When winter used to be a delightful and productive season

In the Valley’s numerous villages, people would weave wool extracted indigenously into fine cloth for making warm pherans, trousers, caps and other things.

Ubeer Naqushbandi
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jan 11 2019 12:22AM | Updated Date: Jan 11 2019 12:22AM
When winter used to be a delightful and productive seasonFile Photo

Winter in Kashmir used to be a season of hope, enjoyment and dynamism, some elders say, but not anymore for many as the ways people in the valley plan and spend the freezing cold months have significantly changed over the decades.

In the years gone by, skilled Kashmiri hands used to be active during winter months behind closed doors.

In Srinagar, artisans sat and drew intricate colourful designs on papier-mache and shawls.

In the Valley’s numerous villages, people would weave wool extracted indigenously into fine cloth for making warm pherans, trousers, caps and other things.

Raconteurs or dastangos used to be hired, especially in villages by wealthy people such as landlords and traders to listen to endless fantasies of Laila Majnoon, Rustum Sohrab, Ajab Malik, Heemal Nagraj to keep their thoughts warm during long freezing nights.

“Listening to padshah kaeth (stories) over cups of kehwa and nun-chai was a routine during those times in winter. This mesmerised people,” said elderly poet and cultural activist Zareef Ahmad Zareef.

Kashmiris used to drink tea extracted from a carrot-like indigenous tree root known as machiran. The beverage was believed to keep off constriction of blood vessels during winter.

The city people used to relish this beverage with milk, while in villages people drank it without any addition.

“Old people mostly used to die of waj or harkat (paralysis). This tea was recommended by hakeems for people, especially who had crossed their 40s,” Zareef said.

Kashmir’s syncretic culture transcended religious barriers. Its Hindu community, who follow Shaivism relished meat together with their Muslim brethren, an almost unique feature of Kashmiri society.

Winter during those olden days would bring cheer to writer Ghulam Nabi Khayal.

“Watching those artisans in my locality crafting colourful intricate embroidery on shawls would enthrall me. It kept me spirited during those winters,” said Khayal.

When accumulated snow would render roads blocked for months together, the ill were shifted to hospitals or hakeemkhanas on doel or zapan—a carriage shouldered by four people.

“Services of milkmen having strong physique were hired to shoulder the carriage,” said Zareef.

Bone fractures were treated by watangaer, pregnant women used to be helped by midwives—known as warnee or karigaribayee—to deliver babies at home.

Footwear included Pulhoer which was made of straw tied to a wooden sole and Khraav or wooden sandal along with Pateve—sort of long woolen wrap around the legs, like socks.

The wooden sandals prevented slipping on the frozen snow.

Some affluent Kashmiris used to wear pashmina caps, known as arakchein under their woollen turbans during winter months.

Winters added to reverence of Daan or hearth inside homes in Kashmir. While grandmothers used to sit next to it to ensure every mouth was fed in the house, children also used to study under its warmth and coziness.

Potato and turnip were kept on the embers inside the hearth overnight to let them roast for next day’s breakfast for children. Some affluent families also used to roast eggs in the Daan overnight for their children.

Children would play indigenous indoor games such hukus bokus, teekan (peeble game), haare (coin game) and reinte during harsh winter.

“We used to run inside to warm our shivering cold hands under the pheran of our grandmothers. The ambience and warmth of that pheran was something really great,” said columnist ZG Mohammad.

There was also a section of learned youth, who used to read literature mostly in Urdu to pass those winter months, particularly Naseem Hijazi and Munshi Premchand, though ZG Mohammad reminisces how Adil Rashid used to be a delight among lovers of romanticism.

While, roasted kenek (barley), water chestnuts, carrot or radish was given to children as snacks, people mostly consumed dried vegetables and fish to compensate for fresh vegetables or meat.

Dangling icicles from rooftops formed a great attraction for children. A concoction of sugar and milk added to these icicles was relished by children as some sort of ice-cream.

 “It was our malai kulfi,” said Zareef.

Occasional home reared chicken and eggs also formed part of people’s diet in those winter days.

 “There was a sense of self-sufficiency. We used to enjoy and celebrate winter,” said Zareef.

Unlike today, houses were built of mud and wood, perfectly insulated to keep warm.

 “The architecture and materials were chosen to fight Kashmir’s weather vagaries in a way that a kangri (firepot) would warm an entire room,” said Zareef.

The flooring used in Kashmiri homes was mostly made of straw mats or waguv.

Relatively affluent families used to add a layer of woolen mats called namda over it to escape winter chill.

“In Kashmir’s villages, straw mats made of hay, known as pathechh covered the floor while in city it was made of pecch (Dal grass). A delight winter in Kashmir used to be,” Zareef said.

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