Snowfall: This time in Kashmir

Often I brood, would anyone reflect on my query? How snowfall is a different experience; when it falls on a free land, free mountains, free rivers, and free habitants? In the presence of exclusive territorial sovereignity, 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 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’. 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. I was still lost in my childhood memories when suddenly, dull, but converse ideas crossed my mind and then, I peered into the lost glory of ‘free’ snowfall; free like dew drops, free like a divine spirit.  Melancholy rode high on my head.

The vernacular expression for snow is ‘Shein’. Though I don’t know the genesis of the word, but I find it similar to English expression, “sheen” which connotes unbound brightness and blunt glare. Probably the days in which the term was coined dates back to past  and past  definitely would have been a period of human freedom,  and deep love wherein ‘Shein’ meant real brightness; brightness to erase mundane and weary summers and Joy to rejoice human freedom without any denial or outer intrusion. Now the sheen has faded from the ‘Shein’ and it is sheen less ‘Shein’.

In the past, snow fall would have made people to express themselves somewhat differently. Not only that, even snowflakes would have expressed themselves in a quite different manner. Snowflakes would have sung beautiful Kashmiri songs, expressing their arrival after one long year of yearning, some dancing, some whistling, few beating drums, playing Nout (mudpot) and, others busy with Rabab and Saran; a site of romance and perfect love point for newly born snowflakes. At times there would have been a disagreement too, which song they should sing before they touch the ground. But consensus would have been on something like Baele marehai tebaeliay marehai Kaele barehai gatsi gulistan , means, ‘my beloved, death emerges out of this backdrop, our tomorrow remains uncertain’. Indeed, true they were. Their tomorrow has really become uncertain.

Soup prepared in locally fashioned mudpots, was the widely acclaimed recipe. Kaienz Kokur (smoged chicken) and Khalheir Paiche, Muj Gaad (Fish with Radish) Nadir-Waangan (lotus stems with Brinjal), Raazma-Gogji (Beans with Turnip) changed simple dinners into special feasts. The aromatic Khawa 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 context 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 immerse out, to engage in family gossips. People from the neighborhood would settle down in their most adorable house, they often visit, to listen some folksong and Dastans (old stories about the vale, lovers, ghosts, Prophets), ‘Chakr’ performed by some local artists mainly based on Yousuf-Zulaikha, Laila-Majnun, 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 get to know from a distance that someone is making way through the thick layers of snow. Strips of ‘Krawie’ were made of hay, for the rich class strips 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 pouring water from molten snow (amassed on muddy walls) would bring death to neglected and forgotten walls. And they used to collapse making easy access for an extended neighborhood. In contrast, present circumstances have made people to fortify their houses, which has really become a soar obstacle to imagine vast snowfields of past.

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 traces.

Moreover, now, the snowy nights have a different meaning. Snowman no more resemble tradional ones. Now their imagination of snowman confines to the strangers; strangers wearing uniform. No one narrates age old ‘Dastans now’. 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. Krawie’s have become strip less too.

Hindi TV serials, family soaps, drams, and serials like Sabki Laadli ‘Bebo,Koun ki  Saas Be Kabi Bohie thi, khani ghar ghar ki, etc have found place within the kashmiri chorus. Such a phenomenon is questionable in the light of the fact that things picturized on television screen are more fascinating than the real landscape prevalent outside; obviously not. What confines valleyities to rooms and watch Indian soaps in the dark snowy nights? Perhaps environment is such that not a minute space is left to make them think, how T.V serials govern them in more Indianized style. The genuine discourse is being redirected in the form of soaps and serials. People try to confide their real pain in the space allotted by T.V serials, wherein they are being prepared to understand that the solution to family worries lie in watching Indian channels, which basically educate how to instigate family fights.  How strange it is!

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 repulsive 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.

(Basharat Hassan is a research scholar at JNU)