To see where Jammu is, look at
And for background: Kashmir, The Case for Freedom, Verso Press 2011 with chapters by Tariq Ali, Hilal Bhatt, Angana Chatterji, Habbah Khatum, Pankaj Mishra and Arundhati Roy.
See the little black and orange sign with the arrow, half-hidden behind the striped awning? That’s the sign to our hotel. It was down an alley about 6 feet wide. It was actually originally a grand hotel — probably quite elegant and fine at the time of Partition, in 1947. The ground floor had an atrium lobby open to the sky 4 flights up. However, right now it was under construction. The meant that almost everything other than the front desk, tucked under the staircase, and the stairs up to our room, was either draped in plastic or else cloudy with paint scrapings. Lead? Don’t ask. Stacks of marble to be installed as flooring or in bathrooms lay about. My imagination tells me that it was once a choice destination for pilgrims to the Ragunath Temple (Hindu). One door to the Temple was across the street; the main door was a hundred yards up the nearby street. But this would have been back before Partition, and it had been let go ever since.
I walked up the street looking for a place to buy shawls. This is the shawl market, and every shop has shawls. I chose one at random, went in, sat with the shopkeeper, looked at several dozen and chose three. These are the long, wide embroidered cashmere shawls, not the more scarf-like pashmini shawls of Nepal. While I was sitting on the long bench waiting for the shop keeper to wrap my shawls, four men came in. They stood to my left, immediately next to me because the shop was narrow, but paid me no attention. One of them spoke with the shopkeeper. My eyes were drawn to this man because on his back was an extraordinary garment. It spoke of poverty more severely than anything I had ever seen. It looked like the inside of a man’s tailored suit jacket — the brown satin that might have lined a jacket many years ago – turned in reverse and made into a vest, the center seam stitched together with big stitches in green thread. It reminded me immediately of the poverty quilts you see in the midwest, mostly in museums but sometimes in people’s homes, made of scraps of different cloth, scraps saved from clothing that had provided warmth for many people but finally could not hold together any more but could still be pieced together with other scraps to make a quilt and provide some warmth in cold seasons. The same for this vest. I could only see this man’s back, but he was big and strong — sinewey, with big hands, and he was leaning forward to talk with the shopkeeper. The stitches down the back of his vest were in heavy green thread. The vest fit him like a second skin. While they talked, one of the other men, a quite young man, also dressed poorly in rough brown loose clothing, came and sat beside me. He took a package off the shelf across from our bench and studied it. I could see that it was a combination kurti and trousers outfit, in a green paisley pattern, the kind of thing a woman would wear.
The conversation between the large man and the shop keeper became a bit heated and the large man finally made a gesture and all four men left the shop, quickly, without buying anything. The young man sadly put the package back on the shelf before they left.
When they were gone, I asked the shopkeeper who they were. “Poor Muslim laborers,” he said. “He wanted to buy cloth to make a uniform for his daughter, so that she could go to school, but he did not understand that the kind of cloth he wanted was of such poor quality that it would not last.”
I asked how much money a laborer of that sort would earn in a day’s work. He said, “Three hundred rupees.” A little less than $5.
He said that the younger man had wanted to buy a costume as a gift for his wife, but was unable to.
India,which rules this part of Jammu-Kashmir, is moving increasingly into a Hindu nationalist cultural and political regime. The majority of people in Jammu-Kashmir are Moslem. The part of Kashmir that is in Pakistan is Moslem. Part of Kashmir is also claimed by China.
We went to the Ragunath Temple, but you had to hand in your backpack, purse, everything including phone to get put in a locker before going in, so I have no photos of it. The front gate has a booth within which a soldier sits behind a gun, its barrel pointed straight out the grill at about shoulder level. Once inside, we found ourselves in a series of courtyards with small temples and various statues of gods and altars in them. Priests stood in each temple and showed us things and asked for donations; since my purse was in the locker, I could not do the donations. One, a priest whose temple enclosed a gigantic (10 foot high on a pedestal) lingam which he poured oil, water and milk on and then pasted flowers on, gave us marigold garlands, asked if we were married, then gestured for me to kiss Joe’s feet, which I did very lightly. I think this was a marriage ceremony. He then asked for a donation.
