My Winters in Kashmir

Snow in Kashmir famous hill station, Gulmarg.

It has started snowing in the beautiful valleys of Kashmir.  In Srinagar, the capital, people must have been joyous of the breaking of cold. The old people would be talking of how the snow has almost vanished from Kashmir. They say it used to snow up to shoulder’s height during Dogra rule and subsequently it started dwindling. They cherish their old memories on the wani peanjis, (shopfronts) (the greatest talk shows are held there). The mothers would be happy for they have not to clean the streets because there is a beautiful white carpet.  Then the fathers would return home looking at their kids smiling. The kids were awestruck as if it snowed first time in their lives.

Everything wasn’t hunky dory with winters, the worst thing in winters was Shuu (frostbites).  It was a curse. But the best part of it was, putting legs in the hot tub of water mixed with tea and scrubbing your feet. It might be the earliest form of manicure.

The inevitable power cuts would play disco-lights during the night. Candle light dinners and gas light dinners would light the Dastarkhaan. Before the advent of Invertors in Kashmir, when there used to be no Television during power cuts, kids sat around the elders.  I would for one, wait for my grandmother to finish her dinner. She broadcasted our favourite show; it was called the “Paadshah Daleel” (Story of Kings). She used to talk of Shahmaal, the beautiful girl, who was taken to Talpatal (underground) by snakes, talk of the fabled hero Budshah, the king of Kashmir (of whom people still after 500 years talk with praise) and others. They were our favourite bedtime stories. Jinns, Kings, Princesses were later on replaced by military men, Nawbids, Mujahideen and the dead of Kashmir. These were my earliest form of resistance literature.

Waking up in the morning, my mother used to say “Sheen Pyow” and throw open the curtains. Sheeni Gaash used to blind my eyes. My face would turn into awe and I used to smile. Run with the Pheran, open the window and jump on the garden of purity, of snow.  The houses in the neighbourhood looked like the houses from English fables. The mountains were hidden with the clouds. The snow fell like blessings from Allah. Aim a flake from above and keep concentrating till it touched and immersed into the ground.

The garden with its plain snow looked like waiting for somebody to play with its snow. Oh it was tempting. I used to leave my footprints, create a shape of alphabet F in the garden. Jump and skid on the snow. Call my brother to wake up and see the snow. He would be so happy, that he would come without his Pheran, wearing a Daraaza (Trouser) and Kurta. We used to perform our favourite wrestling stunts. Then our grandmother used to scold us to come inside.

Washing my face, with the ice cold water would feel like piercing my face. My fingers numb with the snow. Enter the kitchen, and there it was. The beautiful fragrance of the Harrisa (The most favourite breakfast of Kashmiris) it was a moment of elation, sometimes felt better than Eid. What more would one ask for, being lazy, snow falling and having a hot bowl of Harrisa. My mother used to keep Kangris for everyone in the family. But I never got one, knowing my past history of burning expensive and old carpets with my Kangri-kicks. Even now, I don’t get one.

It was winter vacations, the happiest times. No school, no homework (well there used to be, but I never did it) and no punishments (for not bringing a notebook mostly). I used to hold the hand of my brother and run up to the third floor of our house. And look from the windows, the whole neighbourhood clad in pure white snow. The sore to the eyes were the black crows (like the rulers today). I often wondered if Allah replaced snow with ice-cream (But then it would be vanilla, so forget it).

My father later used to take me to the markets. Fit with a Kantopa, Kurta-Pyjama and a Pheran. I ventured out. The roads looked like Siraat-ul-Mustaqeem, only one path to a destination. The snow mixed with dirt was an ugly sight (like the Czar and his men). People around me wearing Pherans, grey; brown; black and other earthly colours (Often wondering why we not had colourful Pherans). Then there were those men who used to wear jackets underneath their Pheran looking like space aliens. Kids of my age, with their apple cheeks and Athi-panji (gloves) kicking the snow lying on the road. Houses with smoke emanating from Hamaams and Bukharis, the dangerous small avalanches. We used to reach a shop first, to buy plastic boot or Sheeni boot. I always wanted to have that fancy fur ones, but knowing my snow-games they never lasted. So I used to get a black one.

My father would leave home for his work and I used to return back home. It used to be a boring scene. But I and my brother would spend the day playing games, book cricket, cricket with Tsaalan, Baadshah Wazeer (when our cousins used to stay) or simply stare towards the sky and look for the falling snow.  I was never a fan of Sheeni Jang (the Snow fight), it used to leave me with numb hands and sometimes snow would go inside my shirt. Same applies to Sheeni Mohnyuw (Snow man). I did not hate it, but I was too lazy to make one.

The sun goes down fast in Kashmir, during winters. The best place to be at during night is the mosque. I loved being in mosque during winters. Not because I used to get more religious, but because of the Hamaam and discussions of the elders. It used to be fun, lying down on a hot floor. Listening to their nostalgia about Kashmir and its politics.

Snow is the best time to be in Kashmir. It is beautiful. It signifies the purity of our land. The blessings of Allah. The hope for a beautiful spring. The hope that Jhelum will not turn red in the summer.

Photo: Muhabit-ul-Haq

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