Friday, November 30, 2012





The first world war  (1914-1918 AD )  brought untold miseries the world over.  During that period, Maharaja Partap Singh ruled the state of J&K. The state supplied 31000 young recruits to the British army for the war apart from a monetary contribution of rupees 1.11 Crores.  During this war,  prices of all essential commodities soared high in the state. Kashmir too suffered from acute food grains shortages leading to skyrocketing of prices. Panic buying resulted in hoarding and black-marketing by the greedy food grains traders who were locally known as ‘ Galdhaars’.  Maharaja was informed about some cases of starvation deaths in Kashmir.  A  special meeting of officers was immediately called by him wherein ways and means to bring down the prices were discussed.
The Maharaja finally advised his revenue minister Raja  Narinder Nath Kaul to control prices by any means so that people could buy food grains.  Raja Narinder Nath Kaul entrusted this job to  Salaam Shah,  a young and trusted Tehsildar in the Kashmir valley.  Salaam Shah opened Government  Shaali stores and introduced the Public   Distribution  System in the Kashmir valley. ‘ Food  And Supplies Department’  was set up for the first time in the state.  For the first time, Kashmiris started using a ration card known locally as Chendi. They also came to know terms like  Ghaat Munshi or the dealing clerk at the food godown (    food grain godowns were set up in boats parked alongside the bank of river Jhelum ), Hamaal, Kanda Coolie  and Piece ( ration delivery slip cut from the ration card after making payment to the clerk in charge at the godown ).
Salaam Shah and Raja  Narinder Nath Kaul successfully implemented the PDS in Kashmir valley. The price of Shaali from the store was fixed at rupees five per Khirwaar while timber generally ‘ Hatab’ was supplied at eight Annas per maund. Salaam Shah proved a tough and strict administrator who also checked the price of Kashmiri bakery bread, milk and mutton. He fixed the price of mutton at eight Annas per Seer while milk was fixed at two Annas a Seer. Galdhaars ( grain merchants ), butchers, milk sellers were rounded up for charging extra rates. Novel punishments were given to them like shaving their head, cutting the beard from one side, dragging without shoes through the streets and getting the greedy traders paraded on donkeys.   Raja Narinder Nath Kaul  recommended Salaam Shah for further elevation. The Maharaja also took notice of the efforts of this young man in checking prices of essential commodities in Kashmir valley and accepted the recommendations of his revenue minister for the further elevation of Salaam Shah. This revolution was confined to Srinagar city alone.
Salaam shah made all this happen with his sincere and untiring efforts but he also earned a nickname ‘Salaam   Shaahun  Sochh’ or ‘ The pittance of Salam Shah ’.   
Whenever Kashmiris  had  to come to the  government ration stores they would say :
 ‘Kathh taawanuss laageikh aiss . Ye guv 'Salaam Shaahun Sochh’.   Or ‘ See what we have been made to go for. This is a pittance from Salaam shah  .’
Over a period of time,  government-managed ‘Public Distribution System’ became trusted and popular mode of supply in Jammu and  Kashmir. Kerosene, firewood, sugar, wheat flour, rice and paddy was distributed through this system.  It was cheap, affordable and covered almost the entire population of the state. One would always notice innocent Kashmiris asking the labourers or employees of P.D.S. stores something like this:-
“ Kya sa gaatus ma trovukh Tomul . Kyooth chhu tomul. Khanduk ma  boozuth  kenh . Dinaa kenh alaava Eeizz  Pyaath “
“ Has the rice arrived for supply? How is the this time? Any news about sugar? Are they giving some extra sugar this time for the ensuing Eid ?”
 The Public Distribution System added new words to the Kashmiri language. I mean words like Ghaat Munshi, Hamaal, Head Hamaal, Chendi, Pees and   Khataavun. We also became familiar with the names of some trees that were cut for firewood supply to the population through the Public Distribution System. I mean trees and varieties of timber like Kayur ( Kail ),  Veer (Willow ), Conifer, Hatab ( False Witch Hazel tree) , Zangul, Dodur, etc. The Public Distribution System helped in the opening of many rice mills. It also ensured some gainful income to woodcutters,  labourers and boat people.
 In Rainawari,  the foodgrains to be supplied under the Public Distribution System were stored in big boats. One had to pay the money to the Ghaat Munshi ( clerk )  who would make entries in his register and tear apart the relevant paper token ( known as Pees )  from the ration card  ( Chendi ). He would sign it apart from writing details of rice, sugar or wheat flour purchased on it. It was to be handed over to the Haanji or boatman. The boatman used to do the initial weighing of the foodgrains.
 I always enjoyed the way paddy or rice or wheat flour was weighed by the Haanji ( boatman ) who stored these ration supplies in big boats known as Doonga or Bahetch. One had to get inside the boat with gunny bags and during the weighing through a handheld balance, the Haanji ( boatman ) would keep his count by loudly saying:-

