Dictionary of Kashmiri Imponderabilia — by Onaiza Drabu

Feb 20, 2020

An “annexe” to a book can reveal the great detail and dedication with which such a book has been researched, elaborated and written. Such is the case with this excerpt from Onaiza Drabu’s The Legend of Himal and Nagrai (Spoken Tiger Books, 2019) that the author names the “Dictionary of Kashmiri Imponderabilia.” The excerpt is an annex listing words, proverbs, expressions and phrases taken from the Kashmiri language in a retelling in English of a series of Kashmiri folktales that, in the field of world literature, are equivalents to One Thousand and One Nights (Alf Laylah wa-Laylah), Aesop’s Fables, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, The Decameron or James Stephen’s Irish Fairy Tales. We have included the summary of Drabu’s book (from the publisher), along with her author’s note on this “Dictionary of Kashmiri Imponderabilia” as well as relevant links. All materials published with permission from the publisher, Spoken Tiger Books.

An annex to a book can reveal the great detail and dedication with which such a book has been researched, elaborated and written. Such is the case with this excerpt from Onaiza Drabu's The Legend of Himal and Nagrai (Speaking Tiger Books, 2019) that the author names the "Dictionary of Kashmiri Imponderabilia." The excerpt is an annex listing words, proverbs, expressions and phrases taken from the Kashmiri language in a retelling in English of a series of Kashmiri folktales that, in the field of world literature, are equivalents to One Thousand and One Nights (Alf Laylah wa-Laylah)Aesop's FablesGrimms' Fairy TalesThe Decameron or James Stephen's English retelling of Irish Fairy Tales. Below is the summary of Drabu's book (from the publisher), along with her author's note on this "Dictionary of Kashmiri Imponderabilia" as well as relevant links. All materials published with permission from the publisher, Speaking Tiger Books.

SUMMARY

Filled with serpent kings, long-lost lovers, magical birds and seductive witches, The Legend of Himal and Nagrai is an enchanting collection of folk tales from a land as beautiful as it is misunderstood—Kashmir.

In the title story, the serpent king Nagrai takes on human form to be with his one true love, the princess Himal. But despite Nagrai’s warnings, when Himal doubts her lover’s origins, all hell breaks loose. Will the star-crossed lovers ever be together?

Leaving home for the mountains, a goat evades a jackal, a lion and a bear, promising to come down all fattened up for them after winter. But will she really be able to get back home safely, and save her newborn kids from the jaws of death?

A pauper goes on a quest to awaken his luck, which has been ‘asleep’ for years. Will he ever recognize good luck staring him in the face?

These and twenty-six other tales, painstakingly collected and retold by Drabu, bring to light an immensely rich, multicultural and largely undocumented tradition of storytelling. As Kashmiri voices continue to be brutally silenced, this book is a vibrant tapestry celebrating the spirit and imagination of Kashmir, in the words of its own people.

Source: Official book page from Speaking Tiger Books

Author's Note

This excerpt is an annexe to my book of Kashmiri folktales. While researching folklore, I found so much more in way of folk belief and memory that is alive in our language. The result is below. A dictionary of memory – memory of the imponderabilia that seep into our lives and conversations, until unconsciously we assimilate the culture packed into a language. Much as it is inclusions are important, exclusions are too. Hence, it serves to note that there is no word for thank you and welcome in Kashmiri.

PS: My favourite thing about this whole exercise was Wendy Doniger’s book jacket quote which I am more than thrilled to show off:

“This delightful collection of stories, solidly grounded in careful translation, with always helpful notes on linguistic and cultural surprises, transports the reader into an affectionate personal realm of childhood storytelling. In these days when Kashmir is ever more inaccessible to most of us, it is both a personal pleasure and a cultural treasure to have this authentic Kashmiri voice speaking to us from the living realm of Kashmiri memory and imagination.”

Dictionary of Kashmiri Imponderabilia

 

Aab Dabbe (n): (literal) a box made of water. A person with no substance or solid spirit.

Ader Zaet (adj): (literal) a wet rag. A clingy, annoying person.

 Adczot (n): An invalid. A useless person; a fool.

 Agaadi (v): To be annoyingly persistent and persuasive, as though at one’s back.

