Monday, 30 September 2013

Thank God For Little Pleasures - XIX

Walking hand in hand like old friends.
Sitting together when one gets tired.
Returning when one can’t walk any longer.
At home, together again.
Looking out for each other.
Timetables. Food times.
And making a joke about it all.
But most of all, hearing stories.
From long ago to the last moment.
The wisdom never ends.
No one wants it to.
And then, one is gone.
The stories are left behind.
Like fragrance of flowers.


Monday, 23 September 2013

Apple Picking in Shopian

Autumn is fast approaching in Kashmir. The chinar, though green yet in September, is slowly migrating to darker, brighter hues. Soon it would be brown, and golden -  rich with autumn's presence. The point being not missed by the apple growers. Autumn is the richest season in Kashmir when saffron and apples abound. 

Under the weak branches of apple trees there are four fresh graves somewhere in Shopian. Shopian is famous for its apples. The growers there quip, "Sopore has the quantity, Shopian has the quality." (Sopore being the largest apple producing district in Kashmir. Even though the production is huge, the quality of apples from Shopian is considered superior to Sopore's).

For the past fifteen  days Shopian has been under curfew. There is a curfew for every season in Kashmir. It's the government's escape route to peace. Like fire exits in high rise buildings. A battalion of padded army men  imported from India is placed on every nook and corner to enforce peace, while the police handles all the PR stuff.

The curfew this time is in response to the killing of one man and partially blinding one girl in Shopian. Before this the government curfewed Ramban when the BSF fired on unarmed people and killed six people. (The number of deaths was contested by the Chief Minister on Twitter who admonished the media for misquoting the number. He put the toll at 4). Before Ramban a similar incident happened in Bandipore. There is of course no pattern to the killings, that would be dwelling onto a conspiracy theory. They do it mainly because they can, and then get off with it. No questions that require answers are asked. The government, as a matter of routine, orders an enquiry. The people, as a matter of routine, smirk at the enquiry. The results of the enquiry will be heard, if at all, when the incident has faded from public memory.

Meanwhile the curfew continues and soon people will run out of stock of sustenance. Then the government, like a movie villain, will present its more merciful side and lift the curfew. The people will come out of homes, some lorries carrying provisions would be allowed into the town and the people will be 'allowed' to buy provisions before being locked under curfew again. Of course, the humiliation is not lost on the people. In protest, the people will keep businesses shut and schools and offices closed. The government will not bother much about this. It is just one of those things that keep Kashmir on the edge. 

No one knows who these boys were, except that they died. One of them was a fruit dealer waiting for a consignment of fruit boxes. One of them was looking forward to opening a new shop in the main market. Little things look so miscalculated in the grand plot of life. One of them was newly married too. 

The apples are picked by hand, carefully dropping them in waiting baskets and buckets held  by eager children and family members. The apples are placed on sheets spread out in the orchards and are cautiously packed. Packed to be sent away, in absence of permissions to trade anywhere else, to India. Most of the best quality fruit of Kashmir is exported. 

The apples turn out each year - red as ever. In this season of mellow fruitfulness, we paint ours bright crimson. Fresh, every time. Every time, they make their way to India.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Cupfuls of Hope

Last year, 2012, among other tragedies that Kashmir faced one that left an immensely dark scar was the burning of the shrine of Ghous-ul-Azam Dastgeer. The founder of the Qadri silsila of Sufism is highly revered in Kashmir. Thousands of people would turn out on the eleven day annual Urs at  Dastgeer Sahab’s shrine. Khanyar where the shrine was located is a small neighbourhood not very far away from Dal Lake. It has a little market place selling all sorts of traditional copperware, including among other things samovars. During the Urs the market place is sealed off by police barricades allowing no traffic inside so that the whole area can be cleaned and used as a mosque. Prayer mats are spread on the roads and the whole area is divided into two unequal parts for men and women.
 For the Urs people bring in all sorts of offerings to be distributed among the attendees. Charity and generosity are two of the most prized virtues in Islam. So are feeding travellers and distributing food. The annual Urs follows the lunar calendar and Islamic Months and has been, for the past few years, celebrated in early – mid spring when the air is cold and rains frequent. The spirit of the Urs, though, hasn’t dampened. People still turn out, with hearts full of hope and eyes full of teary prayers.
A man in a neat, washed Khan suit emerges from the crowd carrying a large copper samovar. A kid follows him closely with a plastic basket of cups, without saucers. A second kid, slightly larger than the first, carries a jute bag of freshly made Girdah, made on order. The three of them are immediately surrounded by a crowd of men, women and children. As no shops are open they retreat under an awning of a shop near the shrine and prepare to serve tea. The embers are glowing red in the samovar. The man draws a small polythene bag from his pockets from which he takes out a piece of coal and drops it in the samovar. It sparkles and makes a crackling sound. Hot vapours of the tea escape from its spout. He wipes the sweat off his forehead with the towel he was using to hold the samovar’s hot chain.
They are ready to serve. 

The “Kahim chai” as it is called (literally “tea of the Eleventh” – Eleventh being the number associated with Dastgeer Sahab) is generally richer than everyday noon-chai. Prepared with the love and reverence for the saint, the tea is mixed with copious amounts of butter and shavings of coconut. The butter floats on the top of the cup, when poured, as a layer of  fragrant green oil.
People jostle for the cups. Some bring their own cups – they were perhaps anticipating that someone would surely bring tea. A young man from a nearby nader-monj stall brings a small flask to carry a few cups of tea for his cohorts at the stall. He takes a few girdas which the kid suspiciously hands him. Ruckus. Some unruly person pushes the man and pinches him to draw his attention. That scares the kid with cups. He exchanges places with his brother and goes over to give the bread. Within ten minutes most of the tea is gone. The man gently nudges the samovar to stir any settled coconut shavings.
An old woman clucthing a white burqa comes forward. The man pours her a cup of tea. The little kid hands her a girdah with a smile. She pauses as she puts her hands into the pocket of her pheran and brings out a handful of shireen and dates from the shrine “Meyoun Dastgeer karnei raechh” (May my Dastgeer look after you) she says.