Geneva Diaries #64*

Kadambari, Kashmir, Hamlet, Haider

On Sat, Jan 31, 2015, Roger Stevenson wrote:

Dear Purnima,

That’s great that you are going to do another trip to California via Geneva,

but your choice of dates is terrible as far as getting together in the Bay

Area. We are going to Paris in March and will be there during those dates.

We leave here the 12th and return on the 27th via Iceland. You aren’t going

to change planes or have a brief layover in Paris on your way to California

are you? It would be fun to reconnect there if that is possible.

We are going over to hit the annual Paris Book Fair, and Annick has an

appointment with the publisher that published her book about the

mistress/muse of Jean Giono. She’s hoping that they will do a new issue with

new information that has now been made public about her influence on the

writer. She also has another book project in the works that she wants to

discuss with them. It will also be fun to catch up on a bit of French

culture while we are there, not to mention the great baguettes and

croissants that are somewhat hard to find in California. I’m looking forward

to the trip. We are coming back on Icelandair and are doing a two-day

layover in Reykjavik, which should be fun. I’ve always wanted to visit that

icy, barren island. I just hope it isn’t too terribly cold there at the end

of March.

What is your itinerary after the 26th? Any other times or places where we

could meet?

Are you going to return to Chamonix and get some skiing in while you are in

Geneva? They just got a ton of new snow in the French Alps. I did hear,

however, that the Russians have pretty much stopped coming to France to ski

this winter because of the fall of the value of the Ruble and the terrible

economic situation in Russia. It has had some terrible consequences for the

skiing industry in France, especially in places like Megève and Courchevel.

Did you see Obama while he was in India? Too bad he had to cut his Indian

visit short to attend the funeral for King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia.

Love and hugs,


Roger Stevenson

Dear Roger,

It’s great to get all your news, and your trip back to Paris sounds wonderful. I would love to meet you and Annick, is it possible for you to swing by The Bay Area/SF on March 27/28 before heading back to Southern California as my plans have been shifted out by a couple of days?

Unlike you Roger, i have been pretty much based here in Delhi since my return from Goa early January, but I have had some interesting guests to keep me company, artists, bankers and lawyers from across the globe Singapore/UK/East Africa, Calcutta (yes that is somewhere between here and the moon), an American in Delhi and even even a close college buddy from Hong kong and thus many hours of stimulating dinnertime conversation which inevitably veered back to the Alps.

I have also spent this very quiet introspective time catching up on movies and books. The One Who Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest left me awake all night with its eery connect, how the fiery independent Jack Nicholson battles the system to retain his self expression and is finally lobotomized as the system which can’t handle him, extinguishes that “self” which he strives to retain. 

See Below – One Who Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

See trailer:

I then watched a brilliant Indian Movie called Haider, an Indian adaptation of Hamlet set in Kashmir bringing alive the picturesque landscape, the local Kashmiri dress, culture customs, homes, buildings. But most of all providing an insight into the tragedy that faces its people being torn apart by two dominant states, India and Pakistan.

See Haider, Indian movie Trailer:

See below a video essay on the Indian movie Haider- A Shakespearean Disruption:

The Indian army presence, the presence of the Pakistani trained and sympathetic terrorist organizations, the oppressive restrictions upon its people by the special orders act of the Indian government are all brought out in this very realistic family drama of a woman who marries her husbands brother within a few weeks of his disappearance, the obsessive love of the mother for the son, and of the son for the mother who cannot accept this union with his uncle, and feigns madness in order to exact revenge. This Indian version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Kashmir and the Martand Sun Temple as it’s backdrop, where Haider (Hamlet) enacts out the details of his fathers murder showcases traditional Kashmiri culture in song, dance, dress and setting is beautifully performed see link below: 

See below a clip from the film Haider : Bismil(Scene of the Enactment of the Play – Play within the Play)

See Hamlet – The Play within The play:

I revisit my fav theme – The Temples of The Sun. See below the setting for Bismil: The Martand Sun Temple – Kashmir

And the Huff Post article on the sad state of neglect of this Kashmiri heritage site:

