Thursday, August 29, 2013




( It is believed that river Brengi which disappears at Dewalgaam in the limestone fissures, emerges and gushes out from the SOSANWAR hill to form Achhabal  water spring . Old name of Achhabal was Akshavala .It was founded by King Aksha who is believed to have  reigned over Kashmir from 486-326 B.C.. Kalhana  also records the name of the village  Akshavala .It was later extensively remodelled by the Mughal rulers in 1620 as a retreat for NUR JAHAN..)

The thick blanket of water laughed to its heart’s fill. Carefree and happy, it danced down the hill.Does it know who wept and for how much time? Does it know about the tear streams that keep coming down our eyes . I believe NO. And kashmiri poet Dina Nath Naadim too conveys this feeling in this couplet …

Paan Tchaadiri Gayee Aaiss Aaiss Neel
Tuss na khabar kaaem Kotaah Voadh….

( Dina Nath Naadim )

The Thick blanket of water laughed to its Heart's fill,

Never did it  know as to who other wept and for  how long…

( Autar Mota ........29.08.2013)

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013



                                            ( kashmiri Folk singers in a marriage Function )


It was a practice in  kashmir that some persons would invariably attend a marriage feast uninvited. This skilled class  included young , middle aged and old people. Ladies rarely indulged in this adventure . Every member of this select group was individually nicknamed as Dudda .A popular kashmiri  Axiom goes as under ;-

‘ Aukh dudda ta beyi maaji kyutt bataah toak’ or…. ‘Himself uninvited guest( Dudda ) and  then  seeking a tiffin for his  mother from the marriage kitchen ’

A Dudda was a normal person except that he had a compulsive trait  of slipping without any invitation  into a  marriage crowd to relish a sumptuous lunch or dinner . A Dudda would make a safe entry into a  marriage feast  by joining Baraatis ( Those accompanying the bridegroom’s  marriage party )   near the bride’s house . He would wait unnoticed  for the Baraat to arrive  somewhere near the  bride’s house and once he heard the ****Conch shell    ( Shankh naad  or Shankh Shabd )  blown to declare the arrival of a bridegroom  , he would  immediately slip into the Baraat crowd. No interaction and no communication;  Just slip in ,enter , eat and leave .

I have personally known a school friend who was a compulsive  practitioner of this art.  This particular boy would also keep a track of marriages in Habba Kadal Srinagar  area where his mother had her parental home (  his Matamaal ). Once away from Rainawari , he would relish marriage feasts uninvited with confidence .In Rainawari , he ran the risk of being  located and identified  as Dudda  by friends and  neighbours .This friend of ours  rose to the post of a   senior official in J&K Government  . I vividly remember my friend Kuldeep Machama  informing me   that he had personally seen this person joining a Baraat   in Zaina Kadal  as Dudda  even after joining the Government Job .That was some wedding function of a close relation of  Kuldeep Machama.  This was  somewhere around 1977 or 1978.  In 2012 ,I  met this friend  in Delhi   and came to know that  he  had turned a diabetic apart from  being hypertensive. I suggested some good physicians to him . I also  wanted to ask him   whether he still went for those old adventures but  something   prevented me  from seeking reply to this  baffling  question.

Once i was informed by an elderly relation from Habba kadal  that there lived a Dudda in  his  Mohalla   known as Kashi Nath. Kashi  Nath had developed a novel way of knowing clear details about marriage dates , lunch or dinner functions and the nature of feasts ( vegetarian or non vegetarian ) along with expected number of  guests joining  the marriage  feast anywhere in srinagar city  . kashi Nath  would sit in Kraal Khod ***Waza Baithaks ( Place where kashmiri cooks resided ) and gossip with the cooks  over a Charminar or Passing Show cigarette  to collect his data .Kashi Nath would only attend feasts in downtown ,  Jawahar Nagar and Rainawari where he could not be easily  identified. Quite often Kashi Nath would also take his friend Pushker  Nath  for these uninvited   adventures . Both kashi Nath and Pushker  Nath were government employees.

