By Moin Qazi
O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain Taqwa [God-consciousness]
– (The Qur’an, Al-Baqarah: 183)
Religious fasting traditions- from Ramadan to Ekadasi to Yom Kippur and Lent -are meant to unburden believers from day-to-day compulsions, helping them replenish their spirituality, remember the poor, give up bad habits, make amends for moral deficiencies and get closer to their conscience. The most prominent among these spiritual fasting customs is Ramadan. Islam does not have a tradition of monasticism. Instead, observant Muslims become ascetics by seeking sacred abstemiousness during Ramadan every year.
Fasting(“Sumoo”, derived from the Arabic root of “Saama” and Syriac, “Sawma.”) means “to refrain” – and not only is it abstaining from eating, drinking , smoking and sex , but all forms of immoral actions including talking about others behind their backs, or indulging in impure or unkind thoughts. Fasting, like prayers, is an essentially solitary act; it represents a personal relationship each one of us has with God. When fasting, Muslims have one meal before sunrise, called sahur-the pre-dawn meal -together, and share another meal with friends and family after sunset, called iftar-the fast- breaking meal. The fast is actually much longer than what everyone normally perceives .It commences at the first ray of dawn, or, as it is said in the Qur’an, “when the white thread of day becomes distinct from the blackness of night.”
During Ramadan, the Muslim communities across the far corners of the world are unified by one food: the date, one of the earliest cultivated crops and an ancient icon of the Arabia, where the thick-trunked date palm is a symbol of hospitality, rest and peace.it is recorded that Prophet Muhammad always broke the fast with dates and water.
Fasting during Ramadan is obligatory for all able-bodied Muslims from when they reach the age of religious observance. Those who are exempt from fasting are those who are sick, the elderly, those suffering from a mental illness, and those who are travelling long distance .Menstruating and pregnant women are also exempt. So are breastfeeding mothers. However, the exemption has a caveat that those who skip the fast have to make up for the lost days after Ramadan. But if a person is not able to fast at all – particularly if that is for health reasons – he can compensate and partake of the holy month’s blessings by feeding a needy person for each day he does not fast (fidiya, or “expiation”).
Ramadan is a commemoration of the descent of the word of God, the Qur’an, from heaven to the earth. Just as the word of God has come down, the word of supplicants goes up to God more vigorously and efficaciously in Ramadan than at any other time.
The most significant hallmark of the month of Ramadan is the Night of Destiny, Night of Value or Night of Measure: Lailat al Qadr, in Arabic. According to the Qur’an, angels descend from heaven on this special night -most important, the archangel Gabriel — bringing peace and divine presence into the world. Prophet Muhammad did not mention exactly when the Night of Power would be, although most scholars believe it falls on one of the odd-numbered nights of the final ten days of Ramadan.
The Qur’an says:
“The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah’s permission, on every errand:
Peace… This until the rise of morn! “(Q97)
Better than thousand months. A thousand months are equivalent to 83 years and 4 months. The importance of this night is also mentioned in hadith, which are the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad as remembered by his companions:
“Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.” (Sahih Bukhari Vol 1, Book 2:34).
Ramadan is always a very amazing month .We undertake a month long spiritual odyssey that is meant to rejuvenate us, both physically and morally. It enables us to detach from worldly pleasures to invest our time in intense prayer, charity and spiritual discipline and focus on our deeds, thoughts and actions. Every Ramadan, we undergo illuminating and enriching experiences that provide valuable lessons in understanding life and ourselves better. The extremity of the test reminds us of the fragility of human life and is meant to foster a closer relationship with God.
Over the years, the experience has been life-changing for me. I learnt to be disciplined; started feeling empathetic towards the poor, as Ramadan taught me how it feels to be less fortunate. Every year, we gain something substantial, as the entire spiritual gymnastic nurtures our soul, leaving us like a computer reformatted or an engine overhauled.
