Life in Outside Clusters—Where Kashmiri Culture Warms Hearth and Hearts

KPs Throng Kheer Bhawani Temple – Photo: Abid Bhat

“In winters, when my father wears pheran, people get very curious about his attire. They sometimes say, ‘We were waiting for you to wear it this season.’”

 Dyuti Raina, a resident of Uttam Nagar in Delhi, lives in a cluster for a reason. “It might help us in preserving our culture,” she says.

Kashmiris living outside Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) have preserved their culture in the toughest of times. Be it unwanted circumstances or the desire for better economic opportunities, Kashmiris away from their land are fighting for their identity.

“It may sound stereotypical,” Dyuti says, “but one thing is for sure that one can take Kashmiris out of Kashmir, but not Kashmir out of Kashmiris.”

There are only two Kashmiri families living other than hers in the same locality. Dyuti’s family is living in Delhi for the last 30 years and she believes that people still do not know much about their culture. “For them,” she says, “we are just Pandits from Kashmir whom they assume to be vegetarians.”

A majority of Kashmiri Pandits are followers of Shaivism and are non-vegetarians.

Kashmiri Pandits have very different cultural practices from the people living in other parts of the country when it comes to culture and religious practices.

Dyuti still remembers an incident when one of her friends gave her a strange look while she was having fish and mutton in Prasad (an item served after pooja).

“Hindus here find it very amusing,” she says. “They say, ‘Oh my god! You call yourselves Brahmins?’” She opines that the Kashmiri Pandits living outside J&K are often stereotyped.

A good number of Kashmiri Pandits who migrated to other states believe that they are living here just for survival and the actual place where they belong, is Kashmir.

Giving an example of Pamposh Enclave, a Delhi neighbourhood largely dominated by Kashmir Pandits, Dyuti strongly believes that if Kashmiri migrants live together in large clusters, they can sustain their culture and rituals.

The thing that disturbs her the most is that many Kashmiri Pandits of her generation are drifting away from their culture and language. “A good number of Kashmiri Pandits are trying to instill Kashmiri values in their children, but I wonder if the same continues with the next generation.”

Other than Pamposh and few colonies in Faridabad, many Kashmiri migrants are scattered in different parts of Delhi and its neighbouring cities.

Shriya Bhat’s family is living in Noida for many years and they never faced any resistance from non-Kashmiris for following their rituals and customs. “I personally have never faced such a situation,” he says.

Shriya agrees with Dyuti that living together might help the migrants to inculcate their cultural values, but her parents have always tried to adhere to the traditional practices of their community.

“Some people are indifferent,” he says, “but at the same time many people are curious also, to know about our culture.”

Shriya’s family is living outside J&K for almost three decades now. “My parents tell me that many people used to have a lot of red meat when they were in Kashmir, but now because of different climatic conditions, people do not eat red meat very often.”

While talking about her family’s style of living, Shriya adds a pinch of humour. “In winters, when my father wears pheran, people get very curious about his attire. They sometimes say, ‘We were waiting for you to wear it this season.’”

Talking of carrying forward the culture and language to the coming generation, he says the surrounding matters a lot. “I have been to Kashmir a couple of times and everyone speaks Kashmiri there, which is not the case here in the National capital Region (NCR).”

Apart from Kashmiri Pandits, many Kashmiri Muslims are also living in other states of India for many years.

Nayaab Shahir Pandit’s father left Kashmir in 2000 and settled in the NCR when he was just two years old. “Initially,” he says, “we used to live in Daryaganj (a suburb in Old Delhi), it was a Muslim dominated area and my family witnessed a huge cultural amalgamation there. My father tells me that they used to have very simple Iftaar back in Kashmir, but now my family prepares iftaari just like people do here.”

For Nayaab, Kashmir is still a home away from home. He regularly visits his native hometown with his family. He asserts that Kashmir is very rich in culture and cuisine. “There are few things you can only get in Kashmir, such as Kashmiri Saag.” Though his family has adapted to the environment here, their heart still lies in Kashmir.

Similarly, a community that equally belongs to Kashmir and is still lesser known, is the community of Kashmiri Sikhs.

Navneet Kaur belongs to a Kashmiri Sikh family but was born and brought up in Punjabi Bagh area of Delhi. Although Kaur has never been to Kashmir, she gets nostalgic when she hears anyone talking about the place.

“Whenever my father comes across a Kashmiri, an end to end grin appears on his face,” she says cheerfully. “You can clearly see the never ending-bond of Kashmiriyat which is still intact.”

This brethren feeling binds all and sundry living outside their homeland. Not only they cherish their culture, but celebrate their unique identity, especially on the special occasions and festivals.

Faisal Wangnoo is living in Delhi since 1999 with his family. While he calls himself a Delhi boy, inside he is still a Kashmiri Delhi wala.

Apart from nostalgia, Faisal believes that there are many stereotypes attached to Kashmiris living outside Kashmir. “People ask me about Kashmir as if I am still living there.”

Faisal is of view that a large number of young Kashmiris are moving out of J&K in search of better opportunities and livelihood. But the shift is not always easy, especially for a Kashmiri.

“But it’s the Kashmiriyat that has helped the Kashmiris living outside Kashmir in preserving their culture,” he says. “The art and values which are integral to our culture are driving us, even outside Kashmir.”

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