Re-living the Winters by Nazuk Kaul

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IMG_0242The winter season is a welcome change after the gruelling summer in Delhi. The nip in the air feels gentle as against the memories of gusts of pinching cold breezes of the winters of yesteryears in Kashmir . Kashmir has been a gracious host to all the four seasons .The picture of  flaming Chinars blushing to a deeper bronze and rust and ultimately adorning the ground present the ultimate beauty of Autumn in Kashmir. The tall Poplars bereft of their leaves standing stoic and tall to face the harshness of the winter has been yet another memorable facet of the changing seasons in the valley. Autumn, as always, the harbinger for winter heralded the season of freezing cold and snow. With each passing day, the layers of clothing increased directly in proportion to the increase in cold. The feel of winter was complete only with the whole valley being clad in pure white .The morning light brightened by the white reflection used to  squint our eyes open and force us  reluctantly to crawl out of the warm heavy quilts designed to ward off cold. An average Kashmiri household had similar guard against the onslaught of winter.Pheran, Kangri, thick quilts were undoubtedly our best companions during winter months.

Pheran has been the most enduring garment to battle the winters in the valley. Probably what is unique about this garment is also its unisex appeal. While as the Pheran worn by Kashmiri men continues to be simple and basic, women have beautified the dress by various patterns of embroideries. Distinction in the make of Pheran on the basis of religion had a Pandit wearing a longer one with a fold just above the bottom end and plainer ones worn by the Pandit ladies compared to the elaborately embroidered ones worn by their Muslim counterparts. I ,on my part, remember my last Pheran stitched in the valley .Being in my teens ,I had tried to imbibe the modernity of hood, fur and belt in this very desi dress up. In fact the fur lining on the hood was a hit amongst our group of friends. Pheran with a kangri placed skillfully inside has been the most successful heating system  in the valley.

From yet another embedded memory of Kashmir winter as experienced ,freezing of water pipes was  a permanent  winter woe. The endless mugs of boiling water poured on the pipes to thaw the ice was a regular exercise. All the trouble to restore the perennial flow even though the chilled winter water would slice through like knife. Washing of dishes, clothes and bathing had to be a planned activity,however,the axe  usually fell on the one washing utensils since access to  hot water was a task to be managed. Considering the fact that washing machines had not made way into the common households, these brave women need all the acknowledgement for facing the winters with bare hands literally.

As per necessity, the weather demanded long break in schools for the winter months. So nearly spread over two and a half months, the winter break was a long one.  Though schools did ensure to pile up a lot of homework, still it was one big lazy time at least till class 9 .Thereafter it was a rat race with hoards of students congregating for private tuition. The four consecutive winters from class nine to twelve were spent trudging each day through the snow from home to tutor and back. In retrospect, the fun of braving the cold and snow, to be part of your peer group, to receive lessons from some good and some excellent teachers still evokes a sense of nostalgia. Those secret crushes were good motivators to attend everyday whatever the weather. The carboned notes gathered over these classes would generally be stuffed into the pockets of pheran only to be looked for desperately at the time of exams.

Winters,however, offered a lot of time to catch up on the pending reading list. So most of the thick classics became a part of me during the cold months of the year. Radio was another faithful companion churning out beautiful songs and not to forget the half an hour of Western Music everyday. The Request Program had us sending in messages for friends, some mischievous, some sentimental and many anonymous ones. My memories of the program include lovely voices of some wonderful comperes, playing of soul stirring golden oldies and contemporaries. Radio also had to its credit a beautiful collection of dramas. Very real, touching  scripts portraying  life in its vicissitudes  and executed by  gems of artists of Radio Kashmir which actually deserves a whole column. Indeed an era gone by.

Another aspect of winter was the special appearance put up by electricity. The alternate evenings rendered even colder and darker by the scheduled power cuts had families cornered in one room of the huge houses. Some succour came in the form of those lamps running on LPG which invariably found their entry in most of the households and took care of lighting to an extent. The keywords in those winters were definitely LPG cylinder and gas mantles. But missing out on the evening entertainment at homes ie Television especially when the Shahrukh starrer Fauji was on air was a big dampener.  In a way winter in Kashmir, as I remember, was a time of absolute stillness with regard to outdoors and chosen inertness indoors.

With all this, the beauty of that lazy life of winter marred by lack of basic infrastructural support still brings in warm memories of growing up. Standing on the crossroads, hoping to be a part of that winter, I often try to envisage the changes that winter life in Kashmir has undergone with the advent and usage of inverters, electric blankets etc, improved bedding and clothing. I wonder whether the pace of life has somewhat quickened with the donning of thermals. Deep down, though, I hope that the warmth of hearts has been able to withstand the winters of hatred and bloodshed of the past years .Just like the certainty of rising sun, the hope of lasting peace back home through the harsh winters, blooming springs, pleasant summers and colourful autumns is what I look forward to.