Winters in Kashmir valley, particularly during earlier times, tended to remain indelibly etched on the minds of people due to its extended period, torturous agonies pursuant to electricity interruptions, road blockades, drainage clogging, hassle-filled supplies etc. Scenarios might have altered, particularly post 1990s, but even now a single heavy snowfall sends the entire valley out of gears.
People of every age have their own experiences about the winters. The below summation, however, is pursuant to my experiences, pre 1990s, with narrations from the elders.
The valley during winters would literally get relapsed into hibernation, particularly with the onset of recurring heavy snowfalls. In absence of widely available Hamams, Gas/Electric Bukharies, and ACs, Kangari (fire-pot) used to be the sole dependable portable succour to most of the populace, notwithstanding the incidents of concomitant body burns. These would even get exchanged aimlessly and un-constrainedly during the squabbles.
The substitutes for electric current mainly used to be kail stick burning (though with irritants of smoky odour/tar release), candles (taper candle sticks for wax spillover blockage), clay diya oil lamps, kerosene lanterns, and humming pressurised paraffin/kerosene lamps (Petromax) with comparatively costly silk fabric sack mantles.
Prevalence of thatched/wood-shingled roof houses in some areas, mostly with full-wood panelled windows, some with glass awnings mostly latched with single-nailed wooden catches, would obscure the snowfall particularly during dark and long nights. It would require climbing the sill of the windows to peek through the awnings to have a view owing to the brownish light glow emitted from the nearby electric pole supported incandescent light bulbs. The snowfall would otherwise remain unnoticed during the dark nights except for occasional thud sounds of its fall from the roofs & the occasional water droplet bloops. The heavy snowfall would invariably be followed by the toiling exercise of snow clearance off the roofs with long handled wooden snow rakes or shovels either by the professionals or on self help basis. This would, however, compound the inconvenience to one & all due to its piling up in the adjacent narrow lanes with subsequent solidification by freezing.
The clear night skies post snowfall, however, would portend the incidents of fall overs, fractures and injuries. The scenes galore particularly during Chilai Kalan. Icicles with protruding spikes, found suspending from the roof edges during the period, would not only give a feel of abandonment but reminded dialogues from the Merchant Of Venice: “Bring me the fairest creature born in the north, where the sun’s fire hardly thaws the icicles” & from the Twelfth Night by Shakespeare: “Now Sir Andrew will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard unless he redeems himself by some great & glorious deed.”
Throwing every health caution to winds, particularly cough & cold, children would occasionally enjoy the milk and sugar mixed snow as a substitute for ice creams. Their usual complaints of frostbites would add to the routine chores of mothers with regular fomentation in iron-bucket contained datura/baking powder laced warm water.
The winters would experience regular cooking of pulses, dried fish & vegetables. Black bean cooking would, however, involve lot of effort of womenfolk in its grinding & stirring. Red rajmash mixed with turnip, moong with lotus roots ,sooji halwa, water chestnuts (trapa natanas), harissa (for those who afforded) were a few culinary delights people would relish during the period. Aan chaar (pickles) mostly of haakh (Collard greens) with its stems, reddish, carrot, cauliflower, cabbage were a must part of meals in every household.
During this period of literal isolation of the valley, radio used to be the easiest source of information, news, entertainment, besides a stress buster. It would also come handy in view of its independence from electricity support. Programmes like Shamm-e-faroza, Aap ki farmaish, Wadi ki awaz, Zoonedab, BBC Urdu, Radio Pakistan to name a few. For cricket lovers listening to the commentaries of matches, frequently disturbed, played in Australia/New Zealand (being in Southern Hemisphere) was a good pastime. Good number of people would engage themselves passionately in novel reading particularly those written by Ibni Safi.
Rubber shoes, particularly Duckback brand, ankle heigh side-buttoned, were must purchase items with subsequent influx of plastics but with complaints of unsupportive shoes/socks. Also in some areas tradition of wearing of padukas (Wooden khadav) & warajis (pulhore made from rice straw)/ warm breeches was also prevalent. The latter mostly used by those required to cover distances on foot in this scenario. Identical to present day Sunday markets, the winters would witness heavy rush of purchasing of imported used apparels (generally called Bangladeshi) particularly hooded jackets which at times would turn fortuitous for the purchasers with some hidden inside items.
The winter would also be the season of making of mats from dry rice straw stalks. Some professionals would be engaged for the weaving in piecemeal on a cylindrical wooden frames. This would usually evoke fascinating attraction from the children around who would simultaneously get enthralled from their anecdotal narrations. These rice straw mats along with reed mats would make for the furnishing needs of the households though would stink due to moisture. Weaving & usage of sheep wool blankets (chaadar)was also prevalent in certain areas.
The main priorities during these heavy snowfalls used to be clearing of paths leading to religious places, hospitals, cowsheds and outdoor wooden latrines.
Some ordeals people would painstakingly endure during these harsh winters were:
1. Ferrying of patients particularly those with immobility and the dead bodies on carts over the shoulders.
2. Blockade of roads, clogging of drains/water pipes.
3. Pesky /extinct electric current,damages to electric/water supply lines.
People in the valley during these winters mostly remained confined to the valley contrary to post 1990s out of State/Country mobility. It would be interesting to know about results of research about Vitamin-D deficiency, due to scarcity of strong sun heat during the period, if any undertaken by the concerned institutions.