Agar Pachin (n): A majestic mythical bird that hovers around forests and lakes, known for lifting heavy objects in its strong claws. It appears in different forms and folktales across geographies, guided by its able wings, it is also suspected to have played a part as the giant bird Roc in Sindbad’s tale.

Ama (interjection): I wonder. “Is that so?” A story-telling device that is meant to invoke many things – a question when said in a higher pitch, an explanation when uttered in a muted voice, a thought when added carelessly to the beginning of a sentence or an expression of desire with doubt of its accomplishment.

Azarwun (v): Inability to be happy at someone else’s good fortune.

Baana kuth (n): (literal) Utensil room, pantrys. A room for storing vessels, utensils and other dishes and more often than not, used as a larder for storing food, grain, spices and condiments.

Balai Lagai (expression): I will take your misfortune upon me. Used as an expression of affection, mostly by an older family member for a younger one, often while pleading, feeding and casually conversing.

Bata (n): (literal) Rice – what lunch and dinner should be. The word bata literally translates into ‘rice’ but is used synonymous to lunch as well as dinner letting you know, and understandably, that without rice, a meal is incomplete.

Batakh Poth (n): A duck’s backside, said to have the gift of turning the eater into a blabber mouth. To have eaten batak poth  is an expression often employed for someone who talks a lot.

Beem(n): Fear or intimidation often one that arises out of reverence.

Bhoot (n): The wandering spirit of a human who has been murdered without any fault of his. It is said to not be at peace till those responsible are punished.

Boam (v) : An expression of sulking articulated as the rising of boam, a facial expression. Anger that rises within but doesn’t find an outlet. Silent rage. Often a rising boam is known to spoil the fun.

Bram Bram Chok (n):  A wolf like creature, who in winters carries a torch on its head. The torch could also be burning eyes positioned atop his head but since no one has lived to see, we are not sure. Big, old, hairy and scary, he is known to light fire to houses when enraged and to make travelers lose his way. Travelers who cross his path, especially in the winter, travel day and night but never reach their destination.

Butraech (n): Earth, land. The realm of the real world inhabited by humans.

Byor Phyangun (v): The crying of a cat. Bad omen signifying misfortune.

Chalith (adj.): (literal) Washed. Someone who is devoid of emotions of love and conjugal feeling for people close to him. All emotion has been washed off of him.

Chappi Lagun (expression): To offer oneself as a sacrifice for another. An expression of love.

Chilai Kalan (n): (also Chila Khurd, Chila Bacha) (literal) Big Winter. The mature months of winter, when frost is at its peak and all one can do is hide. Winter is divided into three phases the first of which is the harshest and starts on the 21 of December. It lasts for 40 days and then makes way for Chilla Khurd (20 days) and Chilla Bacha (10 days). In the latter two (literal translation ‘small winter’ and ‘child winter’) the winter slowly disappears and icicles and frost from chilai kalan melt to give way to spring.

Choar (n): A fool. Often used as a derogatory term encompassing wide range of mental illnesses.

Chokun(v): To feel sour towards someone. An expression of anger, that describes envy as a physical manifestation of sour acid rising in ones stomach.

Daamb (n): Pretense or hypocrisy. To conjure up stories and stubbornly stick to them, acting like a child.

Dabaaw (n): Influence in social settings. Ability to get past rules, and command a respect that invites favours.

 Dapaan (v): It is said. An expression of the orality of Kashmiri, dapaan, is a collection of voices that translate to ‘it is said’. The way to begin any story, fact, or myth. Fact takes a backset when ‘dapaan’ is invoked.

Daen (n): An ugly, grotesque lady who roams naked with her hair running all the way to her feet and covering her body. Her feet face backwards. She normally lives in dense forest but occasionally steps out to meet humans. She is known to love human kidneys and the heart and for this she resorts to killing humans often by pretending to be a long-lost aunt. More practically, she is used to scare children to keep them quiet when they fuss and blamed for young men’s deaths. The only way to control her is through gaining control of her hair or through prayer and intercession of a saint. (see also: rantas)

Dankuth (n): A room to cook. A traditional kitchen.

Darbadari(n): Going from door to door. The act of casually hanging and passing time without any productive activity much to the chagrin of your parents.

