It is a cold December evening. My family has gathered around the furnace, to get rid of the merciless cold of ‘Chilai Kalan‘ (40-day period of harsh winter). The light has gone, now God knows better when it will be back. Light from an old and dusty lantern falls upon our exhausted and distressed faces. We returned from the nearby Mosque a while back, where we offered ‘Isha’ (evening prayer) prayer.
But today, a not so surprising event took place there. A person who is not worthy of his salt and always has an air about himself was at the mosque after a dog’s age, for prayers. He stood up and preached to the masses about the principles and objectives of Islam, and fiercely ordered us to be on time for prayers.
Everyone gave their ears to him as one does, but on the way back to their homes, most of the people who were with me calumniated and mocked him.Winters in Kashmir reach a bone-chilling cold with temperatures reaching negative.
It has been fifteen minutes since we returned from the mosque. Now the streets are depeopled, taken over by jackals, dogs, and armoured cars. I haven’t witnessed the scene myself but can clearly draw the picture from the amalgam of horrifying, haunting, and brutal voices of the ones outside in this bone-chilling cold. A few minutes ago I was asked by my father to visit the faraway departmental store to get oil for the said lantern.
Venturing outside, I was shuddered and trembled by my thoughts, “what if I am bitten by the atrocious and venomous dogs or jackals, or if I am killed by some unknown men and, the next day, in a small box, in the corner of the newspaper, there is a headline in words of the smallest font-size ‘A local was allegedly killed by unknown men’; then my death will become a mystery forever as if I was never born.”
These are the thoughts that pop up in the heads of everyone who is asked to venture out after the ‘Maghrib’ (A prayer time around 5;30) prayer. So on my way back home, I became fixated and infatuated, I didn’t even turn my head around a single time and continuously mumbled the words of pious ‘Ayatul Kursi’ (a special prayer), for my safety till I reached the porch of my home.
Now, I am here, penning down this piece in front of this precious lantern, which hadn’t been important a while ago, when we used to have electricity. The lantern is now happy as a lark, as we have taken it out for the first time since last winter. In winter, electricity disappears in Kashmir like the futile promises of politicians vanish after they win.
Now, the intensity of the voices of dogs, jackals, and armoured vehicles has surged up. It seems as if endless strife is going on, amongst all of them. One tries to dominate others, others too are trying the same. For, in this game of hustle and bustle, the adverse and severe impact ultimately comes upon the silent, exhausted, and depressed people of the land.
Their sleep, rest, and peace have been snatched by the ill and sick noise of the ones I mentioned before. Here, my ‘Mooji’(mother) vociferously calls me for dinner. I will be back in a jiffy…
Here I am back!
Ours is a joint family, pretty common in rural areas. So while in the kitchen, my aunt, sister, and cousins provide a helping hand to my mother, who pours out food on different plates, making it equal to all of us. My father sits in one corner, a few meters away from me. Ghulam ‘Kaka’(uncle), an important member of the family, who has been with us since the 1990s, is there besides my father on the right side. My cousin is on the left side of my father.
The odd and incorrigible thing from the very beginning is the sitting position of my sister, aunt, and cousins, they keep facing us in a very eccentric and strange manner. My mother sits beside my aunt and so I am there on the right side of ‘Mooji’, ‘my abode’ I call.
I dare someone to sit there; I will punch the person on the nose. I sit there, not for the reason that I would get a bigger portion from a special dish than the others. But I sit there so that I should feel the elegance, of the amour of a mother for her child. Last but not least, we have our meals on plates on Dastarkhwan (tablecloth).
It takes us half an hour to have our dinner, some even finish in just 15 minutes, those I call ‘machines’. The men get out of the place as soon as we finish our dinner but sadly, the women are left aloof, in the brutal cold of Chilai Kalan, to wash utensils, with cold water which takes them almost an hour. You will find this tradition in almost every household.
To be honest, it shouldn’t be like that. In fact, cleaning, washing, and cooking shouldn’t be gender-based but the basic duties to be done by everyone. After I had dinner, staple rice with spinach, a special and healthy dish for Kashmiris prepared by the special hands of my mother, I stoked my ‘Kangri‘ (a sort of heater kept underneath one’s cloak) beneath the ‘Pheran‘, (Kashmiri attire resembling a long cloak). But unfortunately in the hurry, I put my hand on the one without ‘Tchalan‘ (A piece of iron used to turn the hot embers), now I have to beg others to turn over embers inside the ‘Kondal‘ (A clay hot pot fitted inside wickerwork that holds hot embers).
Stories Of A Better Time
I am here again, in front of the dazzling lantern that gives hope to me, a distressed soul, to shine like it and give hope and show the righteous path to others as it always does to me.
My father is here, now as a storyteller, narrating old stories as I am doing right now. The only difference is that he speaks while I write. He always narrates some story from his childhood days when people used to live in ‘kacha’ (not well-made) houses with love, peace, and harmony but now has been replaced by ‘pakka’ (well-made) houses, hatred, wars, and battles that is utterly the most ‘horrible replacement’ my father says he has ever witnessed.
After dinner it is always a storytime for us, some mysterious, untold, surprising, eccentric, and amazing tales are told. It is now 10:30 pm, time to go to sleep. I have to make a bed for myself. Before bidding farewell, I want to share a secret with you. Honestly, I haven’t had a single dream in the last two years or since the abrogation of Article 370. I have witnessed a lot of nightmares. What can be it? Depression, suppression, frustration? A question that remains answerless. So, Buenas Noches.
Saqib Manzoor is a student of journalism, Central University Of Kashmir.