On the face of it, any suggestion of a change from Kashmir to Kaesheer sounds immature, and one which seems to bump on our inherited and established sensibility of names. We are so used to switching from Kaesheer to Kashmir that any argument for standardising and normalising Kaesheer is not taken seriously. Rather, people uninitiated into the significance of retaining the sounds and names as articulated by the people who lived in those places for centuries, simply refuse to entertain even the idea of firmly rooting the native name across all linguistic registers. What you get in return to the recommendation of change is a dismissive smile. Therefore, while conversing with each other, the native name of Kaesheer is taken for granted and used effortlessly. However, the same undergoes a transformation when the border is crossed from the linguistic register of Kashmiri to Urdu or English. How many Kashmiris, while talking to each other, use the word Kashmir and abandon the word Kaesheer? Practically speaking, none. It is always ‘Kaesheertarav’, ‘Kaesheergachav’ ‘Kaesheer chi halaat kharaaab’ and so on and so forth. You hardly hear ‘Kashmir tarav’ or any other Kashmiri word preceded by ‘Kashmir.’ The question that comes to mind is why do we use the word Kashmir and not Kaesheer when we speak or write in a language other than Kashmiri?
Names do not occupy a vacuum. There is an entire system of values and attitudes associated with them. Similarly, Kaesheer as a distinct marker, moving on our tongues for centuries, is intertwined with memories and interlinked with myriad cultural patterns and innumerable forms of thought. By corrupting the original and superimposing another name, we are disrupting those subtle and nuanced cultural patterns. By the way, the point to note is that this corruption is not principally due to any colonial agency, but there is a clear implicit local sanction for the corruption. No doubt the British, through their colonial administrators, and a number of orient lists who wrote and thought about Kashmir, felt it convenient to use Kashmir, but even after their departure, the natives have absorbed their linguistic sleaze and made it their own. Otherwise, what law or convention has prevented the natives from at least contemplating a return to the native verbalisation of the nomenclatures? On the ground though there is not even a murmur about the need for change. One of the main reasons for the unavailability of the native names is the unconcerned stance towards both the native as well as whatever is connected with him. The native language has not received the recognition and importance which was due to it for its antique intellectual pedigree. With the denial of that recognition and importance, all that is part of the native language also stands practically dismissed as unimportant and one which befits the low and the orderly among the natives. Forget about the normalisation of names, even the language itself has been rendered insignificant to the extent that the space for it is shrinking. How can we normalise the use of Kaesheer, when everything associated with the word Kaesheer, its universe of other inter related signs and symbols, is gradually de-normalised?
The self-inflicted distortions, the internal corruptions and false sense of superiority have to be swept away to uncover our unpretentious self, irrespective of the linguistic discomfort it might cause to others
The other reason is the lack of cultural confidence in being just ourselves whether it is among ourselves or confronted by the others. That lack of confidence stems from a slew of factors. For one, having been under the political suzerainty of non-natives for such a long time has sapped the confidence of the native population. There is a tendency to run down an idea which might have the potential of upending that sense of cultural diffidence which has almost entered the genetic make-up. The sense of cultural empowerment does not come from acting as mute, unquestioning receivers of values, judgments and ideas coming from outside. No name is good or bad; it is our attitude which makes some refine and others rough, coarse and worthless. Instead of instituting spellings and sounds, which are convenient for the non-native tongue, we had better give a degree of respect and dignity to our sounds, and voice them out in different linguistic registers without any feeling of guilt or shame or awkwardness or embarrassment.
Across Kashmir, we observe a bleak landscape of names corrupted from their native form in a vain and ridiculous attempt at some kind of glorification. Look at the names of our villages, towns and cities as they are written in Urdu and English, in official notebooks or when speaking to non-natives. In fact, these additions are nothing but the same corruption which the colonial administrators were accused of when they distorted the Indian names to suit their own ease. It is the old practice of subjecting oneself to the linguistic whims of the others. It is due to this perverted sense of pleasure arising out of corruption that places like Soendpur becomes Chandipora, and Woalrom becomes Wollarhama. What colonial agency or law or iron convention prevents us from using the original native sound while transcribing the name in non-Kashmiri languages? We are looking for a futile sense of political empowerment if the importance of foregrounding our real self, without ignominy or embarrassment, is not comprehended. The self-inflicted distortions, the internal corruptions and a false sense of superiority have to be swept away to uncover our unpretentious self, irrespective of the linguistic discomfort it might cause to others.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org