Barkat  or Akyo akh for one ..
Doyo Zeh for two.
Treyo Treh. For three.
Tchoreyo tchor , Tche vuchh yor ( You look this way  , it is four ) for four .
 He would continue like this and if eleven had to be said,he would say, "Kahyo kaah, kaah naev sundh kaah ‘ meaning  ‘ eleven in the name of the saint known with eleven names ". The wife of the Haanji (boatman ) would stand and keep a watch to ensure nothing excess goes to the consumer. Poverty was visible in the behaviour and conduct of the man weighing the foodgrains and the person receiving the same. One keen on ensuring that nothing goes excess while the other careful about not receiving anything less.
 After this initial weighing, the ration filled bags were weighed on the  Kanda  ( bigger weighing scale ) by another person at the Ghaat. This person would make up for the shortfalls or remove excess by this final weighing.
At the firewood depot, it was a different story. It was first come first served system especially for willow or Hatab variety of firewood. Pandits and Muslims kept visiting local firewood depots to know whether willow or Hatab had arrived. Both varieties were in great demand in Kashmir. Pandits and Muslims kept asking the labourers at the government-run timber depots something like this:-
“ Kya sa Hatab ma aayi. Veer iya beyi . Ya kaayur chhuna kuni Kaaruk ”
“  Is there any chance of Hatab arriving for supply? What about willow? This Kail is simply worthless .”
This firewood was used in the kitchen hearths.  Hatab and willow varieties of firewood provided quality charcoal to Kashmiris for their  Kangris You had to get up early and keep the firewood ration card in a bundle or stake kept at a safe place in the depot. The  Ghaat Munshi ( dealing clerk ) would pick up in that order only. Quite often people disturbed this order. Summer or winter, we have mostly bought water-soaked firewood. The labourers at the firewood depot would carry logs weighing 100 or 120 Kg on their shoulders throwing them with a bang in the compound. And the woodcutter would automatically arrive the next day to cut the wet logs to sticks and  pieces for the kitchen hearth  (  known as Dhaan in Kashmiri ). It was fuel for the kitchen hearth. Our mothers would cook food with this wood mixing it with some sun-dried cow dung or sawdust or drifted wood pieces  ( known as Hukh in Kashmir ). The drifted wood pieces were collected from rivers and carried in big boats. From this firewood,  I would pick up some suitable piece to be used as a cricket bat.
And who was this Salaam Shah?  Farooq Nazki, the noted Kashmiri poet  informs:
‘ He belonged to the well known and respected Naqashabandhi family from Kashmir. He lived like an English man with his Austin   Car and  Amar Singh Club membership. He played his Badminton game every day in the club.  A nephew of this gentleman namely Mohammad Sayyed retired as  Director-General of Radio Pakistan. Naqshbandi family from Kashmir also produced poets like  Saad ud din Saad. After the fall of autocracy and coupled with some personal problems,Salaam Sahib died a lonely and sad man. ’

Dina Nath Nadim, Kashmir’s tallest modern poet  has written a moving  poem on Public Distribution System in Kashmir valley titled Truvanzaah (  53 ). This poem has no link to the political events of that year of the last century as is generally presumed. This is what Nadim Sahib has told to Ravinder Kaul in 1988  in an interview published in the ‘Kashmir Times’.

