First Person

As a Kashmiri this is why the Darbar Move was so integral to our culture

I first visited Jammu in 2009, when I was in the fourth grade. I had heard a lot about the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, including its weather and culture. I was very excited that I would now be able to experience all of it firsthand and have a memorable experience to cherish for the rest of my life.

By Haris Jeelani Toogo, 10 Dec 2021

We relocated to Jammu because my father, a government employee, was assigned to Jammu for six months as part of the ‘Darbar Move.’ The unique tradition of Darbar was introduced in Jammu and Kashmir a century back by the then ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh.

Moving to Jammu was a significant change for me. It was like transitioning from a homogeneous Kashmir with a common culture, language, and religion to a more cosmopolitan environment. Jammu has a diverse population of Dogras, Kashmiri Muslims, Pandits, with people settling in the city from the nearby districts of Rajouri, Poonch, and Doda.

With so many Kashmiris in Jammu with their families during the winters, it felt like a home away from home. Jammu appeared to be a miniature Kashmir to me. Because of our cultural similarities and common language, I felt instantly connected with Kashmiri Pandits and made friends with many of them.

Aeshan from Pulwama district of south Kashmir became my best friend. His distinct south Kashmiri accent struck me. For someone like me, who is from North Kashmir, a south Kashmiri accent piqued my interest. Muzamil, another friend I made in Jammu, was originally from Srinagar. His red Hero cycle had always fascinated me.

Our block had a small entrance on the front side. I played hide and seek with my friends after sunset. We also played cricket on the roofs of the houses there, and many local Dogra boys eventually joined in. All of us became friends and decided to form a cricket team. This was a cricket team made up of residents from across Jammu and Kashmir.

Our evenings would be spent on Residency road, which offered glimpses of Kashmir with vendors selling mouth-watering barbecues and Kashmiri wazwan on the edge of the road. Mornings were bright and sunny, which felt unusual given the bitter winter chill in Kashmir.

I felt blessed to be away from the cold of Kashmir. My grandfather and I used to have breakfast together. Later, I would accompany him to the store to buy vegetables, milk, and other necessities.

I would attend tuition with my elder sister and brother. Rajkumar sir, our tutor, was a Jammu-based Kashmiri migrant. He lived in a two-room apartment in a nearby migrant colony. His classroom was always crowded with students. Rajkumar sir sat on the upper side of the room, with a deity sculpture to his left. He was an excellent teacher who paid close attention to all of his students.

Watching a movie at KC cinema hall in Jammu was an entirely new experience for me. The movie that I watched was ‘Zinda,’ starring Sanjay Dutt, John Abraham, and Lara Dutta. I saw people waiting in a queue for hours to buy the movie ticket.

During the interval, I went out to grab a quick bite. I bought ‘Chola Puri’ but the ‘one thing that caught my attention was the ‘Hotdog’ because it was new to me and I had never tasted it before. I watched the rest of the movie while enjoying my hotdog. That day onwards, hotdogs became my favourite snack.

I never saw a movie in a theatre in Kashmir because cinemas were closed after the outbreak of militancy in the 1990s.

During winters, the majority of Kashmiris would travel to Jammu to shop. Kashmiris used to swarm the stores together, taking advantage of the discounts they would get on their collective bulk buying. Jammu was a cultural melting pot, with Kashmiri and Jammu cultures coexisting. It occurred to me then that the practice of the Darbar Move was initiated for a reason. The rulers may have shifted the seat of power to Jammu during the winters and to Srinagar during the summers to enjoy the pleasant weather. However, for ordinary people, it provided a great opportunity to get to know one another. Darbar Move brought people from two unique and diverse regions closer together.

However, what would have presumably elicited a strong reaction in Jammu had any Kashmiri leader ended the practice of Darbar Move, was met with muffled voices when the current Jammu and Kashmir administration announced its discontinuance. This made me wonder what this means for people like me who had such a wonderful time in Jammu during those few months. I believe that the discontinuation of the Darbar Move will have a significant impact on Jammu’s economy. Stores in Jammu will lose out on the Kashmiri customers that visit them during the winters owing to the Darbar move.

Many Kashmiris who have built homes in Jammu may continue to visit during the winters. Scores of Kashmiris have built houses in Bathindi, Narwal, and Janipur in Jammu to avoid the harsh winter of the valley. However, the end of the practice of Darbar Move marks the end of a chapter in the cultural assimilation of Kashmiris and people of Jammu. It is a setback for the people of Jammu, whose economy will suffer as a result. This will also deprive the people of the valley of the opportunity to learn about Jammu’s rich culture.

The government may save money with this decision, but ending the tradition of the Darbar Move will prevent Jammu and Kashmir’s diverse populations from becoming more acquainted with one another.