Nandlals of Kashmir Administration
or the length of a century, a few emancipated Britishers and some visionary Bhattas (Kashmiri Pandits) fine tuned the art of state administration not only to become public sensitive but efficient also. That was why a responsive and working administration was in place in the State of Jammu & Kashmir when India became independent in 1947. All public welfare departments were doing well in J&K as compared to other parts of the country. Whether it was maintenance of land revenue records or running a food security department, Kashmir administration was doing a good job. It was running a free and efficient public health department to attend to the medical needs of the people of the State. The education department was playing a harbinger for social and economic change and judicial and forest governance was done on a professional basis. Same was the case with agriculture and horticulture development. All this was possible because there were selfless, conscientious and hardworking Bhattas deployed in all these departments to help, guide and assist their bosses in dispensation of governance and to work as their conscience keepers. They were placed in these important positions on the basis of qualifications and merit.
One of the Kashmiri Bhattas in such a position was named Nandlal. He was so named due to the time of his birth, the name given to him by a constellation of Kashmiri Pandit astrologers, saintly Brahmins and elderly ladies of the clan, as was the custom with Bhattas then. Names were selected on the basis of the congregation of stars and the matrix of Vedic percepts because Bhattas believed, as many still do today, that they are born with a purpose in this world and they have to work within their destiny. At 18 years of age he was a slim, smart, man with chiseled features, with a half smiling, fair, face that was calm and composed. His family had been subsisting on agriculture in a scenic forest village by the side of a rivulet, about 95 Kms from the city. After the family was unfairly divested of its land by the so called popular government of the times, it migrated to the city of Srinagar, situated on the banks of the river Vitasta. Here they settled in a modest house made of clay, stones bricks and timber. It had four rooms in all, unlike the big village house which the family had to abandon in search of work and livelihood. The joint family started to live a modest life within limited means. The family consisted of Nandlal’s uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, parents and grand parents, who lived under a single roof as was the custom those days. Nandlal graduated, even while living a humble life with simple meals and simple clothes, common to the Bhattas in those days. After his graduation he got entry into a government department just for asking, as there were few graduates and more jobs available then, unlike now. Because he was unassuming and honest besides being intelligent, laborious and loyal too; he created a special niche for himself in the offices he worked in. He was frank and without malice to anyone. He was prompt and punctual and worked very hard. He would usually report to his office half an hour earlier than scheduled time. Occasionally, he could be seen in his office even hours before scheduled time as per exigencies of special jobs assigned to him. He would leave his office last of all after clearing his desk as he had many complicated issues to sort out and resolve. The office would not be able to function as well without him, a fact of which his bosses who were invariably Kashmiri Muslims would be painfully aware. It was his common sense, intelligence, knowledge of rules and regulations and their impartial interpretation and application on individual cases that would hold the final sway. He was to be trusted, because he had no personal stakes to protect. He always upheld the truth and supported the facts for which he would do hard research. He even learnt short hand and typing without ever attending any institute as those endowments were required in his profession because computers had not been invented then. This way he had complete job satisfaction and his bosses were aware of it. Nandlal had no enemies though his opinion hurt some occasionally as he was always frank, fair and fearless. For these virtues he was admired by his bosses in their own minds although they declined to admit in public due to their insecurities about their own qualifications and capabilities.
Nandlal had imbibed his honest qualities by deep introspection, coming from the study of the Bhagwad Gita which he would study two times a day. His boss knew that he could not manage his duties without the services of Nandlal. He knew that he could not afford to even disregard Nandlal’s views without inviting the wrath of his own bosses for his incompetence. Nandlal’s bosses, who were invariably Muslim due to the communal structure of the state administration were jealous of the capabilities of the unassuming Nandlal and wanted to inherit his qualities but failed for want of efforts, patience and persistence. Nandlal had perseverance and zest unlimited. He lived by peace and contentment, always within his means. He never aspired to be other than what he was though he had capacities to evolve and acquire great heights. Thus the personality of his bosses was divided between two extremes, of love and hate for Nandlal. Each love-hate relationship with a boss would survive and thrive, with occasional grudges and grunts, till a new boss would take charge and restore and repose the same trust and faith in Nandlal as the earlier one. On the change of his boss, his loyalties and allegiance would transfer to the new boss without a demur.
Nandlal was the master of many virtues. He was not ambitious. He was not over-assertive. He was not wavering. He was frank and firm. He was focused. He believed in Karma. He was a fatalist. He had a small family of his own within his big joint family. He had a rotund wife with distinct features who worshiped him like a Lord as much as other wives of Bhattas would their husbands. He had two sons and a daughter to support. But he shared all obligations and responsibilities of other members of his extended family. He made it a point to impart proper education to his children as other Bhattas did. He provided them moderate necessities of life while denying the same to himself. He never taught them to be over ambitious and create social friction. He wanted them to be polite, sincere and honest. He taught them to work hard, and the art of balancing as he had learnt from his own experience. Though he had a modest salary he knew how to tailor his basic needs to his limited means. He never felt short of money or lusted after it. He would walk to his office from his home daily (a distance of 4 Kms) and back in the evening with pleasure and satisfaction, till he could afford a bicycle to traverse the distance.
