As a teen I once took a lifetime journey, trekking down from my picturesque village, through thick jungles to a river and then uphill to another village to meet children in a school. That world of mine was beautiful, and blissfully unaware of the complexities of the world outside.
Fast forward a few decades and today I can tell you my ancestors have lived in the Indus basin for centuries and our existence in this geography was always embedded in geopolitics. Centuries ago and I don’t know how many, my forefathers lived in what was some kind of a Greek settlement near what’s today’s Jammu city. Not only that, my paternal family has a “situational identity”, a surname derived from Greek nomenclature.
About two centuries ago I found them in another village in the Shivalik foothills. I’m not clear under what circumstances and when this migration took place from the Greek settlement to the foothills.
From here, over 170 years ago an ancestor set on a journey on foot from the Shivalik steppes to Haridwar and on his way back in some very interesting circumstances got employed in the Patiala garrison. His 1857-58 medal preserved with the family is an evidence of his employment in the Sikh-British army.
Patiala had one of the best educational policies of colonial India and his son went on to become the first B.A in contemporary education of Jammu and Kashmir.
A gold medalist, he was appointed as an official on special deputation by the third dogra Maharaja Pratap Singh to Codify the Customs of Kashmir in 1915. He was mysteriously killed at the age of 41 years, immediately after finishing the assignment in 1918.
His work within the office of Kashmir’s Settlement Commission set up under the British helped me gather a unique comprehension of the state of affairs in the Dogra administration of the late 19th and the early 20th century.
They portray to me the complexity of policy making then, the many threats involved while carrying out a thankless job and above all the geo-political context and the politics within the Kashmir valley in which land and administrative reforms were initiated first.
The agricultural projects he left behind including a tea garden appear to me some of the first agricultural experiments initiated in the region under British commissioners.
This research to discover my centuries-old-roots within Indus civilization happened through so much travel, adventure and intellectual opportunities as well as intellectual crisis. As I move forward further, I’ll keep identifying the latter with more sincerity.
Tenth in a Special Series titled ‘From Kashmir to Haridwar’ based on family history, anecdotes, cultural linkages and ancestry by journalist Venus Upadhayaya. Read the other articles here.