Dayi Bata (n): That rice that is used at the time of the wedding bride and groom eat together. Some amount of each dish served at the wedding is saved for the couple and fed by an aunt to the couple by the stove in their new house.

Deka (n): Forehead. Luck is said to be written on ones’ forehead and hence, a big forehead is a sign of prosperity and good luck.

Dev (n): A cannibal giant. A large being with an immense head on his shoulders and large, bulging eyes. The word dev is used humorously to mean demon or devil, often as a suffix while teasing and taunting.

Dodh moaj (n): Milk mother. A foster mother who brings up a child and feeds it at her own breast along with her children. The siblings are then dodj boi and dodh beni (milk brother and milk sister) of the child, a bond created by sharing milk.

Dodh Wugra (n): A sacrificial dish prepared when a cow gives milk for the first time after giving birth to a calf. It is this milk mixed with moist rice that is ground to make a paste, intended to not be chewed but simply swallowed. Usually fed to children and sent to shrines as an offering. Also prepared during the ten days of Muharram. Wugra, or simply, mashed rice without the milk, is usually for sick people.

Haenz (n): Community of boatmen that lives on or by the rivers and lakes of Kashmir. They are said to have descended from Noah, given their occupation as first boatmen. They are presumed to be loud and quarrelsome, often written about in travelers’ accounts, as having inventive powers for their vocabulary of abuse.

Hakri hoon (n): A mythical creature that looks much like an itchy dog. In winter he wanders on the streets. Also used for someone with a habit of eavesdropping.

Hatakh (v): To take offence to an act or words of another in a quiet manner without communicating resentment yet waiting for an apology.

Hay (pronoun): Pronoun of choice of a wife for her husband in place of their real name and vice versa.

Hosh (expression): An act of warning to scare of spirits, ghosts or other supernatural beings may be resting under trees and in the forests before you go answer nature’s call in the open.

Isband zalun (v): Wild seeds burnt in an ornamental utensil. The act of burning this sweet smelling incense is to ward off evil spirits and often synonymous for ringing wedding bells.

Jera (v): A feeling of extreme agitation, being unable to breathe freely- the circumstance almost choking you. Actions associated could be wringing hands, tearing clothes off, or to act with impulsive recklessness after a period of restraint.

Jigar(n): (literal) liver. An expression of love. Jigar wandai – I would give (share) my liver for you. Jigar goshe/khash – A lobe of my liver. Jigar galun – To melt one’s liver (for another). Jigar dazun – Burning of the liver (heartbreak)

Jinn (n): Supernatural beings, spirits and demons, often living in hiding in uninhabited places.

Kaanger peyi (v): May a kanger fall all over you. Kanger is a earthenware pot, covered in wicker that Kashmiris use to keep warm in winter.

Kaek (adj): A difficult person to deal with, one who incessantly argues, nitpicks and criticizes. Used for someone anal or annoying who thinks himself superior.

Kaminis Zuh (n): A place of trials and tribulations. A place far away, beyond forests and land, where a person’s luck is tested.

Kashif (n): Premonition, a feeling from the other world that something is going to happen or is happening outside of your consciousness.

Khaslath(n): Character. A deep seated predisposition that cannot be changed.

Khur (n): The condition of being completely spoiled. It originates from many knots and tangles in a spinning wheel.

Koshik(adj): Dry. Used to describe a dull, boring person.

Koh e Kaaf (n): Also fairyland. A range of mountains shrouded in mystery and inhabited by mystical beings. Known to be the farthest point on earth, in reality, they are known to be the Caucasus mountains.

Kav Yenwol (n): A practice of feeding crows khechry or lentil rice at the the end of a lunar month as an offering. This is served on a plate made of twigs and grass and put out for the crows to eat as children invitingly sing.

Kav bata kavo,

khyechre kaavo

Kangai balai shana karith

Gurche myetche tyoka karith

Walba sane nave lare

Kana dare

Khychrah khyeh

Crow, oh dear wise crow,

Oh crow of the khyecher / lover

Come to our house with your spouse

With a mark of earth on your forehead

Come to our new house

Kana dare

Khor (n): One who is affected by scald head – a disease that renders one bald and the scalp disfigured. Colloquially used for someone looked upon as one having a lowly background, someone who is downtrodden or is known to have a terrible character.

