In 1846, Britain annexed the vale of Kashmir, fabled paradise of beauty, and sold it to Maharaj Gulab Singh of Jammu for one million pounds.
How do you price a country? how to value its mountains and lakes, the scent of its trees, the colors of its sunset? What’s the markup on the shapes of fruit in the dreams of its people?
Article Ten from the Treaty of Amristar, 1846:
Majaraj Gulab Singh acknowledges the supremacy of the British Government, and will, in totken of such supremacy, present annually to the British Government:
– one horse
– 12 shawl goats of approved breed (6 male and six female)
– three pairs of Cashmere shawls
Kashmiri shawls. Woven on handlooms, patterned with ambi,
rich and soft and intricate as mist over Kashmir’s terrace
gardens. First taken to Britain by bandits- known as “merchants”
-in the employ of the British East India Company, they wove
their way through the dreams of Victorian wives like the
footprint of a goddess no one dared imagine.
There was a village in Scotland. Paisley. A tiny town of weavers who became known as radical labor agitators. Weaving offers too much time for dangerous talk. Weavers of Paisley learned how to churn out imitation ambi, on imitation Kashmiri shawls, and got to keep their index fingers and thumbs.
Until Kashmiri became cashmere. Mousleen became muslim. Ambi became paisley.
And a hundred and fifty years later, chai became a beverage invented in California.
How many ways can you splice a history? Price a country? Dice a people? Slice a heart? Entice what’s been erased back into story? My-gritude.
Have you ever taken a word in your hand, dared to shape your palm to the hollow where the fullness falls away? Have you ever pointed it back to its beginning? Felt it leap and shudder in your fingers like a dowsing rod? Jerk like a severed thumb? Flare with the forbidden name of a goddess returning? My-gritude.
Have you ever set out to search for a missing half? The piece that isn’t shapely, elegant, simple. The half that’s ugly, heavy, abrasive. Awkward to the hand. Gritty on the tongue.”