' I used to buy rice for my home from a ration shop ( Public Distribution System ) . During the month of Magh (  extreme winter ) I went to fetch rice and a Muslim woman also had come to buy rice along with her young son. She asked for one Manut of rice. The Ghat Munshi  said that she had already taken her quota of rice for the month and she would not get any more. I requested the Ghat Munshi to give her rice but he declined to oblige. At about the same time the son of the woman picked up a handful of rice and the labourer (Hamaal) at the Ghat put his nail-studded shoe on the hand of the child. The child cried in agony and so did I. I asked the Ghat Munshi  to give a Manut of rice from my quota of ration to the woman and went home and wrote ‘Dedi tomul hai, shirin hai, mishir hai’ for the poem. It is a dramatic dialogue. "  
 I conclude this small write up  with a Vaakh of  Kashmir's  saint poetess Laleshwari ( Lal Ded )

Gaal ga'ndiy-nyam bol pa'diy-nyam
Dapineym tiy  yas yih routse,
Sahaza-kusamav puuz karineym,
Boh amalloun ta kas kyaah  mvotse
( Lal Ded )

They may abuse me or jeer at me,
They may say what pleases them,
They may, with flowers worship me.
What profits them whatever they do?
I am indifferent to praise and blame.

( Avtar Mota  )


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Tuesday, November 27, 2012



 SURTI GUJRATI HOTEL AND RESTAURANT,  SRINAGAR                                                                           
‘Rokadaa dene ka bhai. Cheque veck nahin lene ka . Cheque ka koyee bharosa nahin . Woh bank ka babu baitha hai . Poochho oss  ko agar hum jooth boltaa hai ’ meaning  ‘ Give cash brother. No cheque etc. Cheques can’t  be trusted.  If you don’t believe me, ask that man from the bank. There he sits.’
So said the Seth to some customer . And he was pointing towards me.

I never knew his name. We never bothered to know whether he was a manager or a partner or the owner of the hotel. Whatever he was, he was always in the hotel. Always busy in managing the affairs of the hotel quite effectively. We used to call him simply ‘Seth ’. He was gentle but firm. In money matters, he never compromised and always conveyed his message in a firm and loud tone. I had also noticed one of his peculiar communication styles. He never looked at the face of his customers when they came to settle their bills. He simply looked at their purses and the notes brought out for payment. It appeared as if he was preparing himself for the receiving mode. I mean the cash receiving mode. When no customer was around his counter, he would pull the drawer of his table and count the notes. He then kept them denomination wise under a tight rubber band finally moving to read some Gujrati magazine. He was possibly from Surat ( Gujrat ) in western India.

Ten tables with sunmica tops kept in two ground floor shops that were joined to make it look like a small hall, a counter cum table for himself and four Gujrati waiters who understood no other language; that was what we used to call ‘SURTI GUJRATI HOTEL AND RESTAURANT’. The waiters looked poor and from rural background. Seth would not allow his waiters to intermix with his customers beyond what they were required to do as per their assigned duties. They were prompt in service and kept running from the kitchen to the tables kept in the hall. The restaurant would serve Masala Dosa, Plain Dosa, Idli, Wada, Sambhar, Upma, Poha, coffee and  Gujarati vegetarian meals. Strict Thaali system existed for the meals. Both, Papad and the pickle in the Thaali tasted good.

The hotel cum restaurant was located close to the fashionable Residency Road area in a corner of the Lambert Lane. It was close to the Bund and river Jhelum.