My father Vijay Viswanathan’s eternal fascination with The Temples of The Sun at The Martand Sun Temple in Kashmir in pic below:

Vijay Viswanathan at The Temple of The Sun- The Martand Sun Temple, Kashmir

Haider, or the Indian Hamlet is essentially the material of a social commentary, a documentary, on the plight of the Kashmiris, woven into mainstream cinema and has received rave reviews and many rewards. It made me proud of the fact that such freedom of expression still exists India, that such a sensitive subject could be retold in such a massive public forum, commercial cinema. I give it a two thumbs up for weaving together so many facets, primarily taking on the highly contentious and sensitive issue of Kashmir, and i give the Indian censor board two thumbs up for passing the film with minimal damage. However, I must admit, even though this film has covered the tragedy of Kashmir, it has left out one of its most tragic and poignant victims, the Kashmiri Pandits, the Hindus from Kashmir who called that piece of heaven their home and are intrinsically a part of that picture but had to flee and live as refugees in hovels, temporary tenements in crowded, polluted and aggressive Delhi. These people still lie languishing, being refugees in their own country, and no one seems to remember their voice.

Whenever I think of Kashmir, I think of my father. He spent his youth traversing the Himalayas, for sport, for game. He knew Kashmiri culture intimately, and would often discuss its distinctiveness. The Kashmiri pandits loved him, and right out of university, they gave him his first job. When we travelled to Kashmir with him as children, before the tragedy and turmoil, we were escorted around Kashmir by a Kashmiri army captain, a muslim, who seemed to admire my father as much as the pundits did. He listened in rapt attention as my father discussed the history of the State, its topography, wild life and its customs almost hushing us kids up so we would not disturb my fathers dialogue. He then invited us to his home and my father read the perso-arabic script at the top of his doorway, and I think he clapped with joy, a couplet from the Koran. My father’s Urdu was impeccable, can’t say the same about his Tamil, I then realized the Kashmiris whether they be Hindu or Muslim share an aesthetic sensibility, they like things of beauty. In the above clip, for the first time in a Hindi movie, I could actually see my father in the role of the performer. He was always accused by my mother of being an “Angrez”, a foreigner, westerner, Englishman, her common refrain was that the English left, but they left you behind. But in my eyes I saw that he embraced the Kashmiri culture so much, that I could see him dressed up like Shahid Kapoor  in the above song Bismil from Haider and dance those very masculine steps. 

See below a photo of my father Vijay Viswanathan in Kashmir (there is just no way of editing out the cigarette as it so belongs to that time):

Vijay Kumar Viswanathan in Kashmir

But the main reason this movie brings me back to my father, is Hamlet. The last words out of my fathers mouth after the doctors had butchered him, cutting away his body parts, as the cancer spread across his frame, and subjecting him to radiation and chemotherapy in its most rudimentary and barbaric form leaving his skin charred and body reduced to bones. My father all of 48 years, looking at his dependent wife and young children struggled between life and succumbing to death. A death he yearned for, to release him and a life he could not let go. He quoted Hamlet:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;

A snapshot from his time – Olivier’s Hamlet film (1948): To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy:

And sleep he did. But in a remote corner of The English Garden there blossoms a Kashmiri rose, a Kashmiri rose colored with his blood. This leads me to the story of Kadambari, (in our version) an Indo-French English story. A Sanskrit classic, a magnificent novel, a story that must be told. But for that you will have to promise me a thousand and one nights for when one reads Kadambari even food is forgotten (Kadambari Rasajnaanaam aahaaropi rochate)!

