Winters in Kashmir: What changed since the 90s?

With life getting complicated, adult life to be precise, it’s tempting (for all millennials) to harp on about the 90s when we were kids and life was so simple. More so this year, because after more than two decades, Kashmir faced a harsh winter: the kind 90s kids would fondly remember. In winters, schools would be closed for vacations and those three months would bring unadulterated joy, even though we were living a low-tech life with not many places to go and not much to do.

As chillai kalaan decided to go retro this year, and I sat in the comfort of my centrally heated space, with the luxuries of continuous electricity, water and high speed internet, watching the dreamy social media stories of fluffy snowflakes twirling from the sky and children playing cricket on the frozen Dal back home, the memories from childhood kicked in.

Snow: All play and no work

It’s hard to describe the feeling of witnessing the season’s first snowfall from children’s perspective. We couldn’t be more thrilled at anything than waking up to at least six inches of accumulated snow. The norm would be to get all layered up and venture outside to derive unmatched pleasure from creating footprints on the pristine, untouched, crisp blanket of morning snow. This would be followed by making snowballs to engage in a snow fight (sheene jung), with siblings, cousins and friends who lived nearby; battling the freezing weather for hours to hand-mould a snowman and bring out the best accessories to adorn him. We would almost always attempt to make an igloo and fail miserably. There were no worries or concerns, except to watch out for icicles (the fascinating shishur gaant) and chunks of snow sliding off rooftops. No amount of biting cold could curb our enthusiasm and make us go inside, until the first signs of frostbites started causing numbness in our hands. Not much has changed in this regard except that kids these days will probably go inside once they have taken the perfect shot of the perfect snowman (or snow woman, snow tiger, or snow-what-not), and posted it on social media.

Hamaam: The room for winter hibernation

Only one room in the average two or three storeyed house would be well heated up. This would be either hamaam or a room fitted with an elaborate space heater with a chamber for burning coal or wood called bukhaer, which would take up half of the space in the room. This room would be furnished with namda/gabba (warm, hand-woven rugs) and the windows would be covered with moamjaam (transparent polyethylene film) such that no heat could escape, its effect on the aesthetics completely ignored. We would be practically confined to this room, at least till the coldest spell got over. For some of us, this was the room for winter hibernation; it was the place for sitting, eating, sleeping and even for hanging clothes to dry. And if yours came with an attached washroom (sraan kuth), then you were the luckiest. In the years that followed, dozens of different models of kerosene and gas based heaters started flooding the market; even central heating started gaining popularity, but nothing can still beat the reliability and warmth of hamaam and kaangir, despite the laborious efforts they demand.

Power-hungry?

Erratic electricity supply has not changed much. Our back-up alternatives have improved though. Those days the small DC battery would only take up to two bulbs, one for kitchen and the other for hamaam/living room, and its charge wouldn’t last long. Now we’ve moved on to inverters, which are life saviors but only if the supply is restored within two days. Our concerns may have moved from whether we are stocked up on gas lamp mantles to whether our devices (phones, tabs, etc.) are stocked up on charge.

Water woes

As the Internet was flooded with memes about frozen tap water in 2021, I would say that little has changed in this regard. However, I do remember, water tankers doing rounds in each neighborhood and people collecting and storing water in all the buckets they had at hand.

Dressing sense

Pheran continues to remain our favourite winter outfit. However, Patyuv pheran (the classical tweed-like material) may have been replaced by modern pherans featuring leather elbow patches and velvet pherans with fur borders. One might sport a down jacket occasionally for style, but it can’t even come close to the cozy snuggles in a pheran with hands tucked inside the sleeves and a kaangir held underneath.

Food-wise

Going on a food spree out of boredom isn’t something unheard of. In our case, we’d just roast a potato in the kaangir or make ice cream out of snow and it would be the height of excitement for us. Now you can order whatever you fancy eating- from pizza to harissa, with guaranteed delivery at doorstep. Well, the guarantee stands only if the phones/internet services are not blocked for some reason and the snow is cleared off the roads. Hokh syun (sun dried vegetables) have managed to remain constantly present in the pantry. For one, it’s a delicacy we can never let go out of vogue. And for another, harsh weather or not, we never know when we’d be shut off from the outside world and run out of food supply in the market.

Further reflecting on the points mentioned, I see laudable efforts by today’s talented youth in using technology not just for personal interests, but also to promote Kashmir in its beauty and culture. I wish this were a nostalgic account from an adult, conforming to the cliché of lecturing them on how different, difficult and glorious our childhood was. I wish it included anecdotes from my childhood that today’s kids would find historic and hard to imagine. But here we are, three decades later, when more or less the same problems resurfaced with a bout of snow. It is sad that this generation is technically reliving the same childhood we did, with the exception of being on the Internet. Oh wait, did they even have access to Internet for 18 months in the recent past?

Author, a part-time blogger, is a Kashmiri currently based in the UK