I remember the early years of fasting when my mother would recount her childhood stories about Ramadan –how the table at sunset would be full of delicacies; how she and her siblings would hold handfuls of food in front of their mouths, waiting for the cue from my grandfather to eat. At the end of the month of fasting, he would sacrifice a lamb, in the name of God, and feed it to the poor.
The first time I fasted was when I was attending school away from home. Marching up to the man in charge of the cafeteria, I fully expected to be rebuffed when I asked for food to take back to my dorm for a predawn breakfast. But he just looked me in the eyes and asked what I would like to eat. Had I not been so stunned by his acceptance, I might have asked for a table full of treats. I fortified myself by hearty food and sealed the fast with a full glass of fruit juice. The fast seemed interminable and intolerable because, as every Muslim would confess, no matter how much food or water or juice you pour into yourself at dawn, it is never enough to drown the body’s yearnings until sunset.
Later that night, nibbling on the meat sandwich, I realized, ”I’m fasting for Ramadan!” For the first time, I was doing something that wasn’t primarily for myself or for parents or for good grades. By fasting, I was doing something for God- that which would bring me closer to the creator and sustainer of all existence .it is said that it’s the only Islamic practice that’s invisible to an observer.
Later in college, on Saturday nights, other Muslim students and I would take the college van to a pancake house at 4 a.m. I told my non-Muslim friends, who always accompanied me to dinner in the dining hall at sunset, how the entire holy month of Ramadan was about feeling spiritually charged and elevated despite the hunger and deprivation.
The fasting ritual is an eagerly awaited interlude for utilizing the abstinence from food, drink and other indulgences to concentrate on prayer, meditation and worship. This, in turn, encourages greater reflection on one’s life and appreciation for resources we sometimes take for granted. It teaches us about patience, self restraint, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God.
The act of fasting for spiritual prowess makes us more conscious, not just of food habits but of how we think, behave and interact throughout the day. Fasting does not mean Muslims retreat from their daily chores; rather they are encouraged to continue their normal routine. This is the real challenge, and fasting helps us hone our patience and endurance because, by refraining from consumption throughout the day, we learn the benefit of refraining from gratifying each of our desires in the moment.
Each fasting day during Ramadan is a trial on the body and our spiritual resolve. Removing the regular comforts from daily routine is intended to focus the mind on spirituality, prayer and charity. By fasting, we cut ourselves off from the temptations and distractions of our busy, hectic, materialistic lives and try attaining “taqwa”, or “piety” or “God-consciousness”. With a decaffeinated, empty stomach, and a thirst that is difficult to tolerate, this act of fasting connects us to someone else.
Our fasting draws us to the story of a woman in Somalia who has been walking for miles in brutal temperature, with hot and dust-filled wind blowing in her face, to fetch firewood and water; successive droughts have scorched and ravaged her land, her body, and her children. She’ll thank God, if they all make it alive to the feeding centre. The baby she is carrying no longer gets milk from her breast; she feels him shrinking in her arms as she walks. Her other children, languorous and emaciated, are trailing her. The mother keeps repeatedly telling them that they must put their trust in God and keep moving. One can understand her thirst as she utters the words of prayer with every precious drop of water she goes without to give to her children for their survival.
Our act of fasting brings empathy for her that is greater than any ordinary day. We remember her when our head would go dizzy with thirst after running out on a simple errand in triple-digit heat. We can step back into our air-conditioned refuge; she can’t. We won’t complain of our exhaustion from too little sleep because we know she won’t find a sheltering place to rest in the harsh landscape. We’re hungry, but I can break my fast in a celebratory mood when the day is finished; we’ll take a cooling sip of clean, filtered water and literally feel it splash down in my empty gut at sundown. As we feel our body reviving, we are reminded that the Somali woman’s fast has been going on since well before Ramadan, and it will continue past. It is her way of life for years on end .For her “fasting” is not a choice, for her hunger is part of daily life.