Kondoer (n): A sacrificial meal, cooked in a huge pot and served in utensils of clay. It is a conditional sacrifice, made for a wish that the person wants fulfilled, often concerning health, marriage or childbirth.

Kuntreh (n): Twenty-nine. There is an expression in Kashmiri that literally translates into ‘leave it at the 29th’ for anything that you think does not require more attention – especially a fussy person who one is done with. (origin) The lunar calendar and its decisions of whether a month has 29 days or 30. Often in olden days, the month was left at 29 days instead of 30 and expressed such, when they didn’t have sufficient proof. It has since crept into the language.

Laanath (v): Curse, a cursed thing. An intolerable nuisance.

Lyeke lyekh (v): To throw cusses back and forth. A cussing match; indecent abuse, suggestive talk.

Malala Ratun (v): Taking offense and being displeased with someone, sulking without communicating. Usually in response to a missed invite, not enough attention being paid etc. Estrangement but not usually to someone very close.

Manzimyor (n): manzimyors or matchmakers who have for years, gone from home to home, carrying with them a roster of names of eligible young men and women – their diaries loaded with detail. The manzimyor can be a man or woman, but since they occupy feminine spaces within the household, male manzimyors go to great lengths to act effeminate and appear non-threatening. They look for all the essentials: age, khaandaan (family), ponsa (wealth) and shakal (looks).

Meng Dagg (n): (literal) Brain ache. A hassling responsibility.

Minnath(v): obligation, favour, courtesy, grateful, thanks. To voluntarily undergo the obligation.

Mot: A madman, (feminine maech) an aesetic, enraptured and detached from the real world. Often added as a suffix to an insult to make it loveable. Nang mot, (naked mot) khin mot (snot filled /snivelling madman) , gus(shit filled madman). Hard as it may be to believe, used as endearments for children.

Mokhsar (v): In short. Used at the turning point of a story after narrating the whole complaint but moving on as though it was an afterthought.

Myound: A morsel of rice. A lump of rice appropriately laced with meat or vegetable curry, molded with ones fingers. A synonym for food or a meal.

Naag (n): A word with multiple meanings in Kashmiri. (literal) snake.

Naag: A water body; a spring or clearing of water often as an oasis in the midst of a forest. These water bodies are said to be portals into the underworld and connections of this world to the world of the naga beings (see below). Making noise, littering and causing disturbance around naags is generally discouraged. Amongst the many superstitions associated with it, the essence is one that is summed up in a proverb – “Naga gad ache wuchni halal te khyen haram” The fish of naags aren’t to be eaten, only looking at them is allowed and eating isn’t.

Naga (female naagin): A tribe of beings who are half serpent and half man. They can transform into snakes and humans at will. They are known to be the original inhabitants of the Kashmir valley and to have supernatural powers, including commanding the weather. They live in the patal and connect to this world through naags (springs).

Nazar (n): (literal) sight, attention. To have ill luck brought by the jealous eye of another. (see also) nazar e adam: The sight of man. The envious eye of a human that causes him to bring misfortune upon the one being envied. nazar e bad: the ill intended eye of someone.

Nybreum (n): Outsider. Someone from outside of the valley of Kashmir, often one who isn’t a native Kashmiri speaker.

Oam teel vaniji (n): To have raw oil go down your insides. An expression of anger and jealously.

Ootra (n): The day before yesterday. Also possibly and very often, every day before yesterday.

Paama (n):।Taunting and shaming, often publicly

Paerim(n): (see nybreum) An alien tongue (usually Punjabi or Urdu). Someone who doesn’t speak the native language and is from outside the valley.

Peri(n): Fairy. A beautiful feminine being, two winged like a bird and able to fly and change forms. Often found near springs and water bodies, targeting young men who fall in love with her tricks. If a man resists her charms, she is known to try and drown him. If the man is bethrothed to another, or even married the peri does not hesitate to put obstacles in their way and harasses the woman. To get rid of a peris shadow, one must take a strand of her hair to a saint who will pray on it and only then can one get rid of her. They are known to be pranksters and have a peri sisterhood to aid them along their way.

