Saturday, August 20, 2016




SNUFF OR NASWAAR ( NAAS IN KASHMIRI ) became popular in Kashmir since afghan rule. While Afghan governors were busy in collecting revenue by all cruel means , Traders from Kabul brought Snuff and Tobacco to kashmir and carried horse loads of Pattoo , shawls ,and Tosha .An entry in the diary of *John Nicholson dated 19th November 1847 reads as under....

“ Had some conversation with a group of Afghan merchants from Kabul who were carrying Snuff and Tobacco to Kashmir wherefrom they would bring Tosh( Shahtoosh ) and Pattoo ( Woolen cloth ) which fetches very high price in Kabul. ”

And Naswaar is a Pashto word..

In Kashmir , I would see some elder suddenly pushing something in his Nostrils and then sneezing . some minutes after that he felt comfortable and relieved .That something turned out to be Snuff .

I would see many snuff users with shabby and stained Teeth . This finely powdered Tobacco that made the snuff would travel to mouth via the Nasal route and to its job. A pinch of snuff was something that could instantly raise Nicotine level in the blood by getting absorbed through Nasal Capillaries . No smoke , No Lung damage and No suffering for the passive smokers. But surely it did its damage on Teeth , gums , Nasal passage and oral cavity .

I would see many Labourers , elderly people from good families and some old ladies addicted to it. They would keep this stuff in small Boxes , cloth Pouches and tin boxes and carry it along .
A Woodcutter would stop his work suddenly to push a little of this stuff ( held In between Index Finger and thumb ) in his Nostrils . A driver would skillfully manage to put a pinch in his Nostrils while driving . An elderly Pandit women would take out the Pouch from her Pheran pocket and push a pinch in her Nostrils . A khwaja sahib would take out a pinch from his Beautiful Box kept in Waistcoat and push a pinch in his Nostrils . A little sneezing , some cough and they would carry on .

I vividly remember having seen PAANCH PHOTO NASWAAR , SAAT PHOTO NASWAAR , SIX PHOTO SNUFF ,ELEPHANT , ZAMINDAAR , CHAKALI , DHOLAKIA , ROSE SNUFF, HIMALAYA SNUFF and some other brands of Snuff sold in kashmir. A Punjabi Tobacco seller at Batmaloo sold some popular brands . He would sell dry snuff as well as something like a paste in small boxes and bottles. Many other Tobacco shops sold snuff powder .Then there were a little expensive scented snuffs as well.

At a point of time , snuff was widely used by upper class society in Europe . Consequently expensive Gold, silver and ivory snuff Boxes were sold in European markets . Apart from so many royals, Napoleon Bonaprte , Queen Charlotte and Samuel Johnson were great snuff users .

In kashmir , usage of snuff was also linked with idlers and quite often with cowardice. Naastih Khan was a word used to describe a coward person.

" Ya ha chhuyii bael havaan Rustumi.Tchaekki chhu Naastih Khan "

" He pretends to be a great fighter but in reality he is a Naastih  Khan or a coward."

The lingo that had gained currency during our youth was as under ….

“ Kyaa Bakwaas chhukh Karaan . Gutchh kar Naas “

“ What Nonsense are you speaking? Go and use snuff. “

Snuff usage was not confined to poor kashmiris or to a particular section of the society  only . Every class of people had snuff users .Both Pandit and Muslim families were familiar with it . Tobacco sellers and General merchants sold it across the length and breadth of kashmir valley. Some Europeans In Kashmir were also snuff users . I am told that prior to 1947 , some Traders Imported German Snuff Boxes to Kashmir . Some families in Kashmir ( who traded in snuff )were nicknamed as Naas or Naasti .

Noted Scholar Dr Shashi Shekhar Toshkhani adds:

"I don't know how many of us know that Jaishankar Prasad, author  of the great Hindi poetic work Kamayani,belonged to a family of snuff traders of Varanasi.   Snuff was popular in 18th century England also. Dr. Johnson, the famous English lexicographer, is once said to have asked for a pinch of snuff in these words: "Great Sir, kindly l allow me to  insert the summits of my digits into this odoriferous concavity in order to draw out  a few pulverised atoms which will cause titillation in my olfactory nerves."

( Autar Mota )

* John Nicholson( 1822- 1857 ) was a very Senior Political official in British India who rose to the post of a Brigadier General. He was instrumental in the settlement of the North-West Frontier .He was stationed at Peshawar , Moradabad , Benaras , Ferozepur and Delhi. He died suddenly at a very young age and played a major role in the Mutiny of 1857. He was buried in a Cemetery in kashmiri Gate Delhi and his tombstone reads as under..

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CHINAR SHADE by Autarmota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.
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