Linguistic Khans – the new face of Kashmiris in Himachal


By: Vikas Sharma

Shimla: The toiling Kashmiris, popularly knows as ‘Khans’ among locals here, are undergoing yet another transformation. Forced to leave their homeland by the terror of the gun nearly two decades back, these hardworking Kashmiri have been working as porters at various hill towns across Himachal, including Shimla, but are now graduating to better means of livelihood. From porters, or kulis, to multilingual tourist guides, the journey though has been back-breaking, but these gutsy men are making it look easy.
No, they have not enrolled themselves for higher education in school or colleges but are trying to learn nuances of foreign languages while on job itself and with some help from technology too, thanks to the mushrooming cyber cafes.
“With migration of more labour class from Kashmir we have been finding it difficult to compete within ourselves. Therefore, in order to earn a living it is important that we develop new skills,” said Rashid, who is now a successful tourist guide with knowledge of French and English. Expressing the same sentiment, another porter-turned-guide, Salim, said it’s survival of the fittest so the totally uneducated ones still do not have much of an option.  But to all surprises a Khan also claimed that some of them have even married foreigners and gone abroad. “You never know when your luck may click,” he aid optimistically.
“Being a guide a better option as it helps us earn a better living in a more decent way,” said Ajaz, who switched over from his traditional work of ferrying luggage to guiding tourists a year ago. Marhoof, a tourist guide who is well versed in French, Spanish and Hebrew apart from Hindi and English, said there are quiet a few number of Khans who can speak other foreign languages besides English.
Enjoying his new status, he said, “A local hotel has also provided me a room to entertain my guests. While conversing with these foreign tourists we evince keen interest in learning their native languages and to further refine our knowledge we take help from websites.”
“Talking to tourists in their native languages is an added advantage as they feel more comfortable that way. Most of us who speak English or other foreign languages are graduates, but some matriculates too have picked up the skill,” Javed added. No wonder, youngsters who are coming out of their state in search of employment are directly looking forward to working as guides. So does that mean the Khan would no longer be there to help you out at the bus stand or the railway station?



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  1. The new generation of the Khans is totally different. Mind you localities are totally dependent on there daily chores on Khan be it the gas cylinder or other goods to be ferried from market. We have a bonding with those operating in our colonies. Had a shock one day when a guy in Wranglers,trendy shoes came to pick up the TV to be sent for repairs. I became suspicious and refused to handover the TV. Later found out the guy was indeed a Gen Next Khan.

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