As we slice up exotic fruits to refresh our families after fasting, we keep seeing this poor woman. How can we set a table with melons, dates, rice, other lavish goodies and dollops of dainty creams when she has none? How can we keep stocking up on provisions featuring a variety of so many alluring and exquisite foods, such as sweetmeats, spices, savouries and sugary drinks, with which to break our daily fasts, without thinking of the woman’s broken heart when she has to tell her children she has nothing for them; the crops failed, the livestock died, and food prices have shot so high that they are a luxury she can hardly afford. .She has no way to feed them. The suffering of these unlucky ones reminds us to be grateful for our fortunes.
At times we don’t realize how hard and coarse our hearts have become. The absence of regular and consistent times for contemplation and self-reflection has made us insensitive to the suffering around us. The pursuit of complacency has become our goal rather than the pursuit of contentment and we sacrifice things that would bring us everlasting comfort in pursuit of those things that simply give us the facade of comfort. The empathy for the suffering of those less fortunate people around us, created by the act of fasting, is only worth something to them — and to us — if we do something about it.
The emphasis on enduring the fast stimulates us to move beyond simply the physical aspects of it and reach out in the direction of a spiritual fast. It’s not just about mortification of the flesh. It’s about refraining from complaining, a fast from thinking ill of others, a fast from coarse language and harsh speech, a fast that’s focus is not on food or drink, but how the absence of those things leads towards the development of a strong heart and soul. That’s the fast that we should strive for – one that moves beyond not feeding our bodies but feeding our souls. The essence of Ramadan is to become humble, simple and free from ill-will, anger, meanness and hate. It is a one-month refresher course from which we can emerge as the greatest version of ourselves. It is a month of penance, peace, forgiveness, atonement and reconciliation.
I pray that Ramadan gets into our hearts and minds and makes us embrace all shades of mankind with dignity, respect and care acknowledging the diverse swath of traditions and cultures.
The greatest lesson every Ramadan teaches us is indeed the wisdom expressed in the Qur’an, Al-Hujurat:
“O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. The noblest of you, in sight of God, is the best in conduct. God Knows and is Aware of everything you do.”(Q49:13)
Age of Enlightenment: Early Greek Philosophy
By Amir Suhail Wani
All great philosophies and philosophers of the world have been those who made man premier of their teachings. The first entity that man encounters in this boundless universe is his own self. Centuries before, Socrates, who was influenced by Sophism, but was not a Sophist’, asserted that the real subject of man’s knowledge is the man himself. As Alfred Weber accentuates:-
“He [Socrates] placed the study of moral man and of the duties of the citizen in the very centre of education” Despite his bent of mind towards scepticism in regards of cosmogony he was not sceptic towards the knowledge of human self.
Thus the phrase “Know Thyself”, as it stands inscribed in the temple of Delphi, reflects the man-centeredness of Socrates. His greatest contribution lied in moving from Protagoras’s individual and subjective man to objective and universal “Human”. Plato, a disciple of Socrates and the author of “The Phaedrus”, “The Symposium”, “Dialogues” “The Republic” and others, emerged as the next towering figure in Greek philosophy. He made extensive use of Allegories and expressed his ideas in the form of dialogues. His most important concept is one of idealism. He believes that the universe, as it appears to us is rather an illusion and the reality lies in idea. His philosophy was deeply influenced by geometry and he made extensive use of geometrical facts in formulating his “world-view”. Thus Platonic philosophy is the science of ideas, enshrined in geometrical lexicon. In platonic pyramid, man is the end of nature, and the idea the end of man. In his view, the highest end lies in man’s most perfect likeness to God. But then he resembles God with abstractions like “Absolute Justice” or “Truth”, which spirals the whole issue back to idealism. Thus Plato’s philosophy and his concept of man, despite its own legacy suffered a heavy criticism. It considered man as the measure of everything and rejected the existence of external universe out rightly. This concept could have been an ideal playfield for idealists or for those who held the views of scepticism. But for millions of conscious people who pondered upon this paradox found Platonic claims to be vague.