Nandlal would go for early ablutions and a daily bath in the Vitasta as he loved to be neat and clean. He would directly rush to the Mandir to satiate his Lord. All Bhatta localities in the city of Srinagar had ethnic and artistic temples dedicated to different Gods and Goddesses, usually on the banks of the river Vitasta. They have unfortunately been abandoned, vandalized and desecrated and even usurped after migration of Bhattas from the Valley. He would apply saffron or sandal tilak on his forehead, of which he would be proud. He would confide all his secrets to the Lord and would not divulge them to anybody else. After thanking his Lord for all that He had bestowed on him, he would return to his home. Before he would leave for his office at 7.30 A.M, Nandlal would partake of a brunch spread of sweet, hand pounded white rice in an alloy platter, with soups from the greens of knoll kohl, spinach lotus stem and turnips, occasionally mixed with shreds of ram mutton. He would only drink cold water from his bronze tumbler while in his office during the day. He would have no snacks, managing his hunger and desires. On his return from office, he would sip sizzling Kehwah (Green tea without milk, garnished with crushed almond bibs and cardamom seeds) from an alloy cup with a Kulcha (a baked cake from an earthen oven) of wheat flour, ghee and salt. After this refreshing cup of tea he would go for his evening prayers to Lord Shiva, the morning prayers being at the crack of dawn. Thereafter, he would help his children in their studies and teach them different virtues of a true human being. and social ethics. There was no television to waste time on those days though he had an old Ferguson Radio set to update himself with the latest in news. It would work if there was not an electric shut down, which was too frequent those days.
Dinner would typically be a hot steaming meal of white rice and green vegetable soup that was savored with great relish and appetite by him and his family. He would go to bed late, well covered to face the nippy nights of Kashmir. Next day he would be up early even though it would usually be chilly in Kashmir. This went on day after day and he had no complaints to make against his destiny. He had learnt to live a contented and fulfilling life in which he had trained himself and his family to restrict needs so that there were fewer demands and no frustration.
Nandlal continued to work similarly till he reached his superannuation and was packed off with a wall clock and a eulogy regarding his worth and virtues.
This was not the story of only one Nandlal. It could be a Tota Koul, a Lamboo Dhar, a Tikoo Saib, a Shiv Jee, a Kikloo Saib, a Bhan Saib, a Vashnavi Saib, a Raina Saib or any other. Their lifestyle and service to the lord, their family and community was the same. The prologue and epilogue in their book of life was the same. Only names of the actors changed.
Kashmir administration had only a few basic important branches like Land Revenue and Records, Law and Order, Education, Health Services, Food Control, Agriculture and Forestry. All these departments were running on skeletal staff but had to provide efficient, responsive and clean governance to a deficient State. People expected and got many of their problems solved by the same administration in which so many selfless Nandlals worked. They gave sound, effective and speedy governance to the people of the State. This way a solid administration was installed which was people friendly and law abiding. This arrangement in the State was admired even at the national level. That is how a foolproof land reforms system was introduced in the State which ensured allotment and transfer of agrarian land to the landless without hiccups, even though the move had communal tones and all agrarian lands were acquired without compensation to the owners.
It was the ingenuity of a Bhatta like Nandlal that one of best food security systems was created in the State by surveying all population and issuing Ration Cards, which would entitle people to draw subsidized rations of rice, wheat, sugar, salt, kerosene and firewood from the local trading community of Muslim Hanjis. Distribution of supplies was outsourced on a notional commission to save huge costs of handling the same by a government hierarchy in the Food and Supplies Department. It was again through the services of such Nandlals that a network of Public Schools was established to extend fruits of free education to all nooks and corners of the State, even when funds were almost non-existent. This resulted in raising literacy levels of Muslims of the State. Besides, all public and private schools were manned by the same Nandlas and Gashlals from the Bhatta community because Bhattas admired and revered the profession of teaching as the most noble and satisfying.
It was the endeavors of this class of selfless servers that ensured the wider spread of public health services to cater to health needs of the people. They helped establish a network of public health service institutions. Some Bhatta doctors working in such institutions became legendary due to their humanitarian gestures and devotional services, which they rendered free of cost many times. Even in the maintenance of law and order these Bhattas laid sound foundations of intelligence collection and state force deployment to thwart the efforts of enemies of the State. Such enemies were always on the prowl to foment trouble and create social friction. The state administration was calibrated to evolve suitable responses to any emerging problems which would be prompted by foreigners earlier and Pakistan later. Being a sensitive and porous border state it was always at the receiving end of foreign aggression earlier and Pakistani infiltration later. The State was renowned to be the best to handle such transgressions with minimum use of force and coercion.
Yet again it was the contribution of the same nameless Bhattas that laid the framework of research and development in agriculture, which was otherwise steeped in archaic and obsolete agronomical practices. The state strived for food sufficiency through breakthroughs in agricultural and horticulture growth.
Even in the judiciary, some landmark judgments in land reforms, fundamental rights and other social sectors like education, health care and forest sectors were given. In the maintenance of land records, proper maps, site plans, records of transfer of lands were maintained, documented and conserved in Muhafizkhana for record and future use by very sincere workers. That is why maintenance of land records till Bhattas worked in Revenue department was accurate and sacrosanct. A massive consolidation of small land holdings was achieved without any glitches and resistance during those days.
Post pan-Islamic insurgency of 1989 all Bhattas were hunted out of the Valley. They had to move to other parts of the country to protect their honor and save their lives. The composite culture of State administration unfortunately degenerated into a mono-caste governance of Kashmiri Muslims. But the contributions of Bhattas such as Nandlal will always be remembered. They have left a deep imprint on the instruments of administration of the J&K state.
*P.N.Ganjoo was born in a modest Kashmiri family about 7 decades ago, lost his father early and was raised by his honest, hardworking mother. With her efforts he received his education in Srinagar and went on to serve in various Government Departments before retiring as a senior grade KAS officer.
Presently he is working on his varied interests besides being a consulting Director of a software services company.
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