The bus-stop in Bohri Kadal, Srinagar, is deserted and is often shelter to stray dogs escaping bone-chilling cold in Kashmir’s chillai kalan. Behind the stop, Suhail Ahmad Anchari, 25, is standing with two bunches of keys to his shop of dried vegetables or hokhe syun.
Diagonally raising his pheran, resting it in folds over his shoulder, he squats, puts down his kang’ir (fire-pot), and pulls the shutter upwards – making an unpleasant sound. Inside his shop, all one could see are small bags and plastic jars containing different kinds of hokhe syun and spices.
“I left my studies after high school and followed my uncle [Mohammad Abdullah Anchari] to this shop and started assisting him,” says Mr. Anchari. “I learnt this profession very soon and today I have the equal shares of this shop.”
During the winter season in Kashmir, the National Highway-44 often leads to nowhere as it remains blocked due to snowfall and landslides. So, to cope up with that, people of the vale prefer to buy and store hokhe syun.
From All’ee Haech’e (dried gourd), Haech Meeth (dried Kashmiri fenugreek), Gogji’e Haech’e (dried turnip) to Tamatar Haech’e (dried tomato) – Mr. Anchari sells different kinds of hokhe syun at his shop.
Srinagar’s old city, or downtown, is home to many shops similar to Mr. Anchari’s. But, owing to the nature of the neighbourhood, many shopkeepers have vacated it and started a different walk of life to meet the ends.
In recent past, downtown has been witness to several clashes between youth and government forces. During the last summer uprising, in 2016 – after the killing of a local militant commander, Burhan Wani – Abdul Rehman, a 50-year-old resident of Srinagar’s Lal Bazaar area had shut his dried vegetable shop near Jamia Masjid, Nowhatta.
“I was forced to become a labourer because the protests affected my business,” says Mr. Rahman.
But Mr. Anchari, a resident of Khojeyaarbal, Rainawari has settled down happily with his profession in the last seven years. During mid-summer every year, Mr. Anchari would visit different villages across Kashmir with his uncle, to register pre-orders aiming at selling them later at his shop.
On the walls inside his shop, two private bank-sponsored calendars hang with multiple dates encircled; apparently, the deadlines he missed in delivering the advance orders this season.
Mr. Anchari could neither contact his customers, nor heard from any of them; in August 2019, the central government stripped the region’s decades-old autonomy and put strict restrictions on civilian movement and communication lines.
For two months, he didn’t open his shop. “I had received a good number of orders last summer,” he recalls, looking at the calendar. “But, ninety per cent of the orders were cancelled [due to non-availability of communication services] in the clampdown.”
As the sun reaches above the head, Mr. Anchari finds himself selling dried vegetables inside small bags, spread across a plastic cradle. Many walk-by in a day, a few stop to enquire.
“I used to earn 25,000 [rupees] a month in summer, but I couldn’t even manage to earn 5,000 [rupees] in the last season,” he says, assembling the bags. “My shop remained closed for four months, and most of my dried vegetables were eventually eaten by rats.”
Walking a few meters from the shop, at Zaina Kadal Bridge, smoking a cigarette, an old man is reminded of his wife’s dry gogje aar (dried turnip). He profoundly reminisces how his wife would interlace small pieces of turnip with thread in a circle and hang it on the wall outside his home.
“After her death, I can neither see her nor the gogje aar hanging on the walls of the houses anywhere,” he says, explaining the discontent of younger generation towards traditional winter food. “Our tradition is dying with old people.”
Bhat Burhan is a Multimedia Reporter at The Kashmir Walla.
The photo-essay was published in our 3– 9 February 2020 print edition.