The Almond Branch
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The Almond Branch

We no more cultivate almonds; we sow plants of sorrow now and harvest death and disappointment

Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time

Close to the gardens of broken shadows,

We do what prisoners do,

And what the jobless do:

We cultivate hope.                                    

Mahmoud Darwish  

Humans are born with a right to happiness in spite of the fact that they come into this world sobbing and screaming with pain. Pleasure may be taken as the ultimate end of humanity, a composite whole of multiple positive segments of exuberance and jubilation that sooth and rejuvenate. Believing in "One swallow does not make a spring,' man goes through tremendous pressures to collect those segments, running after material expression of joy till he understands that it is the excellence of soul associated with moral and spiritual brilliance that matters the most. Happiness is not something related to good conditions, it is not possessiveness, if you are unhappy inside, no joy can reach your heart.

It is rather an upper reach blissful state rewarded by human excellence and achieved over the course of a complete life span. In maximum cases, people pass away without reaching that grace and beatitude.

Air was animated; filled with the mild scent of the blossoming of pink and white flowers from almond trees. It was time to say goodbye to the harsh winter and visit friends and relatives, and visiting our relatives in Shivpora would top the list.

Those days, old vintage dodge buses would leave from Amira Kadal and pass through a breathtaking area up on a hillock named correctly as the almond orchard, Badami Bagh; resting on the other side of the Gukar Road, the area that remains out of reach now and is completely abandoned for natives and commuters. It was a sheer delight to watch dainty almond flowers in their full beauty, sprouting and scattering all over that area boosting faith in the resurrection.

There were rows and rows of beautiful bungalows made with high aesthetics, rented out by owners to foreigners or left open in hurry by the people who migrated to the other side of the line of control, leaving behind a sad note about prangs of partition, almond trees in their courtyard signifying an extended metaphor in literature to present the brutality of colonial past, slavery, violence and torture. Nature would not forget to paint them fresh in spring.

In late February and under siege early March, the beauty that would remain disguised and unnoticed for the rest of the year would make its presence felt all of a sudden, awaken hope that could move poets and artists to create masterpieces; no wonder Van Gogh enjoyed them aesthetically making it an obsession to transpose the miracle of nature onto canvas, creating art pieces with scent and freshness of everlasting spring.

 It was from there that I started harboring a wish to visit Badamware, home to the oldest and most beautiful area of flowering almond trees. But visiting Badamware was a taboo in our home like going to Mughal Gardens on Sundays.

Sometimes, I believe that our parents were more impressed by the harsh Chinese child rearing practice, dama jiaoyu, a kind of tough disciplinary system of education thought to be productive in raising 'good' sons and noble daughters. Parents from our generation enjoyed a right to raise children using ways and means that if seen through the lens of domestic violence would vouch for one.

Surprisingly, going to Badamware had one more negative point; it was looked down upon by some shallow progressive souls who would label people living in downtown as surhed and visiting Badamware on festival days as their line of cheap entertainment but it did not matter to me and one fine morning, by proxy and wit I managed a visit with my aunt's family to that line of entertainment.

It was a supreme emotional joy overwhelming my thought and mood directly addressing my aesthetics and love for nature. Sensing the carpet of pink and purple flowers under my feet, it turned a regular person in me into a princess. I remember we were carrying a lot of stuff, a waza with all those mouthwatering dishes, a kandkar samawar with pink salt tea and kulchas, mats and pillows, needles and thread and a wind up gramophone with flat disc of music that did not need any electricity but worked on a hand driven wind up motor, the discs of Kashmiri folksongs and some film music.

Music on that day was gone mad, coming from every corner of Badamware, in different modes, some musicians singing chakri, others dance on film songs, a corner with bandipather;  and vendors of all sorts crying their heart out in happiness to sell their products. The best part I enjoyed on that day was collecting petals one by one on the tip of a needle and stringing it into a fine delicate necklace of fresh flowers.

Almonds have a special place in our hearts and culture, from engraved impressions on our artifacts to folklore and wedding songs; rituals and traditions, the delicious presence in our food delicacies and its sacredness as an enduring symbol of happiness, showering it on all happy occasions on guests, grooms, and brides.

The figurative presence in our carpet designing, embroidery, engraved and embossed delight in copper and wood art, it peeps through our heritage, reflecting the serenity and pure innovative bent of brains of the people of Kashmir.

My past beholds an impression of a happy Kashmir when peoplewere jubilant and enthusiastic. Gone are the days, we no more cultivatealmonds; we sow plants of sorrow now and harvest death and disappointment. Theysay it takes approximately one gallon of water to produce a single almond buthow much blood is needed to sow and harvest peace in Kashmir? It is a bigquestion that remains unsolved and unanswered.

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