Friday, October 21, 2011

The Man Who Would Be King- 1975

Truly, truly brilliant. It is so rare that I see a film that I wouldn't change, and I honestly can't think of a thing. Huston's films so often include that quintessential scene -- the one where his characters realize that they've lost everything, and respond with unbridled true character. Those who cry or bemoan the loss are beyond redemption. But those who can laugh in the face of disaster, who can ask forgiveness for the patently unforgivable -- they are the greatest of Huston's figures, and perhaps the greatest characters of cinema. Just as Bogart and Hepburn laugh while they lie in the bottom of a boat awaiting death, Michael Caine and Sean Connery face certain death in this film and respond with complete honesty and complete honor. For all of their lies and arrogant ambitions, they are still a pair of b*****ds you would love to know.

Which brings me to the two incredible performances. It is nearly impossible for such recognizable actors to fade into the guise of their characters. But Caine and Connery manage it, and with perfect aplomb. As best friends, they are perfectly inseparable, and their innate connection makes for one of the most affecting male friendships in history. Surrounded, with no reasonable hope in the world, Danny asks Peachy to forgive him for being "so bleeding high and so bloody mighty." And, of course, Peachy forgives him. These are men who sing boldly in the last moments of life. God bless John Huston.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Must be Autumn In Kashmir

Its autumn in Kashmir-
The season when heat of summer is buried under
the blanket of crisp leaves.
The red- russet chinar leaves must be scurrying down
the garbled junctions before the wind.
Criss crossed lanes must be wafting with
roasted chestnuts and children with running noses.
Smokey evening dusks must be hovering over
the purple hills; that pickle peddler must be calling too.
- Aanchaar maa ho!
The rich green pallete of summer must be turning into
mottled autumn hues of reds, oranges, golds, and brown
before leaves fall off the trees.The half reaped furrows
of John Keats "To Autumn" must be silently oodling some sleep.
The afternoon siesta under a meek sun!
Naked tulip and Poplar trees must be swaying its own
autumn wardrobe even as smug conifers stands "Evergreen".
 The celery must be out too, drying up on the walls by a loop.
It must be Autumn in Kashmir!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Habba Khatoon

Habba Khatoon the greatest kashmiri poetess of the sixteenth century, has been a source of many imaginative narratives, poems, plays, films, discursive essays and television serials. It is her charismatic personality and at the same time our historians’ inexcusable negligence that Habba Khatoon has been left as subject for un-academic and speculative debate as if she were a character of folk myth. As a corollary, Habba Khatoon is still shrouded in a multi-layered, almost impenetrable, shroud and a part of collective myth. The only authentic thing about her is a body of poetry (recently anthologized by Mr. Amin Kamil), that remains unparalleled to date not only for its lyrical sublimity but also for its popularity. No other poet in the Kashmiri language can excel her in representing common man’s longings, yearnings, nostalgia and romantic fervor in verse. The intensity of sentiments, brilliant imagery and ecstatic mellifluous rhythm make her lyrics universal in appeal, comparable to the greatest poetry in any other language. Our historians, chroniclers, literary critics, and professionals have exhibited an unpardonable nonchalance toward Habba Khatoon who choose to write in the vernacular. It was about two hundred years after her death that Abdul Wahab Shaiq (1765) for the first time mentioned her name (Habibah) in his history in Persian verse. He, however did not give any remarkable details about her life. It seems that Habba Khatoon’s life sank into oblivion soon after the fall of the Kashmiri Sultans. Other historians used their reckless conjecture in molding the story of a historical personality in such a way as suited their purpose. In recent years, an absurd, tough astounding, addition to the irresponsible conjectures has been made by Mr. Anis Kazmi whose oral statement was recorded by Dr Bashar Bashir. Mr Kazmi with reference to a chronicle entitled Gulistani Shahi (source unknown), says that Habba Khatoon hailed from the genteel of her time as her father was one Syed Baha-ud-Din and her mother was one Bibi Badi-Ul-Jamalata (Srinagar). A verse ascribed to Habba Khatoon has been quoted to support this new tale. We have always to bear in mind that the singers of various times have made several interpolation in the popular lyrics of Habba Khatton. In 1951, Late Jagannath Wali wrote a play, entitled Zoon, on the life of Habba Khatoon. Besides changing the events to his convenience, he composed a few songs and ascribed them to Haba Khatoon, the famous song in the form of a dialogue between Yousuf Shah Chak and Habba Khatoon is Wali’s own composition. Yousuf Swandrah che dramits chalith ti chukith rud maa wale lolioaay Zoon aiy paadshaom dul thaami thaav saafiy, taaphyiy karey lolioaay Of late, Amin Kamil’s Kulyati Habba Khatoon, an admirable attempt indeed to collect every lyric and tale ascribed to Habba Khatoon, too, does not reveal any thing authentic about the life of the epoch-making poetess. Similarly, Ghulam Rasool Bhat’s book, Habba Khatoon : Tarikh Ke Aine Main, adds only to the amorphous, contradictory and confusing statements. It is deplorable that TV film Habba Khatoon and Shafi Shauq’s script of 13 – episodes TV serial Habba Khatoon have also mislead the public by presenting figments of their own making. Since the process of distortion has reached it critical point, time has come for a serious reconsideration so that the bits of history are re-arrayed to reconstruct the profile of Habba Khatoon and the future generations are no more mislead by the tradesmen in learning. The most cogent historical narrative of Habba Khatoon emerges from a long poem in the form of a mathnavi composed by Ghulam Mohammad Hanafi (1867-1927) of Sopore. Hanafi has drawn upon a legend very popular in Kamraz and Gurez. The outline of the story is that Zoon or Habba Khatoon was a lovely daughter of Raja of Gurez. He was inundated by debts and owed also huge money of Hayaband, a trader of Lalahome village of Kamraz Being unable to repay him, the Raja gave his loving daughter in marriage to Hayaband’s son, names Aziz Lone. (A sizable population of Gurez is still of the Lone caste).
She was ill-treated by her in-laws and she gave vent to her suffering in many a poignant lyric. Meanwhile the king of the time Sultan Yousuf Shah Chak, who also belonged to Dardistan, saw her and was eventually captivated by her beauty and melody. He listened to the tale of her suffering and decided to marry her. Yousuf Shah Chak got her divorced from her husband, married her and took her way to his court. Yousuf Shah Chak, at that time, was already father of a grown up son, Yaqub Shah Chak. Although romantic in nature and given to pleasure – mongering. Yousuf shah could not enjoy peace as he was constantly at strife with the mughals who were adamant to annex Kashmir. He ws greatly consoled by Habba Khatoon who, besides being a poet, possessed prowess in music. The king was arrested by Akbar and then sent on forced exile to Biswak Bihar. Habba Khatoon languished in separation from Sultan and composed several heart – wrenching lyrics which she sang while wandering from village to village.It was Abdi Rather of Tsandhaar (Pampore) who gave shelter to the lovelorn Queen Poet. The narrative is almost entirely different from the story popularized by those writers who, without any documentation and research, wrote about her for various considerations.
The above life sketch of Habba Khatoon was supported by one of the most profound researcher of the late twentieth century, Prof. Mohi-us-din Hajani who recorded the narrative of Mala Habib Hajan. In his extremely valuable collections of essays in folk lore, luki ras, Prof. Hajani has not only refuted the officials version of Habba Khatoon’s life but also produced some thought provoking evidences in favour of the version widely popular among the folks of north Kashmir. The present excursus is an attempt to highlight some more irrefutable evidence to prove that the great romantic poetess hailed from Gurez and not from Pampore. Dardistan, being the watershed where the Central Asian languages and culture came into contact with the Indo-Aryan languages and culture, retains many archaic linguistic expressions that cannot be ignored while searching for the genealogical kinship of the Kashmiri language. A glossary of such archaic words, now obsolete in Kashmiri proper spoken in the Valley, is urgently required. Similarly, many places of north Kashmir have retained names that besides being antique, speak volumes for being intimately related to myths, legends and history of Kashmir. Some of the names are profoundly symbolic in nature, for example, Harmwakh, Krishan Ganga, Kanzalwan, Tistarnar, Madhumati, Arin, Burzibaal, sharda, Pushkar etc. All these places reflect the fact that the mountains terrain of the north-west of Kashmir was dear to the sages and hermits of the past as its suited them for spiritual meditation.

