“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

The good times come with a price. First some extravagant statistics followed by Salman’s commentary

(Mr. Salman Nizami, 25, was born in Banihal tehsil of District Ramban. He completed his graduate degree in mass communication and journalism, and joined journalism in 2004. He began his professional life at The OUTLOOK magazine as a columnist, and then started writing for Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Times, Times of India, The Hindu, Asian Age, Statesman, Rising Kashmir , JK Reporter. Mr. Nizami later joined SAHARA television in New Delhi as Desk Editor, and rose to the position of Group Editor of The Rastriya Sahara. He is currently working as a Editor-in-Chief of The Revolution newspaper published from Jammu and Kashmir, Sahara television as Desk Editor and Resident Editor of MID-DAY covering Upper North India including J&K. He is also active with UNICEF India and the Hungary World (NGO) as Media advisor. In that role, he has travelled widely investigating on new developments in the media industry, taking a special interest in child problems including labour, marriage, poverty, education, etc. He is one of the first journalists to research and write extensively about the child growth in Jammu and Kashmir.)

Kashmiris Love Mutton, Gulp 51,000 Tonnes Annually!

Srinagar: About 85 percent of Kashmiris eat non-vegetarian – but exactly how much? Official statistics say Jammu and Kashmir annually consumes a whopping 51,000 tonnes of mutton worth Rs 12.06 billion (over Rs 1,200 crore), of which 21,000 tonnes is imported from outside.

“The 21,000 tonnes is in addition to 30,000 tonnes of mutton produced locally and costing Rs.7.02 billion (Rs.702 crore) which also goes into the local consumption each year,” a senior official of the animal husbandry department here told IANS.

Despite having some of the best meadows and pastures in the world, all the mutton imported into Kashmir comes from Rajasthan, which has some of the most arid deserts in the country.

In addition to mutton, poultry and poultry products are also imported into the state from neighbouring Punjab and Haryana.

“Chicks, broilers, layers and eggs amounting to Rs.1.2 billion are imported each year for local consumption,” said another official of the state animal husbandry department posted with the poultry production wing.

“This is in addition to the local poultry production worth Rs.1.8 billion that also goes into local consumption.”

The officials say 84 percent of the state’s 10 million population is predominantly non-vegetarian.
Some say the high consumption of meat could explain the wide prevalence of certain ailments.

“My god, these are Herculean figures and they explain the reason for high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol levels, heart ailments, gout, kidney stones, liver ailments and a host of other diseases the locals are vulnerable to because of their dietary habits,” said Kaisar Ahmad, a general practitioner here.

The sheer amount of mutton and poultry that goes into the preparation of the traditional Kashmiri cuisine called ‘wazwan’ is mind boggling.

“An average middle class marriage requires about five quintals of mutton and one quintal of poultry. Those who haven’t seen the extended wazwan feasts where courses over courses of dishes are served in an unending pageant are really flabbergasted by the extravaganza when they experience it the first time,” said Sujeet Kumar, a police officer belonging to Haryana told IANS.

“It is common in the Valley for people to ask if anyone in the family had taken ill, if they find a local carrying vegetables or fruit home!” said Bashir Ahmad War, a retired veterinarian here.

Fortunately, with growing healthcare awareness, especially among youth, the dietary habits of locals are gradually changing for the better.

“It was very unusual to see a Kashmiri jogging or attending a health club earlier. In the past, locals would do something like this only under medical advice,” said War. (IANS)

The Marriage Market

SALMAN NIZAMI

On the afternoon before his wedding day this fall, Faisal was sitting in an empty teahouse worrying a glass of tea between his fingers, his brow furrowed in concern. He confessed to feeling a certain anxiety at seeing his bachelor’s independence slipping away. But something else was troubling him, as well: the cost of his wedding. In Kashmir, bride grooms are expected to pay not only for their weddings, but also all the related expenses, including several huge pre-wedding parties and money for the bride’s family, a kind of reverse dowry. Faisal, a Junior Assistant in the department of Social Welfare, who supports his six-member family on a salary of Rs 6,000 per month, said his bill was going to top Rs 5,12,000. And by Kashmiri standards, that would be considered normal, or even a bargain. “Sometimes it’s difficult to think about it,” said Faisal, 28, who requested that his full name not be published because his employer forbids him to speak to the news media. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”

