Turning the Calendar

by Shah Faesal

Usually thrown open for locals and tourists in last week of March, its inauguration was slightly delayed due to incessant rains that lashed Kashmir valley for most part of last week.
Spring bloom at Srinagar’s famed Tulip Garden. (Representational photo by Bilal Bahadur.)

Counting “red-letter” days on a J&K Bank Calendar – at times by standing over a pile of cushions as the prized Calendars used to be pinned high on the wall – and feeling happy about the plentiful holidays, is an experience that possibly all of us are familiar with. The word is almanac and the J&K Bank has done it so well all these years that if one doesn’t grab a copy on 1st January, in Kashmir atleast he ceases to be a man of significance. I do not like it when some doomsayers use Urdu homophone of this word – alamnak – meaning dreadful (end) for this Bank, as I am myself a borrower and beneficiary of this great institution. Honestly.

Back to holidays. It is 21st March and I am home after a long time. Nauroz (Persian: New Day) is the start of our Spiritual Calendar, that links Kashmir to the times when Jamshed (Cyrus), the mythical king of Zorastrian Iran rescued his people from a terribly destructive winter. In Kashmir also it represents Sonth, the enlivening spell between a dull winter and an exuberant spring and has a great spiritual tradition attached to it. In fact, earlier in the day this Iranian connection led me to another wild speculation on etymology, which I must share.

Shahnameh Firdawsi, a thousand years old epic poem notes about a character “Zahak” who attacked Jamshed (Cyrus) the great Persian king around whom this legend of Nauroz is woven. Zahak stands for snake-like evil man in Iranian and Arabic mythology.

In Kashmiri also we call a person Zahak if he is lean, lanky and a bit awful too. Funny as it is, I also being very lean till a few years back, I have overheard people calling me Zahak, although never on my face. Nevertheless, I wrote this while a few scholar friends are debating this Iranian connection on a rather overactive Whatsapp group.

If Nauroz is the Spiritual New Year, the time for the celebration of nature and its forces, not to forget that we also celebrate Christian Happy New Year on 1st January, colourful Hindu New Year on 1st Chaitra (Holi), commemorative Islamic New Year (1st Moharram), Punjabis New year Baisakhi (13 April), Mela Losar the Buddhist New Year in Ladakh, and yes the uncelebrated Financial New Year on 1st of April every year. Kashmiris are by nature a very happy people and they won’t miss any opportunity worth celebration.

So as a child, riding my father’s shoulders, when I was done with flipping pages of the high-perched Calendar, he would take me out to witness the Bedmushk blooms, while Sopori fish was being cooked at home and unknown guests were being waited for. Nauroz was the time to talk to each other, reignite warmth in strained relationships, an occasion, an excuse to spread love, brotherhood and bonhomie. It was not the festival of Shias, Parsis, Pagans – the way it is made to be now. It was the festival of Kashmiris. I remember planting an arm-sized Grapes stump on Nauroz years back, which has now become a massive tree outside my sinking ancestral house at Sogam.

Kashmir is like a breeze that has travelled through Pagan lakes, Buddhist plateaus, Hindu mountains and Muslim gardens, rich with scents of myriad origins, full with stories from countless eras and civilizations. As we celebrate Nauroz today, we must remind our present generation about our forgotten rendezvous with history, about the tradition of tolerance and mutual understanding that Kashmir has stood for and that laminated pages of the J&K Bank Calendar, a hanging piece of history, so well depicted.

As a departure from the past, I am not ending on a poem this time!

Shah Faesal

The author is Director Education (Kashmir)

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