Srinagar: Nishat Bagh, Houseboats and The Case of the Wrong-Caste Plumber

Good morning everyone,

Nishat Bagh is very near Shalimar Bagh.  It was built with the Zabarwan Mountains as its backdrop on the eastern side of Dal Lake by Asif Khan, the elder brother of Nur Jahan in 1633.

Apparently Emperor Shah Jahan saw the garden for the first time after it’s completion, he expressed three times his appreciation for its beauty to his brother-in-law, hoping that it would be gifted to him.  Asif Khan made no gift however, so Shah Jahan ordered the water supply to the garden to be cut off.  The garden was then abandoned for some years.

While Asif Khan was sitting in the shade of one of the trees in Nishat Bagh, one of his loyal servants turned the water supply on from nearby Shalimar Bagh.  Asif Khan, fearing what the emperor would do if he saw that water had once again been provided to Nishat Bagh, was in a panic.  The Emperor however, hearing of what had happened, was impressed with the loyalty of the servant and ordered that the water be resupplied.  No punishment was doled out and the garden has been supplied with water during all but the winter season since.

Thankfully, some naturalist has also gone through the garden and labelled the trees and some of the plants.  There are loquat, chestnut, bir, pear and chinar trees in this garden.  The chinar trees are particularly impressive with their height.

So my friends Jennifer and Sheila will be happy to learn that the trees that are so closely pruned to feed goats throughout goat-breeding regions are apparently bir trees.

This was a beautiful garden with the exception of the sleazy bugger that I described in the last post.  I would have spent more time here, photographing the plants and particularly the shaped hedges but for Ikhbar.

Oh well, leaving the garden early meant we had time to take a shikara (a boat particular to Kashmir and especially Dal Lake) out to see some of the houseboats on the eastern side of the islands in Dal Lake.

Jagdeep did not appreciate this part of the trip and told me several times that he was glad that my plan to rent a houseboat while we were there changed to a hotel … firmly on the land and away from the shallow boats and the big lake.  Several times.  He also suggested that our next trip here, we should enjoy a hotel as well.  By the time we got to the houseboat, I think I understood his position about water, boats, drowning…

I was impressed that he got over his fear enough though to come with me and make sure I was safe.  Good guy, that Jagdeep.

The outsides of the houseboats look nothing like they are pictured on the hotel booking websites.  They are weathered, in need of a good paint job to prevent further weathering and they are all anchored very, very close together, tethered to islands behind them which contain shacks where the workers who service the houseboats live, and where the food is cooked.

The owner of the homestay knew how to paddle the shikara but he was also interested in having me attend at the craft factories in town to buy stuff.  Yeah, no.  He took me to a houseboat to see the walnut carving that was inside one of them and to talk up the local craftsmen.  Don’t get me wrong.  The work is beautiful.  Stunning!  But I’m not interested in buying carpets, furniture or other carvings just to take home to Canada when I’m not sure how long I’ll even stay in Whitehorse, let alone Canada.

The houseboat tour was great though and unlike Jagdeep, I enjoyed being on the very shallow boat, bailing bucket and all.

Despite the fact that we were here before the gardens were in their full glory (but on the other hand before it was flooded with tourists), Srinagar and Kashmir generally have captured my heart in a way that not many other places have ever been able to.  My Roma heart keeps me moving from place to place, never settling, but I think this could be the place the changed all of that.  Despite the soldiers, despite the tensions, despite the landslides, despite the dangerous roads, despite all the dangers, Kashmir has won me.

That brings us to today’s secondary topic.  Caste.  The Case of the Wrong-Caste Plumber to be exact.  Sigh.

We had, still have, a water issue at the house.  One of the pipes leading to the sink is leaking or causing a lot of condensation inside the brick and concrete wall between the bathroom and one of the bedrooms.  About a month ago, we also had an issue with the drain in the same bathroom so we called a plumber.  The guy showed up and asked where the exact point of the leak was.  I told him “Dude.  I’m a lawyer.  You’re the plumber.  The leak is somewhere in this area.  Isn’t it your job to figure out where exactly?”

The leak is causing mold to form on the inside wall of the bedroom, making a heavy mess which I’ve already scraped down and painted over once.  It’s unhealthy and it should be an easy fix.

So before I go too far off on a tangent, the plumber shows up and at some point I ask the little sister unit whether her family knows this guy or not.  I meant, have you used this plumber before?  Because he didn’t really seem to know what he was doing… she responded with “No.  He’s the wrong caste.  Our family doesn’t have anything to do with him.”

Now just what the frack?!?  I told her “Remember that Sikhs don’t believe this caste garbage.  It’s garbage for a very good reason.  Our Gurus would have treated this Sikh man as a brother, like any other Sikh, like any other human being.”  She at least had the good graces to look embarrassed about her comment.

But seriously, it’s not even her fault.  I can’t blame her.  This caste garbage has been ingrained so deep into the psyche here that it’s proving damn near impossible to make it extinct.  Even more than five hundred years since Guru Nanak Dev Ji abolished caste for Sikhs, even after the Government of India outlawed the caste system for all of India, it’s still rearing it’s ugly, ugly head, even among people who say they are Sikhs.

It is seriously frustrating – very, very difficult to sit back and observe without judgement when it comes to things like this.  Caste is bullshit and everyone knows it.  It’s only ever used by the “upper-castes” to make them feel better about themselves, that at least there are people “below” them.  They are somehow more important because of the accident of their birth and aren’t they lucky that they weren’t born lower.  And by the highest castes to grab power and continue to oppress their own.  It’s the worst form of bullshit.

Young men and women in this part of the world (and other parts nearby) have lost their lives because they dared to marry either someone within their own caste (a taboo in some places) or outside of their own caste (a taboo in other places).  Yet, of course, the problem is not the caste of the person they dared to marry.  The problem is the caste system is antiquated, based on falsities and is a fraud that is perpetuated over and over and over again on subsequent generations.  If your young life was on the line, even though you know caste is meaningless, it is going to become damned important to you, damned quick, thereby perpetuating itself.

This isn’t just in the tiny, backwater villages either, as people claim when they are willing to talk about caste and honour killings.  It’s everywhere that caste exists.  Everywhere.

Our Gurus understood how wrong it was more than 500 years ago and they spread that message as far as they could reach.  Yet, it’s still the poison that ruins the well around here.  It’s open, in your face, discrimination of the very worst kind – the kind that makes it okay that people die for it.

Seriously, drop that garbage already.  Drop it, crush it beneath your shoes and set that system on fire.  Bye-bye.  Gone.  Done.  It is not for the Sikhs, it is not for anyone.

Wrong-caste plumber me arse.  He was just a bad plumber.  That had nothing to do with his caste at all, just his skills.

Rant over and in case you’re wondering … there is still a leak, still mould growing on the wall, still a problem.  I hope they fix it and if they do, I hope they care nothing about the caste of the plumber who shows up to do the job and only care about the mould that is going to make them very weak and very sick.

Until next time (still in Srinagar – there’s SO much to see).

Peace and love all,


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