Friday, May 16, 2014



 All Photographs clicked inside Dal Lake of Kashmir
 by.. Avtar Mota ( 2013 series ).

  In 1962, V S Naipaul stayed in Kashmir for about five months. He stayed at hotel Leeward ( Liward at that time ), Dal lake located behind Nehru Park. His popular book “ An Area of Darkness ” was written in this hotel. Half of the book covers his Kashmir stay. A  travelogue that is full of his keen observations. So many names find mention in this book. Ali Mohammad and Mr Mohammad Sidiq Butt were from this hotel only. Aziz the clever helper ( as he appears in the book), Ali Mohammad the person who brought guests from Tourists Reception Centre and Mr Butt the owner. Ali Mohammad and Mr Butt are no more. Aziz is alive and an old man who owns the hotel at the moment. He has diversified his business. Mr Aziz told me that he had preserved a letter, photographs and the handwritten comments of Naipaul in the hotel’s visitor register.

Naipaul also met Sri Kanth Kak ( IAS ). He met the proprietor of Hind Book Shop, Residency Road, a Sikh gentleman and had tea with him. In 1979, this gentleman told me :

" Yes, he came to this shop two or three times. I didn't know him. He had already written one or two books. He said he was writing a book. He sought some information and purchased a couple of books on Kashmir.  He looked unassuming but fluent in English. I never knew that one day I would be selling his books."
I also met Mr Soni the proprietor of Premier ( hotel cum bar since closed)  on the Bund in  Srinagar. I told him what Naipaul had written about his hotel in his book “ An Area of Darkness ”. He simply smiled.
Late Sri Kanth Kak ( IAS ) told me:

" I vividly remember him. He would come to speak for the owner of the hotel where he stayed. They needed some approval from the government. The proprietor would be always accompanying him. He spoke English with a British accent."
Naipaul visited Kashmir again in 1988. I quote from Naipaul’s Book "An Area of Darkness ". Naipaul was amused by  the  hotel’s board that  read as under :

(Prop: FLUSH SYSTEM    M .S. Butt)

And about   Mr M. S. Butt and Aziz, Naipaul writes :

 ( 1)
“I was asked by Mr Butt to write a petition to the Director Transport for more frequent bus services to the Dal Lake area. I drafted it and typed it. The electric bulb inside the room gave poor light. I
complained about the weakness of the electric bulbs and asked for one to be replaced. At this, Mr Butt said ‘ Two rupees! Three rupees !. You buy, I buy, what difference ?’ I did not feel I could object. I bought .”

“ Both Aziz and Mr Butt would ask me to speak to tourists who were brought from the Tourist Reception Centre to the hotel by Ali Mohammad. I was jealous. I wanted the hotel to myself. Aziz understood, and he was like a parent comforting a child. ‘ You will eat first. You will eat by yourself. We give you special. This is not Mr Butt hotel. This your hotel.’ Sometimes Aziz would raise one hand and say ‘ God ! send customer ’’

“With the summer season, flies too entered the hotel rooms. These settled on my hands even while I worked and for several mornings in succession, I was awakened before six by the buzzing of a single Flit surviving fly. To this Aziz promised mosquitoes. Mosquitoes would rout the flies. To him, a fly was an act of god. One afternoon I saw him happily asleep in the kitchen, his cap on his face, black with contended flies. I had asked for Flit but for Aziz, mosquitoes were the solution. Then one day I asked for ice. And Aziz said:
‘Anybody don’t like ice. Ice is heating.’ And this reply led to one of our silences .”

“One day Aziz brought a college student to the hotel and introduced him as Bashir. Bashir was nineteen. Bashir introduced himself ‘ I am best sportsperson. I am  best swimmer. I know all Chemistry and all Physics. I am inter-dined .’ Bashir brought another friend to the hotel who introduced himself as Kadir. Kadir had small eyes and a square gentle face. He was studying engineering and wanted to be a writer. Bashir added ‘ He is best Poet .’ The best poet’s shirt, open at the neck, was dirty. There was hole in the top of his pullover. Bashir added ‘ He is great drinker. Too much of whiskey.’ And this was a proof of his talent. In India poets and musicians are required to live the part. It is necessary to be sad and alcoholic. I said to Kadir ‘ Do you really drink ?’ ‘ Yes ’ he said. Bashir ordered him to recite his poem. Kadir said ‘ But he will not understand Urdu .’ Bashir said ‘ I translate ’. And Kadir recited. Bashir added ‘ He talk about poor boatman’s daughter in the poem. She give colour to the rose . You get it Mister. Another man would say that the rose gives her colour. He say she give colour to rose’ .  ‘That is beautiful ’ i said .The discussion switched over to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Kadir said ‘ I will give you one example of the greatness of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. One year, you know, the crops failed and people were starving. They went to Sheikh Abdullah and said. ‘ Sheikh Abdullah, we have no rice. We are starving .Give us rice .’ To this, Sheikh Abdullah said ‘ eat potatoes’. Humour was not intended. The advice was sound .”

