Qaimganj/Kaimganj through My Eyes…
One of the things that still fills me with amazement is when people from outside India express surprise that there are Pashtun tribes with their roots in different parts of India flourishing even today. Well, I want to announce to the world that I am proud to be an Afridi Pashtun who can trace back her family’s ancestral roots to the Tirah Valley which straddles the Kurram & Khyber Agency Nonetheless, I am equally proud to be an Indian and a diehard patriot. This may raise eyebrows but it is important that this fact is acknowledged. This country has given me everything that a person can strive or dream to have.
Brought up in a typical Muslim Pashtun household and fed on the stories of chivalry, bravery, knighthood & valor about our grandfather, great grandfather, ancestors etc. I always felt this underlying closeness towards Afghanistan its people and my heart till today weeps at the plight of Pashtun brethren that are living in such dire circumstances in that part of the world. Though I have never been to the country nor do I know much about the place, yet I feel that there is an eternal connection with the people, place and culture.
Kaimganj is a small village in district Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh in North India; this is the place where my father was born and had spent his early years. Though I was neither born there nor spent my initial years in my paternal house, summer vacations were nevertheless something I always looked forward to. It meant spending time in the green fields with cousins, talking, playing, long strolls, taking a dip in the tube-well learning to swim and almost getting drowned, plucking mangoes from the orchard and spending loads of time climbing trees. But equally the most fascinating thing (which is crystal clear and engraved in my mind) is seeing older cousins, my father and his cousins cleaning their guns, practicing their aim, and listening to hoary tales from yesteryear. About how his uncle fired at his nephew for a trivial matter, how one of the dacoits came to our house and how my father jumped with a gun in front of his dad and fired back at the dacoit, and perhaps the most important thing (for me) how my grandfather’s mother known as “Captani” (because her husband was a captain in the Gwalior army) used to rule the house.
All this just had an overwhelming affect on me. And by the time my vacations were over and I came back to Delhi I used to be full of pride and vanity that I belonged to such a warrior tribe. My young mind found immense satisfaction in the fact that we were fighters and we could fight anything and everything. This is how we were brought up. I remember even at school I was quite arrogant about my connection with Afghanistan and Pashtuns. Despite being a slight young girl I did not fear anyone and it is so strange that now when I look back, I realize that even my classmates and other children at school used to look up to me as a very strong protective person who could stand up for herself and protect others. I remember standing up to a few guys in my school much senior to me, and to my absolute astonishment when the incident was reported to my father, instead of scolding me, or questioning me he was apparently quite proud of the fact, that I had stood up for myself. In a few days the story of me standing up to bullies was public and all of a sudden I became a “hero” in Kaimganj. Next summer vacation when I visited my ancestral village and met relatives this was one story everyone from all age groups wanted to know about. I made them all very proud keeping the true warrior spirit of an Afridi!
This was just a one off tale of the many years that I spent growing up amongst other Indian Pashtuns. Years have passed by, and now when I look back I feel it was like another era. As I was always interested in finding about my roots I started reading and found that the structure of houses, traditions and culture are still the same in Kaimganj as it is amongst the Afridi clans of Tirah. All houses are built with a baithak or dalaan (Hujra) where the men gather and then there are open verandahs followed by the living area for women. Women in Kaimganj are not oppressed but like most Eastern cultures are objects of pride & modesty. They are the ones who carry the burden of “ghar ki izzat” on their shoulders. They are supposed to wear a “chaddar” if and when they are going out of the “dehleez” of their premises; however I could never understand the concept because men standing out and gazing at women in “chaddars” always knew who they were and where they were going!
Another very vivid memory of my childhood is of marriages that used to take place in Kaimganj. It was such a big affair the festivities would go on forever. Of the many traditions my personal favorites were playing with colors, which happens in the groom’s house. All the girls of the family apply color to the white head cloth (sar ka salloo) for the bride and then this is presented to the bride, whereas, there is no religious significance for this ritual what I came to understood is that as colors are a way to express love & prosperity, this ritual is done to bless the bride with all happiness and colors for the new married life that she is stepping into. After the head cloth is colored the girls start playing with the colors amongst themselves. This tradition has a close resemblance to the Hindu festival of Holi. Other than this, what I really found strange was that there was no dinner or meal provided on the day of the Nikah ceremony. It was only the next day that guests were invited by the groom’s family for reception (dawat-e-walima). Instead the girl’s family would host a dinner a day before the Nikah. But these are not the only two occasions where large feasts are involved in fact the day the guests start arriving the feasts start. Instead the formal marriage dinner, (which is not so formal), which may occur on the day of the Nikah elsewhere is considered as if for these two days. There are large tandoors set up in the open area, there are no banquet halls or hotels for the ceremonies everything is done within the house and if required the nearby fields are made ready to accommodate a large number of men by covering the area with a nice marquee.
Another interesting tradition, which was practiced in Kaimganj and is supposed to be an Afghani tradition, is of tying multiple hair plaits for the bride which the groom has to untie. Quite fascinating! The dress worn by the groom is also something that is an old Afridi traditional dress called the “Jama” the tradition of which, with the passage of time is now dying down. The dress is made of fine muslin chikankari cloth usually white in color.
The language spoken in Kaimganj still has some Pashto words. As a child I used to pick up these words but I didn’t know at that time that these are words from the Pashto language. It was much later that I discovered this fact. Sadly, the language died three or four generations ago and now there are only few words here and there left of the Pashto language.
Times have changed, as have the traditions. People nowadays do not have enough time to invest or think about our long lost culture and roots. However, few things will remain alive in our memories forever. The closeness that I personally feel with Afghanistan and the people is just platonic and cannot be well expressed in words.