My friend Mukhtar Ahmed  Handoo informs me that Dudda practice or what could be safely called as  Duddaism  tried to make unsuccessful entry in muslim marriage feasts as well. Unfortunately  the nature and style of serving food to  guests broke its backbone. Muslim  Duddas would often get   identified and had to beat a hasty retreat . Guests  in muslim  marriage feasts  are made to eat in  large polished  copper plates known as Traamis . Each Trammi is shared by four known persons . Everything is calculated and counted well in advance . Guests are made to sit on a  well  carpeted  floor and practically   this is the time for close  interaction  between groups of four persons who are supposed  to share  a common plate .Food is never served in a buffet system nor to standing guests .
But contrary to what my friend Mukhtar Ahmed Handoo has said, i  have lately   observed  Duddas gaining some foothold in  muslim feasts  in kashmir. Many  friends from younger generation  often relate stories of having enjoyed sumptuous Wazawaan  feasts in unknown marriage functions .And I am sure if muslims resort to buffet system , Duddas shall swarm into marriage  feasts wherein Wazawaan   is served .

In Kashmiri pandit marriages , food is served in individual plates and the community has since switched over to buffet system. The host has no control over number of expected guests . Everything works on estimates which vary grossly when guests actually arrive.  So in this guesswork and estimates , a Dudda  cab easily walk in    and remain unidentified  .

 Tej Dhar , My  friend from  Saffa Kadal  in Srinagar city informed me that two Duddas had  once  joined  a   Ghar Atchun feast   organized by his  cousin’s family . They were located   only after  they had consumed the lavish non vegetarian meal. The family had organized Ghar Atchun feast    simultaneously  for two marriages which meant  guests from two newly connected families apart from their own guests . A buffet lunch was organized for about plus 250 persons under a shamiyaana  . It so happened that the host and his wife decided to give cash in envelopes to  some  VIP  guests  once they were leaving. When the turn of the Duddas  came , the host looked at his wife asking her how theses were related and whether any amount had to be given to them. The wife too could not place them. The host then asked smilingly :
‘ Khyovaa kenh ?Khabar kyoothh oussukh roanmutt?’ or ‘ Did you eat anything ? Had the cooks cooked well ?’
‘Zabar ! Zabar!’ or ‘Excellent ! Excellent !’
‘ Me chhu broant hue gatchhaan . Tohi kaetti pyaatha aayiva. Ye chhunaa  lifaaf  deun…. ’ or ‘ I could not place you correctly . Where from have come  ? Look , this envelope is also to be given .’

‘ Aeiss mahraa gayee mut-farkav munz . Yeli raazabai ta tohee pachhein  hisaab aassiv karaan , tohee gandiv-na mutfark daah . Aeiss chhi timuv munz sirif  zaa. ’ or ‘ Sir we are from the miscellaneous .When you and your wife  were counting  expected guest and noting them in your diary  , you had noted  ten miscellaneous guests   . we are just two from that miscellaneous lot .’

And the Duddas quickly  moved away while the host and his wife looked at each other .Dudda coming to *Ghar Atchun Feast  feast is  a daring act. But then the Dhar family had invited around large number of  guests for the   feast  and the Duddas  went for the adventure only after careful ground work in advance.


                                       ( A Buffet Lunch in a Marriage function )
A popular Kashmiri story also refers to a marriage in the Mohalla where a **Dudda  lived . His son  decided to cook all the marriage  dishes in the house and serve his father  who was  stopped from joining the marriage  even  when he had been invited. The marriage feast was held in the adjacent vacant plot which had been duly covered by a Shamiyana. The son made the father to sit on a window and look at the guests below .When water was brought for washing hands ,the son too brought water in a jug for his father . He also ensured that dishes are put in his Father’s plate  as per the order and system adopted in the feast being organized  below  . The father could clearly see what was happening in the Shamiyana below .  And then suddenly the father jumped from the window to join the guests crying

‘Ashok jiya . Yetti kateu chhe so  tcheilla tcheill . Kun zon chhaa saal kheivaan. Me traaviy voth . ’

“ Ashok ji ! where is the crowd in the room and where is that pull and push ? can any person  enjoy the feast single handedly ?I am jumping down  ?