Another dexterous philosopher of this period was Aristotle (Born 385 B.C). His works in included both theoretical sciences like theology, mathematics as well as practical sciences like ethics, politics etc. One of the nuclear doctrines of Aristotle is quadruple of “Matter”, “Idea”, “Movement” and “Final cause”. In other words his entire system is founded on “Trinity of Potentiality, movement and actuality”. To him every being is a combination of form and substratum or idea and matter. Aristotelian picture of human essence is beautifully encapsulated in following paragraph.
“Nous”, the principle of divine reason makes human soul an intermediate being between the animals and God. In sensibility perception arid memory, it resembles the animal; in reason it is like God. This dual aspect constitutes its originality as a moral being. There can be no morality without the coexistence of animal and intellectual principles. The animal is not a moral being, because it is devoid of intellect. Nor can there be any question of morality in case of God, who is a pure thought.
Hence morality is the distinguishing characteristic of human nature, and the end of human life consists neither in one sided development of animal functions nor in changing man into god, but the complete and harmonious expansion of our dual essence’. In this sequence there emerges another figure in the form of Epicurus and his “Epicurean school of thought’, which deemed pleasure (Ataraxy) as the ultimate ideal of life”.
This system was simple and anti-mystical in nature and formalism. Much of the existing knowledge of Epicureanism comes from Lucretius’ poem on “Nature of things”. Epicurus divided philosophy into three parts “Canonic”, dealing with rules for finding the truth, “’physics’, concerned with the nature of world and “ethics”, concerned with morality”.
“Stoicism’’, which was collectively formulated upon the teachings of number of philosophers like Zeno, Seneca, Chrysippus, Soli and others was not merely philosophy but a theistic system raised upon the ruins of polytheism or a kind of compromise between theism and atheism. Stoicism concerned itself with the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom. This triangular philosophy of ‘God, man and universe’ forms the crux of stoic philosophy. They too, like Heraclitus believe that heat or energy is the principle of life. But in stoicism, man occupies a pedestal as Mired glibly puts it “Man is to God-universe what the spark is to the flame, the drop to the ocean”.
Confining ourselves to Greeks, after
Stoicism there ensued periods of “Academic scepticism”, and “Sensationalistic scepticism” both of which stressed upon the uncertainty of knowledge resulting from position, distance and other spatial temporal relations existing between the observers and observed.
The “Neo-Platonist” school of thought presented a picture of God that resembled too closely to Islamic one, with marginal differences. To put it in more subtle form, “He the holy one is beyond the beyond and again beyond the beyond”. And as Alfred Weber eloquently sums it “the God of
Neo-Platonism is superior even to idea and therefore eludes the thought”. Neo-Platonism upholds the belief of reunion of ego (Man) with Super Ego (God).Their chief belief in regards the existence of man is that “personality” is not the only form of existence, but all individuals (creatures) are constantly driven towards the creator. is the same thought which is enshrined in most of the schools of thought of Islamic mysticism and has been adored by Islamic mystics as their chief tenet. Neo-Platonists further hold that each form of life emulates the higher form is “Spiritual evolution”, whereby life is ever dissatisfied by its “present” also echoes in Mathnavi of Rumi in most profound form. . The basic premise of Mathnavi is that the souls in devolution from God realized the pain of egress and became restless to reunite with their source i.e. God. is sentence forms the diagonal for the whole matrix of Rumi’s philosophy. In “Neo-Platonist theory’; man is seen as the part of divine whole and of celestial origin. They believe human souls were first divine souls, conscious of God alone. Before coming to world of nature souls were in world of command where they were intimately close to God. After coming to nature spirits got bridled by earthly elements, particularly by their bodies that detached them from divine world. “Neo-Platonism” believes that it is an inexplicable fact that how and why spirits came about to suffer from egress after being in a state of union with God, but they are in perpetual motion towards their origin-the God. Subsequent to this era eventuated the era of Christian theology that was predominantly the echo of Platonic thought. e concept of man, as was presented by Christianity is discussed somewhere else . Here only a passing reference has been made to maintain continuity of the subject. Continuing its passage via corridors of time, philosophy continued to assume forms and philosophers continued to enrich the subject with their astute and manifold ideas. Each new era led to the synthesis of advanced and more encompassing theories. However the “Questions” remained same, only the methods changed and with changing methods the questions were answered with more precision and accuracy.