Courtesy: Various sources

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Koshur Wazwaan- Poetry of taste buds

The eerie silence of a quiet September morning was broken. Waza the time-honored
Kashmiri cooks had arrived. It was my cousins marriage. Maaenz raat- the day when all the preparations for impending three days of gastronimical feast is set up. Amazed on seeing the man management of the group the head Waza (Vouste) without ever laying any orders got things started with supinate ease. Wood was re-cut as the first thing, logs were too large as he started taking stock of the things around. Wazwaan is cooked in traditional spices and the waza's are very particular to have them right. Else they can get really fussy over it. It is said in folklores of every Kashmiri household that "waaerr zaliin" is the toughest part. Not for its combustibility but for the preparation. Once the process starts it's a cakewalk from then on for both: the hosts and the waza's.

Meanwhile, the soon to be gluttony arrived. In hooves the sheep were one after the other bought down. Later large chunks of mutton were shifted to the waza's waerr where with utmost precision the pieces were relaid. You could say that even with clog eyes the waza would know where to hit his sharp ground butchers knife on the mutton dollops. It was a sight to behold. Lunch on a maennz raat is served with what is called as "Chervann Batte", remarkably tasty and fresh. Chervann Batte is a mixture of leftover kidneys and liver with some fresh vegetables like Spinach cooked deliciously over red spices. Chervann Batte is loved by all and is a personal look forward regale for me on weddings.

By afternoon the waza's were well on their way. An experienced household member is attached to the waza's. He acts as a mediator between waza's and the host (read Yaezz mann). It is he who decides when the lunch or dinner is to be served with the waza taken into confidence. And of course in addition to jollifying on the Wazwaan every now and then. "Talsa ath Rogan josh'as hav te nonne keoth chus." "Tabak Maaz chu venni thoda turunn", are very frequent lines used.

Evening was hot footing with the waza's pouncing on the mutton with their wooden wedges producing a thumping voice of musical ballad. Round mutton balls mixed with enormous creamy fat were laid all over. The would be: Rista's and Goshtabas. Though there is no count of the dishes that can be served in a wazwaan but usually Seven traditional dishes are a must. Rogan josh is tender lamb cooked over thin red gravy with butter oozing. Tabak Maaz is Lamb ribs fried and served as an appetizer. Daniwal Korma consists of thick rich mutton gravy cooked with fresh coriander while as Rista and Goshtaba are small and large round mutton balls. Goshtaba is simmered over yoghurt.