Remembering autumns when there would be no bloodbaths

Market on Jhelum
Market on Jhelum in olden times

The Sun that like grand artist excited us when we would be still in our bed now stopped to be a painter for us. In wee hours, rising from behind the Zabarwan hillock, it now did not enter our bedroom through the latticed windows, to create those mesmerizing magical floral and geometrical images on the walls daubed with white clay – the images that changed their posture like a dancing damsel. The twitching autumn sun rays no more woke us up to toss aside our heavy cotton quilts and make preparations for rushing to school.

In mid-autumn, it was an enjoyable pastime for children to make an indigenous glue by mixing starch drained from rice with flour, and paste brown paper or old newspapers on latticed windows to stop chilling air to enter into our rooms- the ‘morning sun also could not slip his golden fingers through.’ Nonetheless, it made the brownish paper painstakingly pasted on the latticed window to sparkle like gold. Now, besides, the chiming bells of the goats, bleats of ewes, melodious songs of the goatherds delivering fresh goat’s milk for babies from door to door, it was the high pitch calls of willow workers, repairing old Kangri that woke us up. In foggy mornings, with his bunch of freshly cut twigs of wicker slinging from one of his shoulders like a quiver on arrows on archers back, he arrived from outskirts of the city and neighboring villages into the heart of the town. Like the red bean vendors (Masal-i-Vol) and the roast sweet corn seller (Mishirimakay-i-Vol) he too had his songs of protests that attracted children and oldies. Speaking truth to powers, like that famous Mishirimakay-i-Vol, who had his bebujnama the willow worker also had his songs as good as by an American black poet, Langston, “And this is what I know: That all these walls oppression builds, Will have to go!” In his song asking people to repair their Kangri an all-time weapon against cold, he also sang about women of valor Freechi of Baramulla. In 1931 she had fired a Kangar on the face of a Police Officer disfiguring him permanently and also about a single Kangar having pulled down the empire of a political clan. To our elders his calls were a grim reminder to prepare for the days when everything around will be frozen; their humble houses with chandeliers of icicles touching ground would look like a glass house, lakes will turn into ice skating grounds and roads into bone breaking icy sheets.

Those days, when using electric gadgets for warming homes was unimaginable both for fear of authority and ethics, the first thing that bothered our elders would be buying fuel for Kangaris. It started with stocking as many sacks of charcoal as one could afford. Some families living on the peripheries of the city or near Chinar gardens had know-how in making good charcoal out of Chinar leaves. Of all the varieties of charcoal, posha-chiene was known for giving more heat and lasting for long hours. Reminisces about piles of sacks of this variety of charcoal on rooftops of buses from Sonamarg downloaded at Nowhatta crossing still live with me. Besides charcoal, various other materials were used as fuel material for Kangari; these included bouhat, dried cow dung, sawdust, and driftwood. Of all the fuels driftwood (hakh) was known as best for its heat efficiency. Flowing through gushing waters of the Sindh Nallah (Sindh River), hakh was netted, collected and dried in and around Ganderbal and transported through the Jhelum in big barges into the city. From barges moored at various Ghats on the Jhelum, hamals (porters) delivered it to customers in huge sacks made of canvas (Boustoors). Of all the fuels for Kangar, driftwood excited us the most; it was no less than a treasure trove for us. As the hamal emptied his sack, we gathered around the heap of the driftwood and with our tender fingers groped and searched through it for naturally chiseled cat (lahtkij) for the tip-cat game (Lahtkij-Lut) for driftwood sculptures- pieces of wood of different shapes, cowries and shells of various colors and sizes, that for resembling a winnow (shup) were called as ‘Kawa-shup’ (crow’s winnow). In heaps of driftwood, we rarely found any cowries but looking for Kawa-shup’ would be our whole day job- full of joy.

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