During my posting  in Amritsar , I had a friend  Balwinder Singh who   sang  Shiv Batalvi in a  pain filled but mellifluous voice . Balwinder was an officer in a public sector  bank . He  wore good clothes  and  liked good food. He   was also  fond of     scotch but could hardly afford it.  During marriage  season , Balwinder  would  have  his dinner   frequently  in posh posh  hotels and marriage halls  .He could not be seen during evenings for singing Shiv Batalavi to his friends during marriage seasons . My  friends would say that he had so many invitations since he was  a very ‘ SOCIAL PERSON  .’

Sometimes , Balwinder   would extend  these   invitations to me also   but I always  refused on account of the fact that  night marriages in Punjab used to be  a mob affair. And then  as a matter of principle , I never went  to a function  where I did not know the host personally or where i had  not been invited. Add to this  i could not withstand the disorderly boozing in these functions .

I always believed that Balwinder had some family problem  as he would never join these marriage functions with his family. Sometimes , he would be joined  by his  friend who had some business  in Katra Ahluwalia Bazaar in Amritsar  .This particular friend of Balwinder  had some business interests in Kashmir also .So Balwinder had introduced him to me. This business friend of Balwinder    kept visiting Kashmir quite often  during 2000 to 2002 . He  would always bring some  green leafy Haak or walnut  or Nadru for me from Kashmir . I was obviously obliged and grateful to him for these gestures.

Then one day Balwinder came to my room at 8.30 PM absolutely uninvited. He appeared to be a little tipsy  and said in chaste  Punjabi

‘ Sir ji Aaj te chalo . Aaj na assi tagdaa jkugaad kitaa hai. Machhi, chicken, kashmiri jakhni ( yakhni ), naan te naal vilayati daaru. Munde da rishtedaar Canada thhuun Jack Daniels , Johnnie  Walker , Black Dog  Te  Cheevas Regal laaya hega . Aaj te tuut ke pe jaavaange . 800 bandeyaan  di roti daa intezaam hega. Kaun poochada hega . Vudd jaavaangay te shuru  . ’

“ Sir ji , now come today.Today I have made a perfect jugaad  for fish , chicken , kashmiri yakhni , naan and I am informed that some close relative of the  bridegroom  who has come from Canada has made good arrangement   of liquor . They shall be serving Jack Daniels , Black Dog and Chivas Regal. Today I shall just be in gulping mode .They shall be serving food to 800 persons . Nobody shall ask ‘who are you?’ . We  shall just enter and start ‘

  As he got up to leave ,he wanted to know finally whether I was joining. Now that everything about Balwinder’s marriage invitations and ‘Social  Personality ’  was clear to me , i said i had a guest from Jammu who arriving shortly  .I added that  we had to eat together . That was a fact as well.

Away from my family  , i was living alone in  Amritsar   near Kashmir Avenue .  I would cook my own food . Many friends in Amritsar would relish Yakhni prepared by me occasionally . That particular day , I had  cooked   Vaarimuth (  Small sized black beans ) and Basmati rice . I passed on a cup of hot and brownish Black  Vaarimuth   to Balwindwer . He liked it and said that this black  Rongi ( as he called it ) was very  tasty .Once he left , I  switched on my TV set  for News. Changing channels for  Door Darshan news , i stopped at a channel wherein a  some religious  person was  holding his discourse on   food  .He said  :

‘ Bandhuvon aunn ki chori koyee chori nahin hai. Jahaan bahut ziyaada aunn hai agar thodaa sa kissi ne churaa bhi liya to paap nahin hai. Sarr janne se to achhaa hai na ki kissi bookhay  pait mein chalaa jaaaye  ”

“ Brothers, theft of food is no theft. If the  food is in abundance and a little is stolen , no evil deed is committed by the person who steals it. It is better than allowing it to rot. More better if it goes to some empty stomach ”

 I somehow  concurred with the gist of the  religious  discourse.  I also got convinced that the Dudda   practice  was nothing abnormal that we had witnessed in valley . It could be a universal phenomenon . Possibly we  lacked exposure and that made us to lampoon a Dudda or laugh over this behaviour  .

