Monday, 23 January 2012

The Egg-less city

Now that you know that it snowed in Kashmir, you should know what followed the snow. As expected, the snow was followed by a spell of chilled air. The denser clouds parted the next day, and a meek sun shone through. Dim and dreary. Happy in the fact, that the snow acted as a high volt CFL bulb, and made the best use of the dim sunlight for days to come.


A couple of days later, a week, to be precise, it snowed again. Heavier than last time. Whiter than last time.  Snow piled on in the city, more than ten inches deep in certain places. 

In the intervening week, a new winter unleashed. Immediately the ancients brought up comparisons with the folk-lore winters. The winters of yore, now forgotten. The water froze. In fact, the whole Valley froze. There were no puddles on the road, because they turned into ice. Icicles. The water supply froze too. So did the Srinagar-Jammu Highway and the government manning it. The erratic electricity. The Dal Lake.

All this freezing brought a bluish grey, rather than a white feel to the snow. In the intervening week, the snow hardened – like a giant cover of white marble, under which lay all the water networks of the city. One couldn’t actually blame the government for it. It wasn’t Nature’s fault either. It was perhaps just meant to be so. And so was it. And we were not complaining. 

The Dal Lake froze in patches. A little island of ice over here, a big one over there. The little brown ducks visiting from abroad could be seen as little bumps over an icy horizon. (A friend of mine argues that they are not ducks. But I will call them ducks until someone comes with a proper name).  The water that came out of the four fountains looked like ice. 

But happiness is seldom absolute. More so, in a place like Kashmir. There is always something to remind you that the wolf is standing just outside the door.In the grey air of these snowy evenings, you can see the illegal encroachments on the Dal clearer than on most days. You can make out that the islands have stretched way beyond their original limits, and you can count the number of hotels that have sprung up. You can see the Dal dying away.

At that moment the weathermen predicted snowfall for the coming Saturday. The temperatures were dipping below -5. A snowfall would mean temperature of round about zero. That was welcome. It meant the ice would melt, the water would flow. The weathermen have been surprisingly accurate this year. It snowed on Saturday. 

Heavier than last time. Whiter than last time.

Overnight the city was transformed into a winter wonderland of sorts. Everyone rejoiced, except the ilk of Samad Joo. He wasn’t pleased, at all. He immediately saw the snowflakes creating huge puddles of slush and mud. The ice getting flattened on the roads like in skating rinks. He saw silly boys and girls snow fighting. And he saw trouble. He was right.

Since the highway was closed, the markets were slowly hijacked. If you went to buy an egg, you wouldn’t get it. There were no eggs available in the city. Which is not odd, considering there were no chicken available as well.  And no mutton. If you are a Kashmiri, you would perhaps understand the gravity of this last deficiency. The highway is still closed, as of this writing.  And the fear of dead poultry looms.

I asked why couldn’t the Srinagar- Muzaffarabd road be used as an alternative to the tedious Srinagar- Jammu highway, at least in such difficult climates. “They wouldn’t allow it”, came the reply. They, the over lords of Kashmir. The rulers of our destinies. The deciders of our fate and fortunes. Of course they wouldn’t allow it. The trade boards on both sides of the divide have been asking for more items to trade in, and at least preliminary banking facilities. Currently the trade is carried on in the ancient way, the barter trade. No cash is exchanged. A truck is valued from that side, and exchanged for a truck of identical value from this side.  At the centre of this mockery of trade is the Line of Control. Meanwhile, the all-weather Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road which traverses the LoC remains a much politicised and a road less travelled.

‘The failure of the subconscious was the border. The line of control did not run through 576 kilometeres of militarised mountains. It ran through our souls, our hearts, and our minds. It ran though everything a Kashmiri, an Indian, and a Pakistani said, wrote, and did. It ran through the fingers of editors writing newspaper and magazine editorials, it ran through the eyes of reporters, it ran through the reels of Bollywood coming to life in dark theatres, it ran through conversations in coffee shops and TV screens showing cricket matches, it ran through families and dinner talk, it ran through the whispers of lovers. And it ran through our grief, our anger, our tears, and our silences.’
-          Basharat Peer, Curfewed Night.


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