Snowfall: This time in Kashmir.
Often I brood, what is the tenor of witnessing snowfall in a ‘free land’? How snowfall is a different experience; when it falls on a free orchards, free mountains, free rivers, and free habitants? In the presence of exclusive territorial sovereignty, free from foreign occupation, where one can contemplate freely on the falling snow flakes, hoar frosts, landscape, without any pause, does snow and snowfall acquires a unique and somewhat intriguing significance? But then, I suppose answer to this question is pretty difficult, if we start searching for it in an occupied and militarized terrain. It would be a paradoxical and futile exercise.
Away from my home town (though my lips shiver to call it home with the sense of idea that how secure it is) snowfall brings nostalgia. I was seriously mesmerized with the snow clad lawns, roads, and jungles, pictures of which floated on social media generously. For a moment, I was enormously enchanted and taken back to my carefree childhood memories, when I used to open my arms wide and kept playing circles on the vast field covered with the snow, only to be taken back by my grandfather at the time of Magrb; ‘evening prayers’. My grandfather used to hide me in his Pheran to protect me from severity of winter and warm my hands and feet, which by the time would have turned numb, almost, because of nonstop shien jung (snowball fight) with the boys of other camp. Not only that, this warmth of love used to come with some beautiful ‘oral stories’ from past, but now a matter of poignant memories.
My Grandfather had, always, something good in mind to offer, “Ducklings would struggle to swim across half frozen brooks, and eagles gave smug jerk to relieve snow and raindrops off their huge wings. Water trickling down, round the clock, from icicles, evading safely from huge deposits of snow, cumulated on surrounding rooftops, was always a thing of pride. My childhood memories of snowfall are quite converse of what we witness today. Even a cursory revisit to those peaceful days is simply venturing into ‘treasure of pain’. Melancholy ride high on my head. And I avoid peering into the lost glory of ‘free’ snowfall; free like dew drops, free like a divine spirit”. After all free land is a free land and rightly summed up by Frances Ellen in these heart wrenching lines,
“I could not sleep if I saw the lash
Drinking her blood at each fearful gash,
And I saw her babies torn from her breast,
Like trembling doves from their parent nest’’(Bury me in a free land)
Despite this, Dada ji(Grandfather) continued, “In past snow acquired a different essence altogether, Snow which is referred as ‘sheen’ in vernacular language, was a matter of unbound happiness and blunt glare. Snowfall was a much needed relief from weary and mundane summers.
Soup prepared in locally designed mudpots, was the widely acclaimed recipe. Kaienz Kokur (smoged chicken) and Kalheir Paach(calves or lamb feet recipe) , Muj Gaard (Fish with Radish) Nadir-Waangan (lotus stems with Brinjal), Raazmaa-Gogji (Beans with Turnip) changed simple dinners into special feasts. The aromatic Kaahwaa used to charm whole ambience, throughout the day to combat the severity of winters. Though these recipes are being served even today, but the changing socio-political climatology have dwindled their deliciousness manifolds, in reference to ‘free land’. In the evening, family members used to flock around an age old lantern, with dim chimney letting only the half of the pale light emanate out, to engage in family gossips, while taking nut meat out of walnuts after cracking them with hammer or similar tools. Life was worth living. People from the neighborhood would settle down in their most adorable house, they often visit, to listen some folksongs and Dastans (old stories about the vale, lovers, ghosts, Prophets), ‘Chhakr’ performed by some local artists mainly based on Yousuf-Zulaikha, Laila-Majnuh, etc was the attraction of the night. While listening to the folklore they often fell asleep and wake up only when the dawn had prevailed from thick cloak of night and to their surprise, story would have reached to its climax.
People, in the past, used to walk down on wooden snowshoes (Krawie) and the tapping sound was so audible that others would surmise, someone ‘known’ is approaching and making way through the thick layers of snow. Straps of ‘Krawie’ were made of hay, for the rich class straps were leathery. ‘Krawie’ being the safest to walk down in the heavy snowfall, produced prominent footmarks on untreaded white carpet which further enhanced the beautiful picturesque. The water pouring constantly from molten snow (amassed on muddy walls) would bring death to neglected and forgotten walls. And they used to collapse, hence making easy access for an extended neighborhood.”
However, In contrast, persisting environment has made people to fortify their houses, which has really become a soar obstacle to imagine vast snowfields of past. Similarly, Snow after a week or so hardens. To taste or to literally eat snow, people used to scratch it with the help of Tsalan (wooden or metal spoon tied to ‘Kangri’ to manage the intensity of ambers),so as to dig out the dirt free snow. But now, people restrain themselves from doing it with the fear it might have turned red. After all, human slaughter must have had left some deep impressions.
Furthermore, now, the snowy nights have a different meaning. Snowman no more resembles traditional ones. Now their imagination of snowman confines to the strangers; strangers wearing uniform. No one narrates age old ‘Dastans’. Content of tales have drastically changed; from fairy tales to real life accounts. The only stories to talk about, the only lullabies to sing is constant pain of ongoing turmoil. People talk about how villages have been looted, women raped and youth martyred. Krawies have become strap less too. Sheen is completely sheen less now. Snowballs have become colossal and the concept of other camp is more definite. And right now we can only have a vicarious feel of free snow fall in the context of Kashmir.
Once snowfall stops, snow starts sliding down from roofs, leaves, cowsheds, which really is the most eventful occurrence in post snowfall days. As the snow starts to disappear, the landscape become repugnant with the emergence of military camps, concrete bunkers, army convoys, dreadful sound of ‘enemy’ boots, and security personnels holding ‘weapons of violence’ tightly, marked and unmarked graves. I wish snow lasts forever, at least to erase the oppressor from our imagination.
Basarat Hassan is a PHD scholar in JNU