In my youth, sometimes, we would experience dry winters in Kashmir. No rain, no snow. Jhelum would be almost dry. Days would be cold and hazy. If the sun god was visible sometimes during the day, evenings used to be intensely chilly and nights froze at minus 5 or 6 degrees Celsius.
No time to gossip on roads. People walked hurriedly with one hand in the Pheran’s pocket. The other hand was used to hold the Kangri inside the Pheran. We could look just two feet ahead. One couldn’t look beyond as it was chilly and indistinct. Silence ruled everywhere. Doors and windows were closed lest the warmth saved may slip out.
Cold, cough, running nose and fever were to stay till we had a snowfall. Dr Prem Nath Wafa did a brisk business selling antibiotics, cough syrups, antipyretics. Mohiud Din, his trusted assistant would advise all the patients to keep curd under hot rice before consuming it and buy ‘Maaz Paav’( mutton 250 gm) immediately for the evening meal.
‘Keep oranges in warm water before eating', advised Dr Prem Nath Wafa to the patients who complained of dry mouth. Habiba, the butcher opposite Prem Nath Wafa’s shop kept waiting for the prospective customers till 9 pm. Hands and feet turned dry with skin cracks. Radhamaal needed glycerine from Prem Nath Wafa’s shop but people had stocked it for the winter making it short in the market. Every day, Mohiud Din would turn her off saying, ‘Supplies are expected in two or three days’.
Water chestnuts were everywhere. The hawkers sold them boiled. Kashmiris called it Gojji or Messa. Mother bought them and fried them with batter of rice powder. In the streets, one could see many persons selling roasted water chestnuts. They would roast them in half cut tin canisters. Should you decide to eat them, everything would turn black; hands, lips, mouth, and teeth.
The Azaan in the mosque close to our house and the Aarti of Bodd Mandir continued to be distinct and clear during early morning hours. Believers and devotees arrived braving intense cold. Sri Kanth survived miraculously from a paralytic stroke that kept him indoors for one year. Ram Joo Handoo advised Nabir Chhan to rush his father to Hedvoon Hospital in taxi when he fainted near his shop. He too had a stroke and survived.
An unfamiliar face would suddenly start his activity on some vacant shop or footpath in our locality. We called him Kaaneul. He would come with some willow shoots and tools. People gave him old Kangris that needed repair. Go, bring your old broken Kangris and he would repair them with fresh willow shoots .He would be always busy.
Shooh (frostbite ) on the toes troubled many children at night. They kept scrubbing for the elusive relief. Govindh Nawdhara’s ‘Charanbulgaar’ or the wonder medicine for Shooh would arrive late. My friend Ramesh Ji closed all chinks in his room windows but the cold air still slipped in from somewhere.
He couldn’t know wherefrom it came even when the outer latticed windows were completely covered with Mom-Jaam ( polythene sheets). Finally, he slept wrapping a long muffler across his head and neck. Rainawarians were constrained to hold the annual Vorus ( Urs ) at the Ziyarat of Miyan Shah Sahib without the usual snowfall. The Shor Bobus Jung was still held by residents. And when the Lake, the ponds and the municipal water pipes froze, our neighbour Sondhar Ded said to my mother :-
“Bhabi, this is Allah's curse. Mohammad Sidiq will arrange some drinking water buckets for us. Keep your containers ready. I have told him to bring two buckets for you as well. You have little children to cook for. Worry not. He will come and wrap your tap also with the gunny bag pieces. We need to have snowfall now. Maah e siyam (Ramadaan) fasting is to start from next Wednesday. Allah is testing our patience. I am sure he will soon reward us. How is Mohan Ji now?”
Nazir sold shoes and slipers in summer but now sells caps, hand gloves, mufflers and socks. We saw Qadir selling fruits in summer but now he sells old and used clothes and woolen stuff. He sells cardigans, coats, overcoats and jackets on the footpath. Crazy people called it “ Bangla Deshi Maal” or "items from Bangla Desh ".
May be because immediately after the Bangla Desh war, used clothes arranged by the International Red Cross through public donations mostly from Europe and the US, were diverted to footpath markets in the sub-continent by unscrupulous traders, middlemen and smugglers. These clothes were worn by workers, students, teachers, employees, housewives and any and everybody. The Kashmiri intellectuals would arrive at the India Coffee House to discuss the existential philosophy of Sartre or Camus wearing these ‘Bangla Desh‘ warm jackets, parkas, overcoats, topcoats etc. Many amongst them were Sahitya Akademi awardees. Wearing clothes donated by the people from the capitalist block, it was fashionable to discuss Lenin, Stalin, Mao and intricacies of "Dialectical Materialism” of Karl Marx inside the India Coffee House, Srinagar.
Colours would vanish from gardens and parks. It was only silence, loneliness and hope everywhere. The trees that looked green, elegant and tall in summer would go naked and unclothed in winter. They would fight the biting chill like a ‘naked faquir’.
“The earth shall be green again. The spring is not far away.” May be they kept murmuring this to the icy winds. One needs special communication skills to decipher the language of Faquirs. Many in Kashmir had this expertise. That is why they accompanied devotees to Faquirs and Godmen to decode their words. Many friends in Rainawari said, ‘Sarvanand turns dry in the winter season’. He would usually pick up a fight at the timber depot run by government.
Will life and brisk activity return to the lanes? Will the houses open their windows? Maybe someday; not sure. Take care, touch not those old wounds at night. Surprisingly, they bleed in night's warmth . The daytime, even if dim and chilly ,hides them. A fog-like gloom hangs in the ambience that restricts vision and hides faces and paths. Someone at the door, desperate to enter. Yes, the known one.Why did he come at this moment? If I open the door, the freezing wind may step in and deprive me of this little warmth.