( Avtar Mota )

*Ghar Atchun   is a get together over lunch or dinner held by kashmiri pandits . Parents and almost all  close relations and friends of newly weds ( both sides ) meet each other over a sumptuous meal usually a  mid day lunch .

**Dudda  means an  uninvited guest in  kashmiri language .

***Waza Baithak means resting place of kashmiri cooks .Hindu cooks would confine their Baithaks in Kraal Kohodd area of Habba Kadal in srinagar city  while Muslim cooks resided in Wazapora locality in downtown srinagar city .

****Conch Shells are blown by kashmiri pandits  to declare movement and arrival of the Baraat along with  the bridegroom into bride’s house . Conch shells are also blown on various auspicious occasions and religious ceremonies.Hindus believe that the sound  of conch shell drives away the evil spirits. The blowing of the conch or "the shankha" needs a tremendous power and respiratory capacity. They also believe that  blowing it daily helps keep the lungs healthy.

(All Photos Avtar Mota)

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Thursday, August 22, 2013



( Lotus Plant cultivation in Dal Lake of kashmir )

                                      ( Lotus Plant cultivation in Nigeen Lake of kashmir )

(  Fresh Lotus seeds being sold On Ashai Bagh bridge near Nigeen Lake in Kashmir )
( Fresh  lotus seeds after removal of the green shell )

                        (  Bundles of Lotus stems ( locally known as Nadroo ) being sold in a shop in kashmir ) 

( Above Photographs by Avtar Mota )

The lotus  flower comes from a   fresh water plant ( Botanical name  Nelumbo Nucifera ) that has been cultivated mainly  in southeast Asia , mediterranean and also in some Latin American countries  since ages.   In north and north east areas of the country , it is essentially grown in lakes  and ponds . Hindus, Buddhist and Egyptians  consider lotus  as a sacred flower. The Mahayana sect of Buddhism believes  that all souls come out from a lotus . The Buddhist Mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ refers to the ‘jewel in the lotus’ which represents illumination or enlightenment . Buddhists believe that   this mantra has great spiritual powers.

 In ancient Egypt, spiritual teachings held that the lotus represented the sun, and therefore is directly linked to creation and rebirth. This belief was reinforced    from the way a  lotus flower closes its petals at night and hides under water but   rising again at dawn  and opening its petals  .The ancient Egyptians believed that a lotus flower gave birth to sun. The blue lotus, especially, is highly revered in Egyptian culture.

Hindus  consider the entire plant including its seeds as sacred . According to the Purāņas , Brahmā ( creator of the universe ) is self-born in the lotus flower. In India , lotus  is known by various names like, Pundarika, Padma, Kamala, Utpala, etc.

There is a popular  saying in Kashmir ‘ Lembi Munz Pamposh ’ with regard to lotus flower which means that if one has to be in the  mud ,he must remain   above it and shine like a Lotus flower .Even its leaves were put to use in Kashmir  as saucers for eating food.

The lotus stems are eaten as a favorite vegetable in Kashmir. Locally known as Nadroo,  these  stems are sold as a bundle. One bundle roughly weighs more than one Kilogram  . A Nadroo bundle is known as ‘ Geyid’ in kashmiri. Extracted from lakes in , Nadroo  is  extensively used  as vegetable in almost every kashmiri household. Kashmiris cook these stems with turnips,  potatoes, fish , lentils, Haak and so many other vegetables. Nadroo Yakhni or  Nadroo cooked in curd   is a favourite dish in a kashmiri Pandit family. It is a much loved dish in a marriage feast. Nadroo chips are fried and a pinch of common salt and red chilly powder is sprinkled over it , this is ‘Nadroo Churma’ . Nadroo is also used  for making Pakodas  known as  ‘Nadroo Monjji’ or ‘Monji Gooel ’ in kashmiri.

