Sunday, 25 December 2011

Waiting, and welcoming it

22 December. For every Kashmiri it means only one thing – the beginning of Chillay Kalaan. The coldest, hardest forty days of winter. From 22 December to 31 January, the valley will see (or it should be if Nature follows the traditional course) the coldest days of the year. And I am hoping it does.
There used to be a time, long ago – a time which is only retold in stories – when it used to snow in this part of the season. The snow froze up supposedly very quickly, and did not melt till at least Chillay Kalaan lasted. The roads were covered in ice, making them dangerous to drive on. But in those days, the stories tell, there were very few cars in the valley. Less than today, in any case. The snow would be piled on the street-sides and turn black with the exhaust smoke of the cars.The weather forecasts don’t predict a snow in this week at least, so it may be sometime before we get to see it.

Click here to check the latest forecast

This brings up another question? Why should we be so eager to bring in the snow? What will snow give us? As some people do not realise the importance of snow in terms of water supply, electricity, and pleasanter summer months, they lament the ‘hardships’ snow brings. I pity the snow for that. I remember some years ago, I overheard a lady who was supposed to go somewhere lamenting, “This snow had to come today!” If not today, then when? Isn’t this the season for it? Shouldn't we be waiting and welcoming it? Then I came across another set of people who have nothing in particular against the snow, but “preferred” it after Chillay Kalaan. The reason? Chillay Kalaan snow is hard to get rid off. It freezes and forms an icy glaze, which is of course dangerous on roads. To me this is just silly. It is the job of the government to clean up the streets after snow. Nature cannot be held responsible for a ‘mess’ it doesn’t create.

Thus, while there are many like me (and hopefully you) who welcome the snow anytime in winters, there are some like Samad Joo:

“I do not believe in the government, and neither in those who do. I never have, never shall. They are a bunch of crooks, who lose their right to govern as soon as elections are over. I don’t give a damn about elections either, and as it is Kashmir I recommend that you too shouldn’t.
 I get up at Fajr prayer and it is pitch dark outside. I can’t see a thing. I strain my eyes and press my forehead against the wire mesh of the window. No luck. The weather forecast had predicted a snowfall, I hope there is none. I murmur a little prayer, Hai Khoday az na kenh”. (Oh God not today please). In the darkness of the room, I fumble for my mobile phone and finally reach it. I press a random button to light up the screen and use it as a torch. I look around the room in the mobile-light for yesterday’s kangri. Ah, there it is, resting under the table. Oh, no it’s dead. No heat in it.
I turn the lights on in the room only to find there is no power. These damned bijli walaas, only if they would use better quality material to survive the light snow. Wait. Did I say snow? “Hai Khoday az na kenh”. I throw the light here and there in anguish. Who will light a candle now? Where did I keep it? And the matches?

By the time, the prayers are done the there is a faint glow behind the curtains. The sun is not up yet, I think, as it is not that bright. I withdraw the curtains, and look out in the yarn. Waey, Khudaay. Gunaah panin. The whole lawn is white. A thick blanket of snow. There is snow in the tress, on the grass, on the rails even on the jacket of the newspaper boy who has just entered the compound. It must be snowing still, then.  The sun is a mere smear somewhere behind the clouds. The rest of the sky is grey.
Well, there is nothing to be done then. I leave the room, and go outside to collect the newspaper. The first headline is “Valley expects snowfall”. Expects, idiots.  It’s already here.  The rest of the newspaper is filled with mindless political chatter. Of course the higher areas have already had a snowfall. Of course the Srinagar- Jammu highway is blocked. But as usual, the ministers have assured that there is ample supply of chicken, mutton and cooking gas in the valley.
After breakfast, I decide to go to the market. The butcher’s chop is closed, even though it’s a Thursday.  The shop next to his, selling chicken has already a large crowd around it. Of course, no one has a courtesy enough to let an old person like me get served first. The youngsters think they have won all the forts there are. Idiots, that’s my final word on them. Now they will make me wait in the cold and scream on top of my voice to be heard. Who has the energy to shout in this cold? I’d sooner catch pneumonia than shout.
Rs.95 per kilo, the chicken seller had put up a paper to announce the rate. As if, announcing in this fashion would end all arguments. And to make it even clearer, he had added another paper announcing it in Urdu.
“Ninety five? Wasn’t it only sixty yesterday?” I always new this chicken-thief to be a dishonest person.
“Yes. Yath gai na wathai band.” (Yes. The highway’s been closed) was the reply.
“So. It’s been closed for only one day yet.”
“Aaa. That’s true, but there is a shortage of chicken in the market.”

I turn to the bathroom for my ablutions, candle in hand, and the water there is death cold. It cuts through the skin. No not for my old bones.  No. This wont do. I think Allah will write me extra sawaab just for using this water. He must. He must. Waen gaes na sheen aasun! (Hope there is no snow!) “Hai Khoday az na kenh”.

I put on the pheran, and get ready for my prayers. It’s still too dark, and there is no sound coming from the mosque. They too must have no power then. But its time for prayers already.
“Waenai kus shortage goi?” (What kind of shortage is there so soon?)
“Yeh chhu patai ye rate aamut.”
To this before I could reply, a little voice from somewhere behind me replied, “kaimsund pattai?”
By the time I reached home, the snow had created huge puddles of muddy water everywhere. Somewhere down the lane, a drainage pipe was overflowing. The electricity wires and the telephone wires had fallen down, on the road. As it is only 10 am, it is too early for the department’s lazy people to come up and start fixing these things. They would be sleeping at this time. So the neighbours had sent their servants up the poles to start fixing in whatever way they could. No, obviously, they couldn’t have waited. I looked up and recognised one particularly mischievous fellow balancing himself on a step ladder. He was handing some equipment to the other person who was fiddling with the wire joints. I wanted to warn him not to fiddle with the electricity wires going through to my house. But will he listen? He is accustomed to act out of spite.
“Don’t you mess with my connections” I cried out aloud to him.
“We wont,” he shouted back and the murmured something about eyes and cataract. Damn him!
The snow finally stopped at lunch time round, and the sun came about. No this won’t open the highway, not just yet. And this won’t lower the price of chicken and milk in the city. This will also not cure the fact that my legs are really paining with this cursed arthritis. "

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