The restaurant was located on the ground floor while rooms for tourists were located on the upper floors of the building. The hotel catered mostly to Gujrati tourists coming in groups to Kashmir.

Some important landmark establishments near the' SURTI  GUJRATI HOTEL AND RESTAURANT were the SBI bank (main branch ,Sringaar), Shakti Sweets, Vir And Co (dry cleaners),  India Coffee House, KVIC showroom,  Song And Drama Division( Sringaar office),  Hind Book Shop, Fashion House ( tailors ) Pamposh Hotel and  Premier Restaurant and Bar. V S Naipaul makes mention of some establishments from this list in his book 'An Area of Darkness'.

Everyone in Kashmir would call this restaurant as ‘SURTI  DOSA HOTEL’.My friends in the bank especially Basharat Fazili, Pranesh Nagri, Bushan Lal Raina ‘Johny ‘, Nanaji Bhan, Tej Dhar, Ajodhia Nath Kaul,  Showkat Ahmed, Ghulam Jeelani, Arvind Mujoo, Ashok Padroo and many more would frequent this place. We also saw advocate Ashok Bhan, Prof Riyaz Punjabi and almost all the medical representatives stationed at Srinagar eating Dosa quite often in this restaurant. Noted painter G R Santosh would also be seen sometimes during summers with his friends especially artist Bansi Parimu or  Actor Omkar Aima. One day I saw  Shamim Ahmed Shamim( MP ) sitting in a corner table and enjoying a Dosa with some friends.

Many times, local customers would also order for vegetarian Thaalis. Groups of young men, tourists, college students, lawyers, professors, artists and theatre personalities would also frequent this restaurant to eat Dosa served with coconut Chutney and Sambhar.

 I was always impressed by the style and professional attitude of the Gujrati manager. He had learnt some Kashmiri words also. Saying ‘Waraai Chhus ’ in Kashmiri meant greeting and welcoming the regulars. He was popular in the area. Though firm, he was fair in his dealings and a straight businessman who had ventured to do business travelling all the way from Surat to Srinagar. The restaurant would close for winters from November to April every year and during this, Seth would go to Surat. Regulars would keep vising from last week of March to see if Seth had returned for ensuing summer season. Many shopkeepers in the adjoining Lambert lane would also come to eat Dosa at this restaurant. Tea and coffee were served in small steels glasses. We would take two glasses of tea which practically were equivalent to one standard cup of tea served at other places.

 I was pained to see the plight of this restaurant when I visited the area sometime back.

The restaurant has been totally gutted and converted to a heap of debris. I could only see the door frame of the two shops that made the restaurant. Nothing more except memories.

Dosa is now sold at many places in Srinagar city but many friends miss Surti's Dosa, coffee and Gujrati Thaali. We equally miss the man whom we fondly called ‘ Seth ’.
Surti used to be a landmark location. Buried in the debris now; a place that remains unknown to present generation. So shall it remain for the posterity?
 I conclude with a wish for Peace and peace alone as it appears in some lines of  poem ‘Dua ’( Prayer )  by   poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz

(Jinki ankhon ko rukh-e-subh ka yaara bhi nahin
Unki raaton mein koyee shama munawwar kar dhe….
Jin ke qadmon ko kisi raah ka sahaara bhi nahin,
Unki nazron pe koyee raah ujaagar kar dhe…..

Aaaiye haath uthaayein hum bhi
Hum jinhein rasm-e-dua yaad nahin
Hum jinhen soz-e-mohabbat ke siwa
Koyee buut, koyee khuda yaad nahin )

(Whose eyes require the nerve to face the crack of dawn,
Some lamps be lit for their dark nights as well.
Those feet that keep moving without the support of a path,
Let us put forth a way ahead for them as well.

Draw closer; let we too raise our hands.
Yes, we, who forgot the tradition of the prayer.
 Yes, we, who remember nothing except passion,
 Yes we, who remember neither an idol nor any God now.)

 ( Avtar Mota )


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