This winter’s snowfall has given us hope that climate change is not yet terminal. In previous years we had dry winters, which greatly disrupted the seasons. It was after so many years that Chillai Kalan, a forty day period of harsh weather that continued until January, was in its real spirits. We witnessed what we used to hear about: the long tough winters of past years bringing many feet of snow.
Children and even adults played in the snow – tobogganing, snow fights, building snowmen. Some artists displayed elaborate snow art celebrating culture: for example creating house boats, Samovar (a traditional kettle for tea making) and the like. Others marked the imprints of occupation showing pellet-ridden bodies, men in uniform, killings etc. This uplifted atmosphere permeated social media too. The live feeds and pictures of snow, long icicles, and peculiarities of winter were shared widely. But we also know how much damage snow can cause. It paralyses normal life – blocking roads, causing electricity and water shortages, avalanches in higher regions and mud and water on roads and lanes creating treacherous driving hazards.
The weight of relentless snow made the branches of the apple trees in our lawn buckle and fall, and destroyed a pomegranate tree. In the morning we rushed out to see if we could revive it, but it was impossible. The blocking of Jammu and Kashmir national highway left passengers stuck on roads for days. The heavy snow made it difficult to walk: I heard of one instance where the transportation of a dead body for burial became an unbearable feat for devastated family members. An avalanche causing the death of many military personnel was another catastrophe.
The snow became an excuse to stay at home rather than venture out in the intolerable conditions. People sat with family members, sipping nun chai and kehwa and gossiping, elders narrated stories of creatures like raantas, yech (a creature wearing a crown), wan mohnew (Wildman). There are rumours that many animals like tigers, bears and some others come down from forests, in search of food, marauding through villages.
Staying home on snowbound days I whiled away my time reading Camus and Sartre, and thinking about existential questions of good and evil. I wondered if there was something about this subject in our vernacular also, so I searched online for Kashmiri writers and discovered the poet Abdul Ahad Azad (1902 – 1948), who critiques religious orthodoxy. Last week, after the heavy snowfall, I needed to visit Srinagar. While the snow amazed my eyes, it was almost impassable by foot. As I reached the bus stop the condition of the main road made me think it was better to go by train, to travel safe and arrive early. After confirming from a friend that the train will come on time, I ignored my instincts to turn back and began walking towards the station, which is almost half an hour away. I had to walk on the path, adjacent to the railway track, which was untrodden. The snow-filled railway track make me rethink my decision and I again called a friend to confirm whether the train would come and he reassured me that it was on its way, so I persevered.
I somehow managed to reach the station and saw many passengers waiting, which was a relief, but there was still no trace of any train. Were were eventually made to wait for almost one and a half hours before it finally arrived. But it moved slowly, as the track was laden with snow. Before long it started raining and then snowing again. For years now, we Kashmiris have developed great interest in weather predictions and have put our faith, despite being a subject for fun, in the predictions of Sonam Lotus, director of the meteorological department, who said that there would be sunshine on that day, and we expected a shiny day and didn’t carry any umbrella.
We reached Srinagar very late and after finishing my work, I started hunting for Azad, in almost every bookshop of Srinagar, but could find only one book named Azad: The Poet of Lool (English Translation of the Major Poems of Abdul Ahad Azad) by R L Bhat. This progressive writer is less known than he should be, because we read much more in English and Urdu than we do in our native language. I was impressed to find that rebellious ideas, like those of Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre and others in the West and Iqbal in the East, are present in our own literature too; his poem “Shik’vai Iblis ba hazuri baa’ri taalah” (Satan’s Lament before God), which caused much controversy, is an example.
There was gossip about this year’s harsh winter and huge snow in the cab on our return journey home. We pray this snow will be a blessing for us. More snow means more greenery and an increase in agriculture, which will boost the economy. It was difficult to walk on the waterlogged roads and lanes and we reached home drenched in snow. But at least the snow means people can now look forward to a fruitful year.
Muddasir Ramzan was born in 1990 in Kashmir, India, where he resides. He studied English Literature and is a budding writer. His writings have been published in various national and international journals in India, Pakistan and the UK and he regularly writes blogs for the Muslim Institute. He can be contacted at muddasirramzan[at]gmail[dot]com.