Out of copious philosophers that emerged in ensuing phases some assumed prominence in comparison to others. Despite all those had their unique “world-view”, but to discuss them all is out of question in this meagre work piece. The next important person of our interest is Aurelius Augustinus (Alias, St. Augustine).He united in his soul a deep love of Christ and an ardent zeal for philosophy. As Bertrand Russell puts it: – “He is the first of a long line whose purely speculative views are influenced by the necessity of agreeing with Scripture”. In words of George Patrick:- “ The tendency towards the complete spiritualization of the soul and to a decided and uncompromising Dualism, already seen in Plato, culminated in the teaching of Saint Augustine and through him was handed on to medieval church and to modern thought”.
The philosophical lexicon of Augustine is laden with myriad issues of thrilling, instigating and thought provoking nature. His concepts on time, vice and virtue God and hereafter are worth study. His thought, which in its broadest structure was a synthesis of Christian theology, Platonic thought and Jewish traditions influenced the evolution of philosophy to a great extent. But one of the major drawbacks, as it can be called in his thought was the theory of transference of sin from parents to progeny, which indeed, he has borrowed from Christian school of thought. He believes, on part of his religious obligation that:-
“If our first parents had not sinned, they would not have died, but, because they sinned, all their posterity dies. Eating the apple brought not only natural death, but eternal death, i.e., damnation”.
Augustine concerns man to the faculties of passiveness, receptiveness and contemplation. Dexterously, as Alfred accentuates:-
“The inner light, which reveals to the thinker God and the eternal types of things, seems to him grow dimmer and dimmer, the more convinced he becomes of the fall and radical corruption of human nature”.
This doctrine catastrophically reduced the status of man from that of a divine ambassador to that of an amoral biped. It created a veil of diabolic nature between the man and his reality. The “fall of man”, as it is called in Christian lexicon is not a belief, but a dogma, a dogma that kept and keeps man in oblivion. The further ramifications of this doctrine will be dealt separately then.
One thing that must be borne in mind that middle ages, synonymic with dark ages in Europe were predominantly dominated by the
Church. Outside the church, there lied no salvation and all scientific and philosophic progress was stagnated by the seal of Christian dogmas.
The persecution suffered by numerous scientists at the hands of pops and church bear witness to the intellectual bankruptcy of Europe during Middle Ages. Given such dismal state, there was hardly any scope to ponder upon the very nature of man. The political anarchy, religious dogmatism, social instability, economic chaos and class conflict no space to fathom the depths of human existence. It was only with the renaissance and scientific movement that intellectual pursuits gathered momentum and a new science and philosophy emerged out of the pitch dark tunnels of history. Numerous treatises affirm the fact that when Europe was engulfed in deep gloom, the minarets of Spain, Damascus and other Muslim territories were illuminating and irradiating the crimson rays of wisdom and intellect.
