Thaejkaad: Reviving our own culture!

Thaejkaad, a typicl Kashmiri word for paddy transplantation, has its cultural importance in the valley of Kashmir. For some, it may be a normal agricultural practice, but in Kashmir, it has cultural relevance. It’s believed that this season brings blessing and prosperity. The people of Kashmir celebrate thaejkaad like it celebrates other religious and cultural festivals. According to Kashmiri dictionary, prepared by cultural academy, thaejkaad comprises two words: “thaej” its base word is “thal” means saplings and “kaad” which means a group of people doing the plantation. Hence, thaejkaad means a group of people doing plantation of rice saplings. Although, for a longer time, Kashmir had a culture of mutually working together, sharing each other’s work, taking help from neighbours, the concept of “kaad” comes from that which also means a group of people (preferably neighbours) doing the plantation of rice saplings. Then, people had no or little money; the work was done amicably by helping each other. It is an example that Kashmir, from the very beginning, has had the spirit of living together with unity. This should not surprise us now.

When I was studying in a local school, one of my friends, who were peasants, used to invite me every year for the “thaejkaad”. We had no agricultural land and I was not aware of doing “thaejkaad”. It’s from there I learnt about these native terms. For me and my friend, “thaejkaad” meant “thaejkaad batte”, a term for lunch during the “thaejkaad”. At the same time, while doing “thaejkaad”, we used to take a short break for “doud kehwa (milk tea)” in the wee hours of our work. For us, “thaejkaad” meant showering the mud water over each other and put on hairs the mud. The only work for us was to get the knotted saplings from the “thaejwaan”–a small piece of land used for growing the rice seeds into saplings. For other workers, when the scorching heat burns the skin, they used to take a short break for water or lemon juice. In the meantime, lunch from home comes in wicker baskets with “wazwan” that comprises of all the important dishes added to it.

Who wishes to forget these special memories? I still remember each day. Although, I had no idea then that I will be writing about those precious memories someday. I still remember when aunty Ji, my friend’s mother, used to transplant the first sapling with “Bismillah—starting with the name of Almighty Allah”. The women along with her would also respond “Bismillah” loudly. Then, the process of thall (planting rice saplings) would start. After some time, when they used to get bored with the work, some among them would sing the folk songs that reverberate around the agricultural land. We were kids then, for us, it was a festival and we were celebrating every moment of it.

The practice to sowing seeds of rice is a three-fold process. It begins with “sowing the rice seeds”. Once it ends, the farmers take the remaining seeds and prepare “bael tomul—roasted rice seeds” for neighbours, friends and relatives. It is the primary process of preparing the “thaejwaan” (nursery), a small patch of a field where the saplings grow. The primary process begins in the last week of April. For days, the paddy is soaked inside the water till its shoots sprout out of the grain. Until its shoot develops, the seeds are kept outside the water. Only then, the seeds are sown in a nearby field which is dedicated for making a nursery “thaejwaan”. A nursery usually takes 30-40 days to develop saplings of up to 7-8 inch. The nursery does have a scarecrow to protect the seeds from sparrows, birds and pigeons. These days, people cover the nursery with magnetic tape reels along with a tall scarecrow.

Once the seeds turn to saplings, the process of “thaejkaad” enters the second stage. Decomposed farmyard manure along with cattle dung is spread over the field for days. After that, the process of ploughing the field takes place. Before the invention of the tractor, ox or buffalo laden ploughs were used for the task, Nowadays, tillers and tractors do the job of ploughing. Once the process ends, the land is filled with water at a uniform level. Here, the “kart bread” wooden equipment used to level the land for transplantation.

The saplings, knotted in bundles, are later taken out for plantation (thaejkaad) and later on, the plants grow and the process for harvesting begins once the rice gets ready for cultivation. The process to get rice involves threshing (chombun), drying (tapas-travun), husking (munun) and the last one is winnowing (tsatun).

I found it ironic to believe that the scenario has changed since a decade. For our elders, thaejkaad was a festival, until outsiders took this work from our hands. Since then, the rice fields wore a deserted look. The farmers these days outsource the main work to the labourers of Bihar and Punjab. There are no songs, nothing like “thaejkaad” happens on the field. No “thaejkaad batte” to the neighbours, even no help taken from each other. I still miss the taste of “beal tomul” which is on the verge of extinction as no body produces it anymore. The modern generation has little information about it.

This year, with the outbreak of COVID-19 causing an unprecedented global halt, people have been ordered to prevent from migrating which has led to the shortage of workers. There has been intra-district/division ban imposed by the authorities. As a result, this has provided us with an opportunity to revive the culture which has had been forgotten for years. Despite having no agricultural land, I decided to help many friends. It’s an amazing experience to witness the season in full swing filling the fields with charm. Nowadays, the fields have a olden look with least migrant laborers doing the work. I wish others who have agricultural land to continue this festival. Not only it reduces the burden of unemployment but it gives us an opportunity of securing the cultural activities of our land which we have forgotten for years.

Yasir Altaf Zargar is co-founder Shafara Creatives  and a blogger