Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore looks at the spontaneity of the Jhelum river during one autumnal evening of October 1915, from the ‘Baradari’ (Building Pavillion allowing free flow of air) of his host, Pandit Anand Koul Bamzai’s house in Zaina Kadal area of Srinagar city.
His thoughts try to keep pace with the waters of the Jhelum as he wonders: “How many kings and peasants has this river seen come and go; how many races, cultures, kinship, and enmities have been swept away in the anger of Jhelum’s fury during floods.
“There is permanence in the spontaneity of Jhelum which makes one realise the ephemeral, inconsequential reality of us living beings”.
Before he gathers himself for an evening with local poets, who are eager to read their poems to him, Tagore adds last minute dashes to his paintings of the Jhelum River.
After this, he gets busy looking at the English translations of these poems provided to him in advance by his host, Bamzai.
Bamzai has been a patron of arts and literature and his standing in the Dogra Maharaja’s government has attracted men of letters from near and far off lands.
“Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore visited Kashmir in October 1915.
“He composed the famous ‘BALAKA’ (Flight of Herons) series of poems during his stay in Kashmir.
“Though BALAKA means herons, but Gurudev told his disciples in Shantiniketan that he had actually referred to a flight of Geese in this poetic series.
“He was accompanied by Bengali poet, Satyendranath Dutta, his son Rathindra Nath and Pratima Devi to Kashmir.
“During his stay here, Gurudev was invited by Pandit Anand Koul Bamzai, who worked as Sheriff in the office of Raja Amar Singh’s council of regency.
“Koul later became the president of Srinagar municipality from 1914 to 1915. He was a writer, scholar and historian who had published some books through the Asiatic Society of Bengal,” writes Kashmir blogger, Autar Mota.
Mota says Gurudev was brought to Anand Koul’s residence in a Tonga by famous Kashmiri teacher, Master Zinda Koul and Anand Koul himself.
Through his paintings of Kashmir’s Mughal Gardens and the Jhelum, Tagore introduced Kashmir to Bengal and outside World.
Tagore is not the only great man to have visited the Bamzai dwellings which have now been adopted as the heritage site by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural heritage (INTACH)
Hakim Sameer Hamdani, director architecture at INTACH Kashmir chapter said the adoption as a heritage site is based on three parameters — history, archaeology and architecture.
Saleem Beg, head of INTACH Kashmir told IANS, “Not only Gurudev, but the founder of Indian school of painting, Abanindranath Tagore also stayed as a guest with Pandit Anand Koul during his Kashmir visit.
“Interestingly, Abanindranath is the first Indian painter to have painted Kashmir and thereby introduced it to the Indian school of painters.
“Besides, the British painters, Abanindranath has played a pioneering role in bringing Kashmir’s scenic glory home from an Indian painter’s perspective”.
Swami Vivekanand, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, Urdu poet/philosopher Sir Mohammad Iqbal, Kashmir’s revolutionary poet, Mehjoor, and many other distinguished persons are known to have broken bread with Pandit Anand Koul Bamzai at his historic home that now stands as the lone witness to the greatness of Kashmir’s rich eclectic, intellectual, glorious past.
Time has demolished the brick and mortar wall around these two houses, but it has not succeeded in taking away the grandeur and majesty of the two wood and brick structures.
Ghulam Nabi, head mason has been supervising the restoration work of these heritage buildings.
He has been supervising this work for the last six months.
“It is not just another masonry job that we are doing here. We have been working here for the last six months and it is not going to take anything less than one year more to complete,” Ghulam Nabi said.
Zubair Ahmad Wani lives a stone’s throwaway from these buildings. He is bitter about the lack of government’s interest to preserve this masterpiece of architecture.
“Shouldn’t these buildings be the most attractive tourist destination in Srinagar city? These buildings are in shambles.
“For many years these were occupied by the security forces. They used to store hard coke etc in the most reckless manner inside these houses.
“Even the walls have started crumbling because of misuse and lack of maintenance.
“You may not know that the wooden doors of these houses are the same I have seen inside the Taj Mahal. Even the crevices in the walls are arched like those inside the Taj.
“And here we are today talking of the destruction of our most cherished heritage,” Wani looked visibly disturbed while he said this and kept on looking at the Bamzai residences.
Furkaan Ahmad Qasid, is the son of Farooq Ahmad Qasid who purchased these two buildings from the Wani family last year.
“We are proud to own this heritage property, but more than that, our interest is in restoring these two to their original glory.
“This is the reason why we live in one building while the other is being restored. We are looking forward to days when tourists and locals will come here to be part of this heritage that has suffered neglect because of uneven times,” Furkaan told IANS.
The Qasid family is engaged in mutton trade and the main shop of Farooq Ahmad Qasid is situated near the bridge some distance away from his new home.
Would this heritage be restored in all its glory for posterity to see what Kashmir has been proud of? Would time obliterate the grandeur of this building like it did to the centuries old amity between the Muslims and the local Pandits?
The newfound interest evoked by the INTACH emblem and the desire of the locals not to snap the historic connect with their glorious past, indicates that both Kashmir’s eclectic culture and the Bamzai monuments have hope.