DAL LAKE: GAREEB KI JORU
By Shabbir Aariz
It was quite amazing to learn about a seminar organized the other day by the Institute of Engineers in collaboration with Jammu and Kashmir Lakes and Waterways Development Authority supposedly pertaining to Dal Lake conservation and its dwellers. It was as usual use of adjectives and phraseology like improvement of lake hydrology and hydraulics, removal of man-made bunds, preserving its eco-sensitivity and rehabilitation, lacking not only the will to improve anything but the passion that is cardinal to any change, seemed missing. Such events sound more as playing to the gallery than an endeavor out of conviction as much of the fire is from the insiders who make noises about it. Agencies responsible for preservation of Dal’s pristine glory have all along failed it. Otherwise this vast sheet of water and its shore line originally spread over an area of more than twenty-two square kilometers would have not shrunk to an about fifteen over the years. The Lake though guarded by the misty peaks of Pirpanchal mountains and being integral to tourism and recreation is not only encompassed by boulevard and fore shore road but also the vultures clothed by riches and influence who have vandalized ecologically rich ecosystem. The untreated sewage from peripheral localities, settlements and house boats responsible for influx of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Lake has never been properly addressed. Big thanks to the vote bank politics that has been chiefly responsible for the authorities to look the other way while encroachments are made and laws sent to winds. It is not less disheartening and shameful to note that there are people in the west who are genuinely concerned about Dal’s plight and even have been extending financial assistance for its preservation but we have failed and let them down. The Lake presently is Custodia Legis (in the custody of the law) by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court following a Public Interest Litigation in the year 2001 for its preservation. The mighty state is the main respondent in the case pending before the Srinagar wing of the High Court. Besides appointing a senior advocate as an amicus curia to represent the Lake’s interest, a number of directions have been issued by the court and a number of affidavits filed by the state so far. A period of about two decades has shown little progress and compliance of the directions of the court and huge funds spent except for a few cosmetic measures like de-weeding and establishing sewage treatment plants, some of which due to the lack of proper maintenance, find their way to the lake for its waste. There is even a detailed project report that was prepared following the court’s direction but hardly any substantial progress has been made on that report or its implementation. It is worthwhile to mention that one of the Chief Justices personally inspected the Lake to have a better grasp of the problems faced by this second largest lake of the state, jewel in the crown of the state and Lake of Flowers but yet it is craving for real justice. Though it has become fashionable to speak about Dal bereft of sincerity like GAREEB KI JORU, MOHALAY BHAR KI BABI (poor- man’s wife is easy to comment upon), one can’t be oblivion of the fact that the stakes are not ordinary. It is an identity, a heritage, a history and the glory that not many people and parts of the world are as fortunate as we are and proud to boast about. According to the Hindu mythology, area close to it known as Isaber (Ishber) was the residence of goddess Durga. Mughals developed the precincts of the Dal with sprawling gardens and pavilions as pleasure resorts to enjoy its healthiness. Thereafter, it has remained the star attraction for nature lovers, tourists, historians, trekkers, writers, poets, movie makers and many more. It has also remained a source of livelihood for generation after generation. Enormous is the kindness and countless are the bounties of this unmatched treasure. It, therefore, remains the prime concern of all the stake holders from the lake lovers all over the world to the dwellers, shikara wallas, houseboat owners; of whom about five hundred houseboats are of Victorian era making them part of the heritage. It is also an important part of a larger environmental debate. It is time to introspect in penance, seek forgiveness from the Creator and conscience, put our heads together and draw up our sleeves before it is too late though already very late. As such a pledge and an honest effort of all the stake holders—– to whom none of us is an exception—– is required to restore and preserve this gift of nature before the nature’s wrath is unleashed on all. Nature follows its own rules and is ruthless in executing them. When we fight nature, the nature fights back with more powerful weapon and registers the ultimate victory. Let nobody test its patience.
(A leading lawyer and eminent poet, author contributes a weekly column. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Saga of Francis Younghusband’s first arrival in Kashmir and his Kashmiri saviours
By Bhushan Parimoo
The name Younghusband though sounds strange, however, is not unfamiliar to Kashmiris. Well entrenched in the contemporary history of Kashmir, Francis Younghusband was a British Resident in Kashmir for two years between 1906 and 1908 when the state was under the rule of the third Dogra ruler, Maharaja Pratap Singh. Their friendship and personal bonhomie is legendary and deservingly finds place in the recent history of Kashmir.
Younghusband’s fame, however, is not only preserved in him being the resident in Kashmir at the beginning of the 20th century but in his other achievements as an extraordinary explorer, mountaineer, spiritual writer and a military spy who led the famous British Military Expedition into Tibet in 1903.
Famed for his extraordinary forays into Far East and Central Asia, Francis Younghusband was also the first to cross the Pamirs and Hindukush in 1889, the first to scale Muztagh Pass at 19,000 feet above the sea level in 1887 and the first to photograph the Mount Everest with definite and identifiable pictures in 1904.