  So popular was the lotus in Kashmir that  children were fondly named as Pamposh ( lotus in kashmiri ). We had many business houses  with names as Pamposh Traders , Pamposh Hotel, Pamposh Travel Service  etc.

Lotus seeds or lotus nuts locally ( in Kashmiri language ) known as ‘ Pumm-Buchh’  are abundantly grown in lakes of Kashmir . You come across this stuff  being sold by  footpath vegetable sellers  in and around Dal lake ;  quite frequently on Boulevard   Srinagar and also near Ashai Bagh bridge , Nigeen lake Srinagar    . I saw this stuff being sold   near  Wular lake or along the footpaths of main Bazaar of Bandipore town which is situated on the  eastern bank  of  this lake . I also saw ‘Pumm-Buchh’ being sold near  Manasbal lake  in Kashmir.The fresh variety of seeds held inside a green shell  are soft watery  white and sweet to taste . About twenty seeds are generally held on a spongy green bulb . Once exposed to heat and air , the shell of the seeds turns hard and black and the soft white seed   inside  dries up and  changes   its colour to  yellowish  brown   .

Lotus seeds are eaten raw. A good amount of  dried lotus seeds  are  used by  kashmiri Pandits  as Homa  Samagri ( material for burning in sacred Homa   or Yajna  fire   ).These seeds are also put to extensive use in north eastern states of the country  . In many asian countries,  the seeds are dried and  used in cuisine and medicines .The use of these seeds as medicine is quite popular in China .These seeds are also put to use in some Latin American countries . I found them being sold in Amritsar on footpaths  just outside Ram Bagh park.

Chinese and Japanese use the paste of lotus  seeds in bakery products especially in Pastries .It has been now established through  clinical tests that lotus seeds act as  antioxidants  and are helpful in reducing  inflammation , fighting aging  and  in lowering hypertension. The  practitioners of Chinese system of medicine prescribe the seeds for well being of spleen, kidney and heart as well.


  ( lotus stems in china town New York )

 I  searched  for Lotus stems  ( Nadroo )  in  China town New York in 2018 . Collard Greens (Kaachhi Haak) was a bonus in this search  . The search story goes as under:

As we come out from the   underground Canal sstreet metro station , we start moving towards   China Town. This Street lies close to  Little Italy or Soho locality . Coming closer to HSBC building , we   try to seek help from shopkeepers .

‘ Which side are the vegetable shops?’ I ask a smiling Chinese shop keeper selling  so many  varieties of   dried fish ( Hogaad), dried shrimps and dried mushrooms.

‘What ? I  Don’t follow what  you say.’ Ccomes the reply.

We move ahead and speak to another Chinese boy selling fresh  baby Coconuts   on the street.

‘ You understand English’
‘Yeah ’
‘How much one Coconut?’
‘ Two Dollar fifty Cent ’
‘ Where are vegetables sold?’
" Two blocks and make a  left.  So many  .All good .’

We move towards the suggested destination. It turns out to be a Chinese restaurant. We feel disappointed. On footpaths ,  we see some  Afro- Americans selling low-priced goods to tourists. Goods like key rings ,sunglasses, purses , bags, toys, wrist watches, caps, wall pictures etc..They keep crying :

‘Hey guys. This way. This way. You gonna buy everything solid .Everything gonna cheap,Yeah  sir. Madam. You wanna  purse . Here go 5 dollars.’

I come closer to   a smiling man  selling caps . He has every reason to welcome us as customers.
‘Buy sir.  Madam , i gonna give good caps. Good ones . Take  home.’

‘ No. Thanks. We are looking for a vegetable shop. Can you guide us ? We want to buy vegetables.”

‘ What ? Cooked dish ! ‘

“ No . Raw . Fresh from farm like kohlrabi, Collard greens, tomatoes, cilantro, kale, pumpkin, gourd, eggplants,  carrots , potatoes etc .  We wash . We cut and then we put on  boil in the kitchen .We eat finally . That is what we want to buy.”