( 5 )
“ When I decided to go for Amarnath Yatra, Aziz said  ‘ You want a cook. You want a coolie. You want sweeper. You want seven pony.’ And each pony came with its owner. This would make fourteen of us altogether, not counting animals, with Aziz in charge. I began pruning ‘ No cook.’ Aziz said: ‘ He not only cook, sahib he guide’.  The cook was Aziz Protégé. The cook had revealed to me that he could not walk and he needed a pony. He had also sent a word from the kitchen through Aziz that he also needed a pair of new shoes for the journey. In the meantime, Mr Butt had summoned an English knowing scribe from the lake who had prepared a rough estimate for the Yatra. It was a remarkable document, an unfamiliar language and an unfamiliar script and most of its approximations understandable. Too understandable. I was being overcharged.

1 From Srinagar to Palguime boy Bus Rotine               Rs30=
2 Roding Poine Rotine                                                Rs150=
3 Pakige Ronie Rotine                                                Rs100=
4 Tente a kachen                                                         Rs25=
5 Tabel chare bed                                                        Rs15=
One Colie                                                                    Rs30=
6 Sweeper                                                                   Rs 20=
7 Extre Loding and Noey Lodin Colie                          Rs20=
8 from 11 august to 17 august 7 day
Conteri food                                                               Rs161=
If you are going Bus for Imri Nath then is last 100 Rs.......


“On my departure day, Mr Butt assembled the servants for the tipping ceremony. Ali Mohammad, Aziz, the gardener and the cook. ……….The Tonga roof sloped low. We had to lean forward to see the lake and the mountains. The town was awakening from minute to minute and the Tourist Reception Centre, when we got to it, was infernally alive. ‘ Three rupees ’ The Tongawalla said.
I paid two. The Tongawalla refused to touch the notes. I offered no more. He threatened me with his whip. I seized him by the throat. Aziz intervened  ‘He not  tourist .’  ‘ Oh, ’ said the Tongawalla. He dropped his whip and I released him. Our seats had now been secured and our bags placed below the tarpaulin on the roof of the bus. We shook hands with Aziz and Ali Mohammad and went inside.
‘ You do not worry about Tongawal, la sir. I settle . ’ said Aziz.
There were tears in his eyes. The engine started.
‘ You do not worry sahib. correct fare three rupees. I pay. ’ said Aziz.
The driver was blowing the horn.
‘ Correct fare. Morning fare sahib. Two rupees three rupees, what difference? Goodbye. Goodbye.’
I dug into my pockets.
‘ Don’t worry sahib. Goodbye. ’
Through the window, I pushed out some notes. He took them. Tears were running down his cheeks. Even at that moment, I could not be sure that he had ever been mine. ”

And Naipaul, with his sharp observations,  describes the life of lake dwellers ( Dal lake ) in such a manner as is easily identifiable for any person who has moved inside this lake. I quote :

(1 )
“ The hotel stood on one of the main boat lanes, the silent highways of the lake. In the morning the flotilla of grass laden boats passed, paddled by women sitting cross-legged at the stern, almost level with the water. ”

 “The clouds fell low over the mountains, sometimes in a level bank and sometimes shredding far into the valleys. The temple at the top of the Shankaracharya hill, one thousand feet above us, was hidden. We would think of the lonely Brahmin up there,  with his woollen cap and small charcoal brazier ( Kangri ) below his pinky brown blanket. ”

“ The lake was rich. It provided for all. It provided weeds and mud for the vegetable plots …………….. A boy twirled his bent pole in the water, lifted and he had a bundle of rich dripping weed. It provided fodder for animals. It provided reeds for thatching. It provided fish, so numerous in the clear water that these could be seen just below the steps of the busy Ghat……………….. On some days  the lake was dotted with fishermen who seemed to be walking on water: They stood erect and still on the edge of their barely moving boats, their tridents raised, their eyes as sharp as those of the kingfishers on the willows .”

In his Nobel Prize speech,  VS Naipaul defined his style as under. I quote him :

 "Both fiction and the travel-book form have given me my way of looking, and you will understand why for me all literary forms are equally valuable. It came to me, for instance, when I set out to write my third book about India – twenty-six years after the first – that what was most important about a travel book were the people the writer travelled among. The people had to define themselves. A simple enough idea, but it required a new kind of book; it called for a new way of travelling."

 And Naipaul remains a master of this craft that makes his characters speak for themselves. I am sure even his critics/detractors will continue to read his books.

( Avtar Mota )


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  1. Thanks for sharing this site, it is very informative for the business personals. Keep on continuing with this.I also provide this services plz visit my site. misting system Ecologic Technologies Misting System Kits are loaded with great features!

  2. Hi..It's really nice of you to share details about Hotel Leeward Srinagar. However, apart from it, there are plenty of hotels in Srinagar. One must travel to this beautiful city to experience warm hospitality and great food.

  3. thank you for sharing.. I stayed in this hotel when I was on a school excursion in the early 80s. Years later, read An Area of Darkness and was pleasantly surprised to hear Naipaul spent time here... felt so overwhelmed.. the hotel has character no doubt.. Is it still the same ? love to visit some day Insha Allah...

  4. thank you for sharing.. I stayed in this hotel when I was on a school excursion in the early 80s. Years later, read An Area of Darkness and was pleasantly surprised to hear Naipaul spent time here... felt so overwhelmed.. the hotel has character no doubt.. Is it still the same ? love to visit some day Insha Allah...

  5. Thank you for sharing. while reading one can visualize about the hotel liward and its wonderful staffs.


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