Before serving as the Resident in Kashmir, Younghusband also served as the British Commissioner in Tibet. Long after he left Asia, Younghusband also had a distinguished term as the President of the Royal Geographical Society and headed the World Spiritual Council for Peace & Harmony.
Younghusband first arrived in Kashmir in 1887, nearly six decades after William Moorcroft, the first British to do so in 1823. It was no easy time for him. And when Moorcroft finally left Kashmir via the Jhelum Valley he was stopped by a semi- independent chief near Uri to pay the custom duty of a heavenly sum of Rupees 15,000 which Moorcroft denied. This forced him to retreat and finally he reached Punjab by a different route but not before he paid the custom duty on his caravan that was fixed at Rupees 500.
When Younghusband first arrived in Kashmir in 1887, it was already autumn and valley’s glory had already begun to depart. At the time Younghusband had no other set of clothing than what he was clad in. He was clothed in long Central Asian dress that was worn out. His boots were in no better shape. However, the inner and under portion of his dress was of European origin.
Younghusband arrived in Kashmir after a journey of nearly 4,000 miles from Peking in China.
He crossed into Kashmir at Baltistan from the Muztagh Pass that was nothing but a rocky precipice of hard ice slope. Doing so, he and his five servants and other caravan men slid down the cliff holding the turbans and waist-clothes and belts tied together. Fortunately, Younghusband managed to carry with him the little baggage he had brought for himself from the other side of the Pass. Even his roll of bedding and personal kettle was thrown down the mountain slope in the hope that it could be collected safely only if it were not lost in the bowls of the mountain crevices during the tumble.
Having thus arrived in the territorial domains of Kashmir, Younghusband at the time had no money and no tent to cover his head. En route he had slept in the open from one side of the Himalayas to the other with funds completely consumed.
Hence, the first thing Younghusband did, after arriving in Baltistan, was to borrow money from Pandit Radha Krishen Koul, the then Governor of Baltistan.
Pandit Koul was a very popular and respected official of the State and later for his impeccable character , upright public standing and moral integrity was promoted to hold the office of the Chief Judge in the State during the rule of Maharaja Pratap Singh. Besides Koul, there was another native of the state who became integral to Younghusband’s life as an explorer.
After all the ordeal of crossing the Pass, Younghusband had the services of only one servant who cooked for him and did all other sundry jobs for his Master which even a dozen employees would have shirked to do. In all emergencies, this faithful servant carried all the load and evidently he became the most faithful and most trusted of the servants Younghusband ever had in his life. His name was Sukar Ali. A native of Ladakh, Shukar Ali was an Argon. His father was a Yarkandi man who had married a Ladakhi woman. Younghusband first picked Shukar Ali in Yarkand in Chinese Turkestan.
Shukar Ali was a cheerful person, often happy- go-lucky and an easy going man who though was careless at times. Always found laughing, he dealt with other caravan men of Younghusband’s entourage with great felicity. He always performed the hardest part of the duties and was ever ready to do the most dangerous piece of work, be it in the barren wastes of the Pamirs or the Karakorum or Hindukush.
Shukar Ali was the only Ladakhi who dared to cross the Muztagh Pass. An incident recalled here, by the present writer, of this daring feat must stand as a tribute to this brave but unsung man. It is but only appropriate to narrate it in Younghusband’s own words:
“After crossing the Pass we had to cross a very full and rapid stream straight out of a glacier. Immense blocks of ice were breaking off the glacier and floating down the stream. The bottom was also partly ice and partly boulder.
“Shukar Ali, with his usual readiness volunteered to carry me across this stream on his back. But in mid-stream he slipped. I was precipitated into icy water, while Shukar Ali, in his frantic efforts to regain his own footing, unknowingly kept pressing me under the water.
“We both eventually gained the opposite bank all right”.
As a result of this incident Younghusband was wringing wet with ice-cold water on every stitch he had on and the situation became all the more difficult when he had no substitute clothes. Younghusband almost froze in the chill and cold. It took some time before any respite and rise in temperature followed that brought him some relief.
