Saturday, September 22, 2012

One day in Jammu

I reached Jammu on time, a Spice Jet flight, and at Jammu airport, Abha met me with two of her students and colleagues. Jammu hospitality is very charming, it's a small town and after the viva-voce  for an excellent thesis on inter religious  society was over, my colleagues took me to see the Bahafort, which has a 19th century temple. The colleagues were essentially interested in mapping their town and the adjoining hinterland of agricultural lands and small towns like Khistewar and Doda. They knew everything about kings, principalities, saffron cultivation, dams and the changes it brings about in people's lives.  The interesting thing about the new generation of 21st century research scholars, some of whom are now edging into their thirties, and are composed about the state of terror in which they and their students find themselves in, given the nature of social reality.  Suresh had a question written out on the blackboard: "What is the relation of Theory to the Statistics of Death?"
Their research questions are very different from the ones we had, in the 1970s, just as we were phenomenally different in our approach to our teachers. What was really interesting for me was how Devender and Suresh spent their weekends travelling upto 300kms into the mountains, talking to people, and collecting data from everything encompassing  the grandiose field of kinship, agricultural economics and religious patterns. Devender calls his work "Cities in Space" and it's very close to the kind of interest I have had for fifteen years now on "Globalisation and Small Towns."
Abha took me to the Palace, where the Dogra family has hotelier and museum interests, a charming place where the river, the lights of the city and the stars all weave in interesting ways. Her son, who is 12 years old, suddenly pointed to the distance where the 8 pm train was looked like a catterpillar with firefly lights, tiny and distant and quite magical. One of the interesting things about small towns is that the people like the slow pace, the crowded markets, the tourists' pleasure in the closeness to Vaishno Devi. I always thought it was an unreachable pilgrim place, but the Jammu residents are very clear it's around the corner ("Just 36 kms") but it needs a day, to really be there in the full sense of the word. Devender and Suresh brought out the sense a town has if one belongs, the field worker after all has a different sense of participation, not quite that the inhabitants have. The devoutness of Sikhs to the temples in Jammu is because of the tradition that in many Hindu households, one child would be dedicated to Sikhism. The memory of belonging to a Hindu family is persistent, and the temple priests too are benign about this cross cultural theological motif, making the temple open to all visitors.
In Jammu airport, I was searched three times, and it was a little persistent and offensive, and then the women passengers  were put out because they were again put into a  separate queue and searched by the airhostess.  I suppose it was better than being radiated and viewed by automatic scanner, but definitely a very unpleasant experience. In Delhi airport one only gets searched once, but clearly there must be a culture of paranoia latently present here which one did not feel in the company of friends. Jammu local newspapers  are truly interesting, with sufficient representation of all the communities, and a sound sense of the here and now. Like many small towns the roads are really terrible, but that's because the river and hill stones remain uncrushed. What cost development, if all the mountains are going to crumble under the weight of metropolitan demands? Small towns still set up interesting questions for us regarding trade, market and traditional occupations. Pilgrim towns are culturally cosmopolitan, and while political parties have ideologies, people co-exist because that is their very nature.

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