When ‘Sense of Togetherness’ Made Winter Warm in Kashmir
‘Kids today go out in the snow for a couple of hours, take a couple of selfies and that is winter for them.’
One cold winter morning in 1962, 14-year-old Arshad woke up to his small, single-storied house in Maharaj Gunj Downtown, covered in snow.
As he tip-toed, trying to sneak out, his mother caught and warned him not to set a step out without wearing Tooep and Maes (hat and leather socks).
This was one of the very few things about winter that Arshad despised. Every morning he would argue over not wanting to wear Maes. But his mother would always find her way and make him wear it. “Neighbors will say Shamshad’s son is crazy, are you?”, was one of her pet phrases.
Another thing that Arshad deeply feared was getting Shuh (chilblain). Unlike today, there weren’t any ointments and easy medications available to cure it but traditional home remedies were put to use for the treatment of such seasonal hitches.
His mother would soak his swollen toes—turned purple from shuh—in boiling saline water. The water used to be so hot that Arshad would cry each time his heel would hit the surface of it.
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Being an early riser, he would have to wait hours before his brothers and younger sister would wake up and play with him. He would take scoops of snow with his hands -turned red from cold- and mould them into round snowballs, preparing for the long snow fights he would have with his siblings later.
His younger sister was always dramatic about these snow fights. She would always end up crying and complaining to their father, getting her brothers whipped.
With changing calendars, life in Kashmir changed too, replacing old traditions with new ones. Arshad, now in his 70s, cherishes his childhood memories and contrasts contemporary Kashmir with the Kashmir he grew up in, which now exists only in his memories.
Watching his grandson experience the excitement of snowfall, Arshad is reminded of the times when he and his siblings would collect snow in clay bowls, add sugar and milk to it and eat it with delight as if it were some special traditional sweet or the time when he and his pals would play with pretend swords made from long icicles.
“Kids today go out in the snow for a couple of hours, take a couple of selfies and that is winter for them,” Arshad believes his youth to be more full of vitality and life than what youngsters today have.
Stocking pulses, buying coal for Kangir and preparing hokh syun (dried vegetables) were essential winter preparations done a month before the onset of it. Arshad recalls the times when winter months were colder and lifestyles were simpler. He remembers sitting by his mother, watching her cut a mountain of vegetables to prepare hokh syun for winter. The melody she would hum while cutting vegetables still plays in his mind.
Walking down the memory lane, the septuagenarian recounts how every day at around 6 pm when power-cuts were scheduled, he and his family would sit under one blanket and share laughter, warmth, joy and stories, losing track of time.
“Every season has its own special essence and the essence of winter was that it brought everyone closer. But now ease and convenience has swept away the sense of togetherness.”
But while Arshad is all praise about winter of old times, Fehmeeda, grandmother to five, has rough memories of the past.
She remembers the harsh cold winter night, while she was laying mattresses for everyone to sleep, her neighbour’s pregnant wife started screaming her lungs out. Struggled with labour, four women tackled her, trying to calm her down. The room was filled with old women praying anxiously for her well-being. The echoes of these prayers were so loud that they could be heard from the distant end of the street.
Her husband along with Fehmeeda’s father went to bring the midwife who didn’t live too far. But the roads were blocked and snow covered both men up to their shanks. By the time they were back with help, they were received by wailing women and a terrible news.
“Women back then had no time or chance to see how beautiful snow was as they were burdened with responsibilities bigger than them,” Fehmeeda, who was only seventeen when she got married, recalls.
Her first winter at her in-law’s was nothing short of a nightmare. She had grown up watching her mother take care of the family in harsh winter but now it was her turn to follow her mother’s teachings.
She had to cook, clean and wash clothes with ice-cold water, turning her hands grey by the evening. She did everything asked of her, just to impress her mother-in-law. But young Fehmeeda was sent back to her parent’s place to train under her mother and learn to be a good housewife.
“Today we are blessed to have ease and comfort of this sort. Today’s woman would not have survived a second of what we were subjected to,” Fehmeeda raised her hands as she thanked Almighty for making lives easier.
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Aayat Tramboo is a writer and poet. She is a bachelor's student of Journalism and Mass Communication at the Cluster University, Srinagar, and is currently an editorial intern at the Mountain Ink.