Having known Shukar Ali’s dedication and skills needed to survive high altitudes, Younghusband, after the conquest of Muztagh Pass, again sought his services. Two years later in 1889, the Government again sent Younghusband to explore all the northern frontier of Kashmir from Ladakh and the Karakorum Pass to the Pamirs and Hunza. And yet a third time, Shukar Ali accompanied Younghusband when he was sent on a political mission to the Chinese Turkestan and the Pamirs in 1890-1891. On this occasion also both were faced with a near death experience of coming under a snow avalanche.
After Younghusband’s 1891 expedition in the Pamirs, there followed a long silence between him and Shukar Ali. For 17 long years, there was no contact between them. However, in the intervening period another pioneer of the Central Asian and Himalayan expeditions, the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin employed Shukar Ali in his Tibet expeditions.
However, following Younghusband’s appointment as the Resident, Kashmir, Shukar Ali suddenly appeared at the Srinagar Residency after he had walked 240 miles across the treacherous mountain stretches and passes from Ladakh to Srinagar.
Shukar Ali appeared before Younghusband at the Residency in the same old coat the latter had given him 17 long years ago while crossing Muztagh Pass. The sight moved Younghusband and symbolically assured him of the devotion of his former faithful servant. During their meeting Shukar Ali greeted Younghusband in all possible manners.
Younghusband, in his book ‘Kashmir’ writes: “He kept jumping up and down, first kissing my feet, then touching my coat, then salaaming, and all the time ejaculating an unceasing flow of speech, calling me by every affectionate term.”
After this initial exciting encounter, Shukar Ali next pulled beneath his loose ravine native garments a wooden bowl, a bag full of sweets, a pair of goat horns for Younghusband and his wife. But the special gift Shukar Ali carried were the multi-colured small stones which he had collected from Tibet during some of his earlier sojourns he had made, for their little daughter.
Shukar Ali during this visit stayed with the Younghusband at the Residency. For all obvious reasons Younghusband gifted Shukar Ali with several gifts that he considered could keep him comfortable in his home.
However, before Shukar Ali’s departure from the Residency, he desired for an order from the Maharaja exempting him from service in his village. Fortunately, His Highness, upon Younghusband’s recommendation, readily acceded to Shukar Ali’s request. The Maharaja made out the order by appending his signature in the document. It was presented to Shukar Ali during a garden-party hosted by Younghusband at the Srinagar Residency. At the time the Maharaja addressed Shukar Ali in the most kindly manner and invited him to visit the Palace for a meeting.
On the following day, Shukar Ali presented himself at the Darbar where he was presented with a shawl of honour by the Maharaja.
Following these felicitations, poor Shukar Ali left Kashmir with many tearful farewell expressions. Few weeks later, the grateful servant sent a letter to his Master. Illiterate, Shukar Ali as such was incapable to write himself. He took help from his native friend Ghulam Rassul Galwan, another intrepid mountain caravan bashi of many Himalayan explorers of the late 19th and early 20th century and one who had picked up some English words and learned to write in his own grammar and style the world has never known again, to write on his behalf.
The letter quoted here under and considered unique in the annals of world literature for its true spirit, entertaining simplicity and innocent expression bordering laughter but always understandable must stand as a token of glowing tribute to all the three pioneers of Pamir conquest: Sir Francis Younghusband, the recipient; Shukar Ali, the author; and Ghulam Rassul Galwan the scribe.
Thus reads the rudimentary gem:
“Sir, I reached very well home, with very felt and found all my poor family very well happy and showed the all kindly of your they got very glad, and we all family thankfully to you to remember us so much, to little people and my all friends got very glad too, they said thank you, and hope you would not be angry with this English written, please you pardon for this, and could not write myself and could not get munshi write you, because and found Rassul, he was my old friend and let him write this letter. Please give my salaam to Mem Sahib and Baby Baby Sahib. Your obedient servant from poor Rassul plenty salaam”, -Shukar Ali
(The writer is a well-known Jammu-based Environmentalist with special expertise in History)