BY FARYAL FATIMA
In a frosty winter, I was enjoying snowfall sitting in the Hamam. There is nothing more beautiful than watching the snowfall sitting in a hot hamam. It felt like nature is ginning cotton.
But what is so specific that makes harsh winters more beautiful? Ask me.
My 90-year-old great-grandmother Rahmat Bano tells me about the “winters of Kashmir, its economy and literature”. When prodded, she would narrate stories.
Long ago, she says, the winter nights were full of kahwa with jaggery. Men between 30 to 40 would go to Punjab for labour work during winters, so jaggery was brought from Punjab and it was a treat for everyone.
Those were the days. She sighed. I couldn’t realize whether she was nostalgic or frightened to recollect those memories.
At times she gets sleepy while narrating these stories but I persist and she comes up with another story. There is a story within every story. And she also comes up with couplets like these too:
Sher e Arbas manz ous akh padsha Sadha Mir
Tamis ous akh wazir Aqla Mir
“Do you know Ahad Kak? You don’t know. I will tell you about him. Ahad Kak was a master storyteller,” she says. He would be accompanied by his troupe comprising other folk artists, one play tumbakhnar and another pitcher. Only two. They would narrate in rhymes the story of Yousuf Zulaikha, Yember te Bomber, Shreen Farhad, Heemal Nagraj. It takes three days to complete a dastaan, Dadi explains with her eyes closed, smile on her face.
Those days they would keep entertaining artisans and make their work enjoyable.
Artisans would weave wicker firepots (kangri), grass mats, sandals made of grass for the upcoming spring and winter. Thus, storytelling, art and economy would keep people sailing through the icy winters.
The basement area was called mandav. That is what grandmother says. Mandav was separate by a wooden partition called as vurusi. These gatherings would be about 50 people with one side dominated by women and the other exclusively for men. Well-off families usually hosted these arrangements and those families would invite neighbours and relatives. Artisans and storytellers would be celebrities of those times. Kahwa was offered to everyone while the elders enjoyed hookah.
For storytellers it was economy. They would get spices, flour, rice and used clothes.
Dadi says those were times of extreme poverty and no formal schools. Storytelling was the only source of transferring historical events from generation to generation. “I haven't read the translation of the Quran but the concept of surat ul yousuf has been understood by me through the same way of storytelling.” She told me the story of Hazarat Yousuf one night.
Dadi says the spiritual and soulful time of the whole night was before the time of the fajr. When they all raised their hands and recited dua e subah. Suddenly Dadi raised her hands with tearful eyes! Ahadas magfirat, Ama Kakas magfirat, Babas magfirat - forgive everyone O! lord of mercy.
Those gatherings were enjoyed by everyone across the Bringi river valley. The storytellers would spend a couple of days at one place and then move to another.
Their stay was on account of their quantity of woven materials. On the bank of rivers, villagers in clusters would discuss how many beverages and the quantity of jaggery they were served and in which family. Also what else they had woven out of kangri, grass slippers.
Out of these apparently ‘elite’ families of those years were a few landlords like khanday's, Kamkar's, Zagoo's, Yahya Malik's. Haji Israelis’ who wove namdas too. Out of these Haji Israeli was the only landlord from Gujjar community.
Only these elite landlords offered dinner where selected guests would relish wazwan in the luxurious hall called deewan-i-khas, while the villagers, artisans and storytellers got served in mandavs.
They would stay for about a week at the residence of one landlord and then move to another. Artisans would weave 15 to 20 kangris a night and five to six namdas a week. So the competition prevailed among artisans and storytellers and also among elite families in every respect, while hosting the event.
Personal washrooms made of wooden planks were only used by the landlords. Women would melt snow on the traditional stoves to get water. Children used to bake eggs in kangri during those nights as a midnight meal. Suddenly some egg would burst, grabbing the attention of convention. Everyone used to burst into laughter.
Dadi asked me how much snow is accumulated outside. I said “about one foot.” She murmured. Ah! fistful of snow.
Such conversations about yesteryears with my grandmother always make me realise that in the immediate past of Kashmir, people lived in abject and extreme poverty with no education and no economy. That is why I still don’t know whether my Dadi was nostalgic about the life of yesteryears or was sad about it. But the past always makes us nostalgic irrespective of its bitterness.
Faryal Fatima is a 10th class student from Doru Shahabad, South Kashmir and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.