Peristan (n): The part of the underworld (patal) where peris live.The houses are known to made of gold, and everything else in peristan is of glass. Their utensils are silver and clothes are silk. These beuatuful beings live in ultimate luxury and use nag’s as a portal to enter the world. To capture them, one needs to lay a trap in their path and only then will she be under their command.

Pasikdar (n): (also ghar devta) Guardian angel of a Kashmiri house, he is known to take the face and form of the eldest male of the household. His dispositition may be friendly or hostile, depending on the personality but his job is to guard the house from evil spirits. Kashmiri Pandits celebrate a festival to keep him happy, they prepare an offering of fish and rice and place it in the attic of the house. The whole house is cleaned and dishes washed.

Peyi Rasr (v): May hot, boiling water rain down on you. An abuse or expression of vexation towards another.

Peyi Trath (v): May you be struck by lightening. An abuse of expression of vexation towards another.

Peyi wasith : May it fall down. Employed for many body parts (face, nose, head) and used as a curse.

Phash (v): To wipe out, destroy. To raze to the ground.

Phata Wangun (v): A burst eggplant. A sly, clever young man often too clever for his own good.

Phatwan wad (v): To make a big fuss over small matters. So much that it annoys the other person. So much daamnb. Causing annoyance by remaining silent.

Pheshal (adj):  Ominous. A thing that destroys razes something to the ground.

Phokh dyun (v): The act of blowing a mouthful of air at someone, laden with incantations to aid transformations, shape shifting and in the more usual cases, safety.

Pishascha(n): Flesh eating demons. One of the two tribes, the other being nagas, who were the original inhabitants of Kashmir.

Poth Alaw (v): Calling someone right when they are about to leave – an ominous expression indicating misfortune.

 Prah (n): Having a supernatural being control ones the mind getting them to act out of social order. Prah can be when a jinn, naag, deyu or bhoot controls a humans’ mind and creates panic.

Pralabh (n): Destined. Something that was bound to happen.

Pushraav (v): Entrusting the task at hand or cause of worry to someone else, most commonly to God. Term used to substitute ‘let it be’.

Raatmoghul (n): literal own. Someone who has a habit of staying up late at night. Night owl. It is said that for children who are cursed, if you tie knots equal to the number of cries the raat moghul gives the child will be cured.

Rakhshas (n): Fearful and ugly demon who often derives strength from the darkness in night.

Rantas(n): A witch, most commonly identified by her feet which are turned backwards. She is known to kidnap men and take them to her cave in mountains. Similar to the daen, and often confused for her, she is a seductress who eats out the hearts of men. She is known to seek husbands amongst mortals, but their attachment has fatal consequences, as its object dies in the course of two or three months. In her true form, her face is scary and grotesque and she is said to hide her body with hair – long hair that reaches her feet. Legend has it though, that she can change form at will often pretending to be a beautiful woman.

Rechh (adj): Nickname given in jest. In Kashmir, nicknames were invented to easily identify people by their occupation, physical features or any other characteristic that caught peoples’ fancy. Many erstwhile nicknames are now family names. These include animal names, names of diseases, physical features and other words that reminds people of a peculiarity about a certain someone. Often rude and painful,  for the holder, the rechh has a habit of staying longer than wanted.

Roshun (v): The often baffling and confusing art of taking offense and being upset with someone, often without much said and expressed. Unexpressed sulking. Resentment often with husband and wife, lovers, or close family.

Saat e Hasan (n): The time of day where all that is said comes true.

Shikaslad (n): Someone destined to be a pauper. A person who, no matter how hard he tries, always manages to find himself out of means to live, poor or in ill luck.

Shoob(n): Elegance, grace, beauty – a refined demeanor.

Shahmar (n): If for one hundred years a snake is not seen by human eyes, he transforms into a Shahmar – the head of snakes. If hidden from the human eye for a 100 more he transforms into an ajdar.

Shraz (n): A m mythological bird, said to be in love with the moon. Every night the shraz attempts to embrace it, climbing atop a height and jumping off as though to grasp it in its arms. Every night it falls down and dies only to rise again from the ashes.

Tahri (n): Yellowed rice, made from turmeric and shallots. Used to keep away misfortunes. Usually prepared on a designated day and distributed to neighbours, passers by on a road and those hungry. Often also distributed in shrines as an offering.