Kadambari, apart from being my aunts name (father’s sister), is a love story by Banabhatta, who was a great poet and 7th century Sanskrit scholar. Banabhatta weaves an incredible tapestry of tales of men, birds and beasts, demi gods and sages, in a multi-dimensional ever morphing time perspective that will take your breath away and make modern Anime appear mundane. Ironically this supposed world’s first novel and phenomenal work was no where to be seen at the Bodmer Foundation, this library/museum of antique books and manuscripts in Geneva (as mentioned earlier) where merely a panel was devoted to Persian literature and a dark nook for all of Indian/ Sanskrit literature. This glaring inadequacy has to be addressed Roger, and I know you are the one to do it. If I were to introduce myself as a Vedic Aryan to a European, i assure you it would draw a blank. In fact, It might invoke some convoluted images in their minds based on their historical baggage but it will not get them closer to me or Kadambari, and I do think that would be a pity, don’t you? Do you not think these museums that hold themselves out as repositories of world culture and antiquity, and devote nothing to Sanskrit and Persian literature are doing their youth, their people a grave wrong? Do they not wield a responsibility to educate their youth about the globe beyond their European borders? Do see if you can get your hands on Banabhatta’s Kadambari, while I weave out my version. 


Check out The Foundation Bodmer:

A part of my family storywhen Kanya Kumari marries Kashmir. See below a pic of my aunt Kadambari in an Indian saree – an image worth ten thousand words:


A young Kadambari with Thatcher (an image from her husband M.K.Rasgotra’s book – A Life in Diplomacy. A part of our family story of when Kanya Kumari marries Kashmir):

An Epic Tale of Two Nations – Kadambari with Thatcher

Images of Kashmir – see attached image of an American Girl Doll (yes let’s expand the narrative) my daughter Tara, a Kashmiri rose in traditional Kashmiri dress below:

Tara in Kashmir


Since we had started with Hamlet, I would like to end with the Hindi movie Haider which I repeat is a brilliantly staged interpretation of Hamlet showcasing the politics of Kashmir and share some Hindustani (Hindi/Urdu) words as French seems to have completely evaporated from my memory.

I would like to share my favorite dialogue from the movie:

Intiqam Se Sirf Intiqam Paida Hota Hai.

Jab Tak Ham Apne Intiqam Se Azad Nahi Ho Jaty, Tab Tak Koi Aazadi Hamein Azad Nahi Kar Sakti.

Which translates as: Revenge only breeds revenge. Till you are not free from your vengeance, no freedom can free you.

Intiqam is the main theme of the play/movie.

The first word is Intiqam or revenge taken from UChicago South Asian Digital Dictionary:

تقام intiḳām

A (inf. viii. of نقم Heb. He took revenge) s. m. Revenge, retaliation. انتقام لینا intiḳām lenā, To take revenge, to revenge.

(Roger, is Intiqam also a Hebrew word?)

The second word is Shahid, or martyr. 

Most online dictionaries define this as a muslim martyr, and often have many negative connotations attributed. This shocks me as in Hindustani Shahid is a honorific, and both Hindus, Sikhs and muslims use the word to connote someone who has sacrificed himself or herself for a humane and noble cause. For me Shahid will always be associated with the brave and noble Indian revolutionary Shahid Bhagat Singh, a punjabi Sikh, who fought for Indian independence against The British Raj and sacrificed his life for the same. 

The story of Shahid Bhagat Singh has a special resonance as my great grandfather S.Doraiswami Iyer, a prominent Madras lawyer, a part of Sri Aurobindo core circle in Pondicherry, supported the revolutionary cause from the South(Indian independence from British colonial rule) with mind, body and spirit, funds to the revolutionaries.

See below a clip from a Hindi movie portraying the hanging of Shahid Bhagat Singh whose last words were “long live the revolution”:

The Story of Shahid Bhagat Singh

From The Bollywood movie The Legend of Bhagat Singh:

Interestingly enough the main character in the movie Haider born of a Hindu Punjabi father is named Shahid Kapur, and like Hamlet who sacrifices himself for a noble cause (avenging the death of his father) is aptly named.

See below definition of Shahid from The Digital South Asian Dictionary:

شہيد shahīd

A (from شہد) s. A witness; a mar- tyr (any Mohammedan killed in battle is so called). adj. Killed. شہيدهونا shahīd honā, 1. To be killed. 2. To fall in love. (Pers. plur. شہيدان).

Love and hugs to you and the whole family. 




Disclaimer 😛

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Published by Purrnima

Travel Writer - Art Blogger - CyberSmurf

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