We were puzzled by the arcaded rooms in the corners of the temple, which seemed to house flat beds of small stones, thousands upon thousands of them. Later we were told that these are fossils and that fossils are one manifestation of Krishna. Not knowing this, wandering through these cool, dark rooms with no other people, and looking at these stepped trays holding thousands of small round objects, we did not know what to think. I remember one of the Ursula LeGuin stories in “Changing Planes,” about a plane on which people never die; after several hundred or thousand years they have simply withered down to things that look like mushrooms or stones. Fossils, yes, but not living in this case. No pictures were taken of this, however.
After we dumped our stuff in our room, we found a taxi to take us to the theater. We had a certain visibility as the only foreigners in sight and the young people who were running the festival found us a table to sit at and brought us some food and talked with us. They are not drama students; one is a dentist, another a businessman. They are volunteering at the festival.
This man is the technical director for the theater. He told us about the ancient theatrical traditions of India and drew pictures of three types of stages that are described in texts 3,000 years old — the Aristotles of India.
I was surprised that the theater was not sold out every night — although since the tickets were free, sold out isn’t the right word. Later I wondered if this project in Jammu was not part of a “confidence building” project — which would be consistent with the fact that all the actors, from all the companies, were put up at the government hotel, the Ashoka.
One night after seeing a play we got back to our hotel and were trying to see if we could get something to at. The it turned out that a hole-in-the-wall space on our alley, where a man had been busily scrubbing metal trays this morning, had been turned into a restaurant and was now open and cooking. So we went in. We had just sat down and ordered “thali’ which mean a plate of various things when these women came in. I couldn’t stop myself — I said, “What beautiful women!” out loud. They came over and we took pictures of each other but there were no words — zero words! in common for us to talk with each other. They stared at me and I stared at them. I have shown this picture to people in India an asked them who these women are — sisters? Are they old or young? And all people can say is that they are from North India.
This man might be a brother or the husband of one of them. Great picture-taking took place.
And this guy, who said he publishes a magazine called “Revolution,” but it is about tourism.
One day we took a taxi and drove around the city. The driver took us to a palace on a cliff top over looking the Tawi River where there was a palace with, among other things, a giant gold throne and a room full of miniature paintings of the story of Nala and Damayanti. I can’t find copies of these miniatures on line anywhere, and there was definitely a sign forbidding photographs. But just imagine, over 100 miniature paintings. In several of them you can see Nala entering Damayanti’s court, only he’s invisible — you have to look so hard to find him!! He is drawn in faint sharp pencil lines.
We also were taken to a wild animal park where we saw leopards, but they were asleep, and to a hilltop water park where kids and teenagers played in and out of the running water.
I’m going to skip to Delhi where we stayed in a B&B in this “colony,” a gated neighborhood, and ate our only expensive Indian meal at a restaurant in Connaught Square.
Our AirB&B was in the top floor of the building on the corner. The hosts, or owners, were a mixed Indian-French couple that lives part time in Paris and owns numerous AirB&B properties.
A street in one of these gated communities or colonies.
Delhi is a place where one could be very comfortable. If you were a British colonial, coming back to London after living in India would be a terrible let down. India, at least the part of Delhi that we saw, just roars with wealth. One of the B&B hosts told us proudly that he has five maids: One to cook, one to sweep and dust, one to change the beds and do the laundry, one to clean his car and one to shop. Miles and miles of parkways thread through walled precincts behind which seem to be government offices, a golf club (right in the city), military barracks, and otherwise huge houses — among them the Mother Teresa complex which is as big as anything else. These parkways intersect in enormous roundabouts planted with brilliant flowers. I chose our Air B&B’s based on location, but I got the scale wrong; what I thought was walking distance was 10 kilometers. Connaught Square itself is vast. Below is a restaurant where we had our only elegant fine dining in India. It was indeed really wonderful.
It was very easy to imagine what it might have been like to be a British colonial in India when India belonged to Britain. The wealth of this country would have seemed like an endless feast. No wonder they called it “the Jewel in the Crown,” and referred to Mountbatten as “the man who lost India.”
I was unable to take any photographs of the Red Fort that would have begun to indicate how big it is. The street facade alone was 3 kilometers. Inside, the vast gardens were full of families strolling, sitting on benches, or spread out in groups on the grass. As usual, we were nearly the only Westerners, but here, unlike in Jammu, no one tried to take our photo — we were not “giraffes.” The Red Fort is the place from which the Peacock Throne and the Kohinoor Diamond were stolen by the Persians. At this point, my ability to describe just flags.
Back to the US on an endless China Southern flight, with long stopovers in Guangzhou and Wuhan, involving standing in line to enter and then, soon, to leave China. Wuhan, which I knew nothing about, is enormous.