Tal Patal (n): (also patal) Underworld; a world under this earth that is inhabited by the naga race and many other mythical beings. The universe is divided into three realms, the earth, paradise and tal patal. The first world is this earth, other world that we see with a naked eye. Above this world lies another – paradise. And under it is another world called patal or tal patal. Patal is inhabited by those we tell most stories about – jinns, paris, devs and nagas. The world underneath is beautiful and its opulence lends it beauty. Sunlight may not reach patal but the light from gems and jewels illuminates it. Age does not exist and neither does disease. The sand sparkles like diamonds and even the mud is not dirty.

Tapali (n): A big menace or mass misfortune. Used as a cuss word for naughty kids. Also used to describe the demon of plague.

Tarr (n): A fib, an invented story. Usually exaggerated boasting thrown around with ease.

Tavan (n): Burning sorrow caused due to anything. Very serious loss or misfortune.

Tavanzad (adj): Verb for someone to whom this deep sorrow of tavan inflicts.

Tasrufdar (n): An imaginary character who is said to haunt streams and rivers, the wilderness and especially under poplars and chinars. Mostly out at night, he scares those who water plants late, cutting their water and scaring them by making noises. He often pretends to be a land owner and bothers poor farmers. Women, especially brides, are more scared of him and hence see him more frequently around rivers at nights.

Trath (n): (literal) lightening. Both positive and negative connotations. In its negative sense, it is used to describe a misfortune or calamity. In the positive sense, it is used as a synonym for terrific – also beautiful woman, beautiful like a bolt of lightening.

Wai Wuf (n): A nocturnal creature, only described in stories. Some believe it to be an animal, similar to a cat or dog moving around desolate houses, while others think it a midget. His powers lie in his cap, and once a human is inpossession of that, he can control the wai wuf till the sly creature reposseses his cap, something that isn’t rare given how cunning and sharp witted he is.

Wan mohniyu (n): A human like creature, with a thick layer of fur and hair all over his body. And very long nails. He can walk on all fours as well as climb trees like a monkey. His voice sounds childish, he lacks speech and lives in a cave in a forest. It is said that he doesn’t have peace and wanders on trees and in forests He is known to be very powerful. Women are especially afraid of him as he is known to grab onto beautiful women and take them to his cave. Stories of the wan mohniyu have often scared women to even leave home.

Wandith (v): To devote, sacrifice oneself. To give a life to appease a deity or  a beloved. Most commonly, used as an endearment to ensure loyalty towards another.

Wohav (n): m. a curse, cursing, imprecation, malediction, vituperation to curse. To be severely scolded to the point of cursing.

Wonda(n): The hearts desire.What a persons mind desires but lies unexpressed.

Yaksh(n): (also yacch) A feline creature, the size of a fox or a large cat that visits homes during heavy snowfall and utters a peculiar cry.  The yacch has a removable cap-like structure with magical powers. Anybody who succeeded in taking away the cap from the yacch’s head would have all his worldly wishes fulfilled as the yacch as his/her slave.

Yaksha Bata (n): A moonless night on which a special dish of lentils and rice (khyechr) is prepared and served on an plate of dry grass and left outside or on the wall of the house to feed the Yaksha.

Yerviy naav (n): A boat adrift. An expression used to describe ruin and destruction.

Zaan (n): Knowledge. Acquaintance. Social capital. The only way to get around in Kashmir.

Zeer (n):  Interaction with the spiritual world

Zuv(n): Soul. Life. That which gives life.

Relevant Links

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About the Contributor

Onaiza Drabu is a Kashmiri anthropologist, writer and artist. She writes about identity, nationalism and Islamophobia, and co-curates a newsletter called "Daak" (on South Asian literature and art). Her book "The Legend of Himal and Nagrai: Greatest Kashmiri Folktales" was published last year (2019) by Speaking Tiger Books. Her earlier book, "Okus Bokus" (Sonth Kashmir), introduces children to "the A to Z of Kashmiri culture." Some of her writing can be found in Scroll.in, The Huffington Post, Himal Southasian, Dawn, and several other publications. She blogs at: https://onaizad.wordpress.com/