‘ O ! i get it. You wanna go  fresh produce store. Here you say vegetable,  they gonna guide you  restaurant .They gonna think cooked dish.  Go one block and make a right .  There that market ,So many shop sell fresh farm  produce. ’

We follow the suggested path and cross the footpath where Chinese women were selling fruits like  double cherries, Mexican mangoes , apricots , watermelons, muskmelons, pears, apples, plums and   bananas. Suddenly we find some vegetable shops. Fresh vegetables are on display on the footpath outside  these spacious shops. We stop at  a vegetable shop.  Variety of Collard greens.  Yes our  green leafy ‘Haak ’ in various shapes and sizes.

‘ What is this ? ’
‘This is Jai-lan. Good  . One  dollar fifty cents for a pound .’
‘ And that ’
‘Bok Choy ’
 ‘ Do you have lotus stem ?’
‘ What? ’
‘Long stem of lotus flower. Tubes like inside when cut.  Grows in water. Used for making dish . In China, also  used for making  medicine . ’
‘ Come  Come  . See inside the Shop. 
We go inside the shop. He opens a cardboard box . Something   in Chinese is printed on the box. As he removes the grass,  we find   Nadroo looking like turnips. The man looks at my face . I smile and he  smiles too.
‘ No  Stem . Say lotus root. Say ‘Lian Ou ’  next time here in this market.’

I was told by a chinese family in New York  that they love serving lotus root in their  cuisine. They also use other lotus products like  lotus seeds, lotus leaf and lotus root powder to make different kinds of dishes and desserts.

( Avtar Mota )

Eating  lotus roots raw can spread parasites or bacterial infections. Therefore, always cook( boil,  stir fry or deep fry ) lotus roots before eating or adding them to your diet.

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( Source :- Photographed by Autar Mota  from a Photo held by J&K Academy of Art Culture And Languages . As per Shri Shantiveer Kaul son of The poet  " The original portrait is   with shri  Shabir Santosh, as part of the legacy of his father.  Shri Santosh has  steadfastly refused to part with it."

A sample of Naadim's Poetry is also added to this portrait.The lines give a feeling of helplessness of an individual who is in wait till his last breath . An overwhelming feeling of imminent LOSS   but there is a cherished desire to see some one before all is over. . The final summit , a sunlit day and everything appearing crystal clear . Tears rain uncontrollably . What can one do ?The soul too has turned as restless as mercury on any surface . Why put Love to slander ?Helplessness sweating out from every pore and  drenching the body . What should be done ? Here Naadim crosses all barriers of language , religious thoughts and creeds that segregate Humanity . . A profound universalization of poetic thought……..

Wukh Voat Vizz Iyye Diyye Darshun Diyye
Layyee Hoat Moat Zeeshaan Ba Kattie Dharra
Gaashuur Saathhaa--- Noor Baraata
Num Num Srehh teilaan Me Aaechhi Dharra
Oush Chhunaa Kuunei Thahraan Ba Kyaah Karra
Paaridh Zunn Gaam Praan Ba Kyaah Karra
Loluss Ma Khassi haan Ba Kyaah Karra
Ruum Ruum Gaam Gumma Shraan Ba Kyah Karra …

( Dina Nath Naadim )

For those who do not understand kashmiri language , i have attempted to put the above  lines in simple english as under ....

The time has come ,
the moment too shall be approaching,
Shall he visit this way ?
 I believe he shall.
  He who happens to be   the  possessor of  splendor ,
Can i withstand his intense love and stature ?
A crystal clear   moment  drenched in floodlights  all over ,
Every nail in my body pains in  love
While the eyes keep  waiting.
And  tears rain  uncontrollably,
What should I do ?
This soul turning as restless as mercury on any surface .
This love may not be put to any  slander ,
What should I do ?
 And this body  drenched in sweats oozing from every pore in the skin ,
What should I do 

( Autar  Mota  22.08.2013)                 
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