Extravagant weddings, a mainstay of modern Kashmiri life and an important measure of social status, were banned during militancy, which also outlawed beauty parlours and the instrumental music that is traditional at wedding parties. But since the reduce in militancy, Kashmir wedding industry has rebounded and is now bigger than ever. The growth is reflected in the proliferation of wedding halls, hotels, homes of mirrored glass and blinking neon lights that glow incongruously among the valley’s dusty streets. This system has been a mixed blessing. While bridegrooms and their families are free to have the huge weddings that tradition demands, they are once again left with bills that plunge them into crushing debt. Moderate guest lists can top 700 people; the biggest exceed 2,000. The bridegroom is also responsible for jewelry, dry fruits, flowers, two – three gowns for the bride, two -three suits for himself, gifts for the relatives, a visit to the beauty salon for the bride and her closest female relatives, as well as a sound system for the wedding, a photographer and a videography team with a pair of cameramen.

All that, plus the dowry, known as the bride price, can run a middle-class Kashmiri man on average Rs 1-2 lakhs, dozens of Kashmiris said in interviews . Even the poor do not scrimp. A laborer, for instance, making about Rs 150 a day, may well spend more than 3-4 lakhs for his wedding, Kashmiris say. Kashmiri bridegrooms say tradition and societal pressure leave them with no alternative but expensive weddings in spite of their poverty. Marriage is arguably the most important rite of passage for a young Kashmiri man, and the luxuriousness of the ceremony reaffirms his family’s status. “It’s a way to solidify your position in the Society,” explained Dr. Showkat Hussain, a professor of law at Kashmir University.

The growth of the wedding industry has been enabled in part by the fact that more money than ever is in circulation in Kashmir. Lavish weddings have even made a comeback in some parts of the valley, where security concerns are greatest, though in areas where the militants are still active, the weddings have been moved back into private homes and have been toned down. For Faisal, like most Kashmiris, a small wedding at home was not an option. Kashmiri custom dictates that all relatives, even distant cousins, be invited, and his house would not have been big enough. Further more, Faisal said, his fiancée and her family had expectations. As with all Kashmiri weddings, the style and size of Faisal’s wedding was established in consultation between the families. But also following custom, the consultation was mostly a one-way declaration, with the bride’s family setting the terms.

Fortunately, Faisal said, his fiancée’s family has known his family for many years and had a sense of its finances, so her family did not push for everything to be top-of-the-line. Still, like most Kashmiri bridegrooms, Faisal had to empty his savings, borrow money and rely on the largess of an uncle. They had all saved in anticipation of the event, much like a modern family might prepare years in advance for college tuitions. “It’s a joint effort,” Faisal said. After the wedding, he was going to be left with Rs 50,000 in debt, which he expected to pay off within five months. But it is not so easy for many other young Kashmiri men. Said Sharif, a 27-year-old taxi driver who makes about 5,000 per month, had to borrow Rs 1 lakh from relatives to help cover bill for his wedding last fall, as well as for four related parties. He does not expect to pay off his debt for at least two years.

Ask any Kashmiri man, and he will say that competition among brides is driving wedding expenditures up. Women who were interviewed did not disagree. “The unfair thing that is going on in Kashmir is the competition,” said Irfana , 20, a mass communication student at Kashmir University . “In 70 percent of the cases, the woman’s family puts pressure on the boy to pay a lot of money.” A result, she said, can often be paralyzing debt and an early, unwelcome visit by the debt collectors to the newlyweds’ new home. Faisal’s wedding unfolded at his home , in two vast and expensive (shamiyanas) tents , one for the men and the other for the women. Islamic custom dictates that the sexes be separated. About 600 people attended, in suits and evening dresses, and the local singers performing in front of the guests, along with some dancing boys. Dinner included with full Kashmiri wazwan — much more than even the enormous crowd could possibly eat served among 600 people sitting in a plate where four can eat jointly. Faisal was mostly absent from the men’s side and women’s side too, attending guests and receiving gifts etc. Dressed in a white suit, he was smiling and seemed happy. “In our valley, the wedding is a big problem until you’re done with it.”

Faisal’s father, a lifetime civil servant who makes Rs 5000 a month, also seemed relieved. Minutes earlier he had reached into an inside pocket of his jacket and handed over a stack of well worn bills worth about 30,000 to the wazwan cook. Neither man smiled. Few words were exchanged. It was pure business. After the transaction, Hamid’s father was joyful, and a little dazed. He was grinning, and his tie was slightly askew. Asked how it felt to hand over the equivalent of 10 times his monthly salary, he replied: “It was good! I’m extremely happy!” The payment, he explained, allowed the marriage to happen. “Only a memory is left,” he said. “A memory of happiness.