family visit. Here was the highlight of the Kishtwar trip, my bouncy baby cousin Sa'ad, a blonde bonmbshell and most clever kid who I have marked out for greater things in the future.

This concludes the present broadcast. Please leave comments and questions below. Also, point out typos to me. There is no way I'm rereading the entire post. :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yes, yes, contrary to what you think, I do not write only about Arundhati Roy. [Oh, look, I did it again.]
Anyway, am back from quick trip to Breswana and the school. Attended a couple of weddings, and a couple of funerals. Most disturbing.
Pics soon. Here's a sample, from happy times in Breswana:

This here is my new puppy face. So far have not named him because he has not yet developed an animality. Based on looks alone, we call him Motu. Sometimes we call him Fatty. (He does't respond to either.) He responds very well to food.
He's very adorable, okay? Okay.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Happy Halloween, Ms Roy - XOXO

From Hari Kunzru's blog, direct C&P here:
[This message from Arundhati Roy arrived in my inbox this morning. The allegation that the news media is colluding with those orchestrating the violence is extremely serious and requires a response.]

 A mob of about a hundred people arrived at my house at 11 this morning (Sunday October 31st 2010.) They broke through the gate and vandalized property. They shouted slogans against me for my views on Kashmir, and threatened to teach me a lesson. The OB Vans of NDTV, Times Now and News 24 were already in place ostensibly to cover the event live.  TV reports say that the mob consisted largely of members of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha (Women’s wing). After they left, the police advised us to let them know if in future we saw any OB vans hanging around the neighborhood because they said that was an indication that a mob was on its way. In June this year, after a false report in the papers by Press Trust of India (PTI) two men on motorcycles tried to stone the windows of my home. They too were accompanied by TV cameramen.

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the ‘scene’ in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime? This question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me. In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred. So what if a few people have to be sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings? The Government has indicated that it does not intend to go ahead with the charges of sedition against me and the other speakers at a recent seminar on Azadi for Kashmir. So the task of punishing me for my views seems to have been taken on by right wing storm troopers. The Bajrang Dal and the RSS have openly announced that they are going to “fix” me with all the means at their disposal including filing cases against me all over the country. The whole country has seen what they are capable of doing, the extent to which they are capable of going. So, while the Government is showing a degree of maturity, are sections of the media and the infrastructure of democracy being rented out to those who believe in mob justice? I can understand that the BJP's Mahila Morcha is using me to distract attention the from the senior RSS activist Indresh Kumar who has recently been named in the CBI charge-sheet for the bomb blast in Ajmer Sharif in which several people were killed and many injured. But why are sections of the mainstream media doing the same? Is a writer with unpopular views more dangerous than a suspect in a bomb blast? Or is it a question of ideological alignment?

Arundhati  Roy
October 31st 2010