From ‘That Home in Our Heart: An Allegory of a Struggle Against Forgetting in Kashmir’

By Muzamil Jaleel

[…] He couldn’t find solace in anything, so he tried to refresh his own memory, remembering home while at home. He wished they had a word like hiraeth. In Wales, hiraeth is a longing for home, though its real meaning is much more about missing home. They say it can even be a yearning for something that we know may not exist anymore. It’s perhaps about a time, an idea, a people whose past, present and future are conjoined. After all, home isn’t just the space within the four walls of a house.

In his diary, he had written all such words that described this emotion, this anguish. In Portuguese, saudade captures this yearning, and toska in Russian. Nabokov couldn’t translate toska into English. He couldn’t find a word that “renders all the shades of toska.” He explained it as “a sensation of great spiritual anguish, a dull ache of the soul, a longing.” In German, it is Sehnsucht, morriña in Spanish and perhaps tizita in Amharic.

He has been looking for an exact word to describe this acute homesickness, which happens while you are home and aware that the home may not exist anymore. He knew there isn’t any such word that embodies Kashmir’s collective feeling about home. He didn’t know if his mother tongue had such a word. He hasn’t been able to find one. For centuries, his sweet lyrical mother tongue, Koshur, had been kept out of schools, blocked out of trade and taken out of government and private transactions. He knew that it has survived only on the tongue since time immemorial: most Kashmiris don’t know how to read and write Koshur.

[…] We need to picture the shapes of our faces, our mannerisms, our idiosyncrasies and our attire. We need to preserve the oral cookbooks of our mothers. We need to profile our shrines, keep record of the wee-hour chants of Awrad, the ritual of prayer rhymed aloud. We need to map our villages, our cities, our landscape, our rivers, our meadows and valleys. We need to document our streets, our markets, our bakeries and our perfume shops. We need to remember the kalaams of Sufis, sung with the comforting melody of the saz-e-Kashmir, our own version of the santoor, the sitar and the dhukra. Our ancient text refers to its 180 melodies; 130 are already lost. Our saz-e-Kashmir is going silent, too.

[…] We will write our tales, the tales of our forefathers. We will preserve all our ‘Suffering Moses’. If we are prevented from writing, we won’t let our nimble fingers forget how to tie the knots of the silken threads to weave our memory into our beautiful carpets. Our memory will be stored in the talim of our weavers. We will memorise our home, hide it in our hearts, and pass it on. It will survive even if we don’t.

Photo: Kashmiri woman spins pashmina wool by David De Vleeschauwer

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