Like a 'hypnotic gem,' our birthplace was mesmerizing. It had million facets, with every facet having its own shade and color, the life here opened like into a kaleidoscopic – with its variety of colors continually changing. For diversity of its characters, with children of lesser god immensely contributing to the landscape of the Downtown, it reads like a Dickensian novel. In the wee morning hours, it would be goatherds, dressed like Hebrew in the Hollywood films with their drove of ewes and goats and tinkling bells that made children toss their quilts aside for buying a pint of ewe's milk. The melodious folk devotional songs of robust natives pulling the carts mixing with morning breeze added to the spiritual ambiances of the old city. The music coming out of the thin willow whip-rod put by the tanagawala into the wheels of his single horse driven chariot added a new rhythm to the songs of the toiling and sweating natives. Echoes' of choruses of the natives believed to be Noah's descendants propelling log rafts up and down the Jhelum energized even lethargic who fattened on the offerings and the alms.
The nights, during the summers and autumns, had their own beauty, they came to full life late in the night when the bands arrived at the bridegroom's house to accompany him to the bride's house. Mostly, these musicians comprising flutists, bagpipers and drummers would wear red uniform with lot of brocade work like the British military marching band. On their arrival at the bridegroom's house the flutists, bagpipers, and drummers presented a 'salam,' a congratulatory musical note that would usually end with the drummers beating their drums faster. The Rangadanga with kerosene lamp inside a box on his head and facing rows of mashal carriers made his presence felt with his lyrical directions to them; to watch their steps lest they fall in the drain, cautioned them against moving near to wooden sunshades of the shops – that could set city on a fire.
It were these lowly paid natives, like 'Jo the crossing sweeper in Dickens' novel 'Bleak House' that animated our mornings and evenings and provide rhyme and rhythm to marriage revelries. Besides, the mashal men, there were also Zanapan-e-Kihaar that were important part of the marriage festivities. I don't know the etymology of the word of Zanapane if the word was of Dardic origin like larger part of our vocabulary, or it had its origin in Sanskrit, Persian or Arabic. Ostensibly, it seems a combination of two words zana and pane. Nonetheless, the word Kihaar is an Urdu word meaning a porter engaged in carrying palanquin on his shoulders. It suggests the word has entered into our lexicon during the Dogra period when Urdu had replaced Persian as court language. I don't know, how old the tradition using palanquin for brides had been but in our primary school days, when there were just a few cars it was the most in vogue all over the city.
In our neighborhood, there were a couple of Zanapan-e-kihaar families, who rented out bridal palanquins and provided men for its lifting. They owned about half a dozen of them. In this column, sometime back, I wrote how at the commencement of the marriage seasons these were done up; some painted parrot green and silver grey, some turquoise blue and golden yellow and some draped in brocades. The palanquin put in the center of two long poles was carried by four Kihaars of almost the same height, on their shoulders. I still remember some tough palanquin porters of our Mohalla- who were much sought after during marriage seasons. During daytime, they pulled huge carts loaded to capacity and in the evening hoisted brides in zanapane on their shoulders. It was the grooms' family that sent in advance to the palanquin to the house of the bride – at the bride's house; it was greeted with wanawun. They received a better treatment at the bride's house than 'Mashal-e-khu'ere- and were not served cold leftover food but hot rice and some dishes. In tow with the groom, they returned with the bride. And on their return, they stopped at bridges in the way whether on the river Jhelum or any other rivulet and demanded gift money called "Kadla-Tar" – and crossed the bridge when it was paid.