A long time back I had read an interesting book called ‘Roots” by Alex Hailey. It is an account of the author’s own African American history from the time of Kunta Kinte, his ancestor who had been kidnapped from his home in Africa and brought as a slave to America.
My own ancestral history may also be of some interest to the reader.
I am a Kashmiri Pandit. Kashmiri Pandits are all Hindu Saraswat Brahmins, and constitute about 4-5 % of the total population of Kashmir, most of whom are Muslims.
There are two kinds of Kashmiri Pandits, Kashmiri speaking, and non Kashmiri speaking ( Kashmiri is a language totally different from Hindi ). The former would be about 400,000 in number, and the latter ( to which category I belong ) a little over 100,000.
My wife is a Kashmiri speaking Kashmiri Pandit, while I am a non Kashmiri speaking Kashmiri Pandit. While her ancestors had remained in Kashmir, my ancestors migrated from there 200 years ago
Non Kashmiri speaking Kashmiri Pandits forgot Kashmiri because their ancestors had migrated from Kashmir to other parts of India 150-200 years ago. They were not forcibly driven out of Kashmir ( as were the Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s ) but migrated because they got employment in the princely states of British India ( ruled by maharajas and nawabs ) as they were very proficient in Urdu and Persian, which were the court languages in the princely states.
All non Kashmiri speaking Kashmiri Pandits including the ancestors of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, the famous lawyer of Allahabad (my home town), Chakbast, the eminent Urdu poet, etc migrated from Kashmir in exactly the same way.
However despite migrating from Kashmir they married only among themselves, and not with the local people, thus preserving the purity of their Kashmiri ethnicity and connection with Kashmir.
My own ancestor, Pandit Mansa Ram Katju, migrated from Kashmir over 200 years ago. There is an entry by him in Persian in the register of a panda of Kurukshetra which states ”Ba-talaash-e-maash aamadam”, which means ”I have come in quest of bread” i.e. seeking employment.
He ultimately got employment in the court of the Nawab of Jaora, which was a princely state, now in Ratlam district in western Madhya Pradesh. For four generations my ancestors served under the Nawabs of Jaora on high positions.
My ancestor of whom my family has vivid recollection, was Pt Tribhuwan Nath Katju, my great grandfather, and father of Dr Kailas Nath Katju, the eminent lawyer of the Allahabad High Court and freedom fighter, who rose to high positions like Governor of Odisha and West Bengal, Union Home and Law Minister ( in Pt Nehru’s cabinet ), and Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.
When Tribhuwan Nath Katju was just a boy aged about 13 years, his father, Badri Nath Katju, who was also in the service of the Nawab, died. Badri Nath had befriended a Britisher who was then the political agent of several central Indian princely states, including Jaora, and when he lay dying in his 40s he requested the latter that on his death his son Tribhuwan Nath may be appointed in his place, as there were no other earning members in his family. The Britisher promised that, and was as good as his word, and got Tribhuwan Nath appointed.
So at the age of 13, when he should have been playing, the entire burden of supporting his family fell on the child Tribhuwan Nath’s tiny shoulders, and he discharged his duty efficiently as long as he could, winning the respect of the Nawab Iftikhar Ali Khan.
Tribhuwan Nath retired around 1920 at the then retirement age of 55, but the Nawab fixed his pension at his full last salary of Rs 300 p.m. ( which today would be about 1 lac rupees ) and he continued attending the Nawab’s court daily even thereafter. If he did not attend on some day, due to illness or otherwise, someone sent by the Nawab would come to enquire about his welfare. If on a horse ride the Nawab saw Tribhuwan Nath walking, he would get off his horse to exchange salaams with him, something he would not do for anyone else.
Tribhuwan Nath would regularly come to Allahabad where his son Dr KN Katju had become a leading lawyer to spend some time with him. But the last time he came to Allahabad was in 1935 when he received a letter from the Nawab stating, “Panditji, aapke baghair mera man nahi lagta hai.” On receiving this letter, he immediately caught the next train for Jaora, and on meeting the Nawab said to him, “Nawab saheb, yeh baat aapne mujhe pehle kyon nahi kahi ?”, and thereafter he never left Jaora till his death in 1945, knowing that the Nawab would be unhappy without him.
On Tribhuwan Nath’s death, the Nawab announced that he was the eldest son of Pt Tribhuwan Nath, and so people in Jaora should first come to pay condolence to him, before paying condolence to Dr Kailas Nath Katju (who had come from Allahabad for the funeral).
Dr Kailas Nath Katju, about whom I have mentioned earlier, was sent by his father Tribhuwan Nath to his maternal grandfather’s house in Lahore ( as educational facilities in Lahore were far better in Lahore than in Jaora ), and he studied in Rang Mahal High School and Forman Christian College, both of which institutions exist even today.
At first he was not good in mathematics, but in Rang Mahal High School his maths teacher, Mr Sushant Banerji, noting his problem, told him to come to his house daily where he coached him, and soon he became good in maths.
Several decades later, when Dr Katju was Governor of West Bengal ( from 1948 to 1951 ), at a reception in the Government House, Calcutta he met a lady, and asked who her father was. She said he was Sushant Banerji. Dr Katju said he had a teacher by that name in Lahore. She said he was the same gentleman, and he was now very old and living with his son in Bihar. Dr Katju immediately thereafter wrote him a letter saying that he had met his daughter, and that Mr Banerji may have forgotten him, but he could never forget Mr Banerji’s kindness, and how he had helped him in school.
Soon thereafter Dr Katju received a reply from Mr Banerji stating, “My dear Kailas Nath, dont think I had ever forgotten you. I have been following your career in life throughout, and your rise to higher and higher positions, and that has given me great happiness.”
After his education in Lahore, Dr Katju came to Allahabad where he got a law degree from Allahabad University ( he later got a doctorate in law ) and then practised in Kanpur district court from 1908-1914 before shifting to Allahabad High Court where he became one of the top lawyers. He joined the freedom struggle, and after Independence was appointed to high positions (as mentioned before).
My father Shiva Nath Katju was a judge of Allahabad High Court, and his younger brother Brahma Nath Katju became its Chief Justice.
Though my family was out of Kashmir for 200 years, we never forgot Kashmir, the land of our ancestors.
Though we had forgotten the Kashmiri language, we used some Kashmiri words on religious occasions, though not understanding their meaning ( like Sanskrit shlokas which are recited by most Hindus without knowing their meaning ). For instance, I remember in my childhood in herat ( Shivratri ) puja, my family members would gather outside a room and one would knock at the door. The family member inside the room would say “Kuch choo, kuch choo.” The family members outside the room would say “Rambror.” The person inside would then say “Kya heyth?” And those outside would say “An dhan lakshmi”, and then we all entered the rom.
We did not understand a word of what we were saying, but this had been passed on from generation to generation.
It was only when I got married to a Kashmiri speaking lady (to whom I am still married after 52 years) that she explained the meaning of these words. In Kashmiri “Kus choo” means who is it, but over generations this was distorted to “kuch choo.” “Kya heth” means what have you brought ?
This shows our attachment to Kashmir which we had left 200 years ago, like the Jews who used to say even 2000 years after their diaspora from Palestine “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my right hand perish ( Psalms 137: 5 )
Long live Kashmir! Long live the Kashmiri people!”