My Winter Memories

by Mohammad Hanief

As the November sets in Kashmir, the winter talk gets popular among people. Till November, only women folk have the responsibility to look after things for winter and get them in perfect order. These things are a tall order: Houkh Suin (dried vegetables), Chineeh (charcoal for fire-pots), Kangris (the fire-pots) and many other things.

As mercury dips on the arrival of winter, many shops in the summer capital of J&K, Srinagar can be seen crowded with kangeris.

Men keep on working and enjoying life up to November. As soon as the announcement of Dubar Move (the yearly shifting of offices to Jammu for six months) is made, the men get the idea about the onset of winter. Keeping these things aside, men and women get together for their families and try to give the best possible winter facilities to family members especially young and old.

By wall calendar, the winter starts in November. But in our part, especially for school going children, the winter starts immediately as soon as winter vacations are announced. It hardly matters when the holidays are announced.

For older people, the winter usually starts from December and if there is no snow, there is always a talk, “Youhus Penaee Sheen,Ye gov Bahaar“(This year, it will not snow, it is like Summer) and when it snows, it snows heavily.

In my childhood, winter would start as soon as my head was fully shaved by the village barber who would move from home to home. I was always reluctant to shave my hair but I always had to give up in the end because of several offers. Even a Rs 10 note was enough for me to agree on shaving my head.

In reality, it wasn’t only me whose hair had to be shaved off. Almost every other children in the family had to shave off his or her hair for the winter. It was a painful experience those days but now I recollect them and wish I’m reborn as a child.

Our house, a small three-room, single storey structure seemed big enough in a full white snowy day enclosed by Himalayan Mountains. It looked like a guesthouse inside the periphery of a forest. It was always welcoming to new people or regular ones who would visit us every day and some of them would stay for a night if we insisted.

It was usually me who would insist some local guys to stay for the night. I liked to stay up because they were excellent tale narrators. Those stories were of Laila Majnu, Heer Ranjha; stories about Kashmir’s troubled history; the tales of Djins and devils and fairies, the Heemaal and the Neagrai.

I loved hearing stories from Farook Kakh, and Akeh Kakh, the two brothers who have adored me from my childhood. Their narration was superb. Today they would tell a story and the next day, they would tell the same old one with some difference in the narration. Later, these stories were my main motivation to read fiction and watch movies.

Patej Wounein, the weaving of typical Kashmiri mat using dried grass, was one of my favourite activities at home during winter. Abaajan used to invite his local friends for a night and they would get the mat ready by midnight. Sometimes, it would take two nights or more, depending on the size of the Patej.

Sipping Kashmiri Kehwa and Nun Chai (salt tea) with Saeet (a delicacy made from leftover rice or roasted maize and wheat, at midnight – while the Patej was being weaved, is the best thing one can ask for in his or her lifetime.

When you wake up the next morning, there would be a mountain of snow accumulated outside mostly behind the house. For months – up to March, snow would not melt behind the house due to freezing during Chlaikalaan. As kids, we would search every house (around) in the locality and try to find old X-rays films and large polythene lifafas (bags) and then use it for sort of skiing. Sometimes we would go inside forests without caring. After coming back home, parents would always taunt us for getting clothes wet.

Sheen Jung (snow fighting) was common throughout Kashmir during winters. In my locality, as a child, I was top rated sheen jung fighter. I was fearless and well built and boys from my locality would get scared after learning about my involvement from any group of sheen fighters. We used to be three to four friends in a group and we always used to defeat our opponents. For Sheen Jung and sheen skiing we were always at the forefront.

Winter tuitions, I hated the most. After sheen jung, however, I loved a shot of long sliding on the accumulated snow. My father used to take contracts for clearing roads using human labour due to lack of snow clearing machines those days. I always believed that my sliding by shoe on accumulated snow was helping reduce the snow, thus saving my father’s labour.

Mohammad Hanief

Playing carom board throughout winter, enjoying sugar made sheen treash (mixing snow with sugar), doing Wandeh Kaeem, the home assignment from school in winter, listening to Kashmiri songs by Gulzar Ganie and Shameema Ji on Radio Kashmir Srinagar were also the most enjoyable memories of my winter.

But as you start growing old, one never experiences all these things. This winter, I wish to enjoy that a sheen khand treash again.

(The author is a BA student and lives in Walkul Tekipora in Lolab belt of Kupwara)

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