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Winter in Kashmir

It snowed last week and the Valley was shrouded in a white blanket. My long wait came to an end, snow adds more charm to the mesmerising beauty of Kashmir, but it ended all too soon. The winter here begins with the advent of the ‘Chillai-Kalan’, a period of forty days from 21st December to 31st January, followed by the twenty days of the ‘Chillai-khurd’ before ending with the ten-day long ‘Chillai-Bacha’. The first forty days and nights are very harsh with bone-chilling cold blasts and the snowfall in this period is significant as it freezes and lasts for a longer time. The elders of Kashmir say that in the past it used to snow far more, almost up to the height of a one-storey house, covering all the windows and entrances of houses, which may just be hyperbole, but it is the fact that with not many facilities available at that time it must have been very difficult to endure the winters. More recently the snow started dwindling and we now receive only a few inches. An elderly man, while talking about snow, humorously mentioned that when the price of everything is rising how could the snow be so cheap? For many years now the snowfall period of December-January has shifted to February-March. This winter we didn’t receive much snow, the ‘Chillai-Kalan’ period went completely dry. This dry weather is undoubtedly due to climate change. Snow excites everyone, the children, mostly, are eagerly waiting to play in the cool white drifts. Lately we did receive some snow on the plains but that didn’t give the children their moment to enjoy.

I still remember how I, along with my younger brother and other friends, used to relish snow rides, fights and making snowmen and every other thing associated with it. We would stop only when our hands would shiver with cold and our Pherans, a special traditional cloak-like dress for winters, and trousers would get wet with snow and we would be scolded by our family. Snow would enter in our shoes too and make our socks wet; my younger brother wore long boots, which were in vogue in those days, and he wore them so proudly. We were secretly making ice creams and cherishing long icicles, there were special little Kangris (fire pots) for us too. Some of the kids of our village, some with rubber tubes and others carrying some plastic seats, would climb up to the mountain peaks to have a long snow ride; which was so scary and a daring act, I loved to watch them but I never could bring myself to actually try that. And when the winter holidays were about to end we used to pray for more snow so that the holidays would be extended and I am sure the kids today are doing the same. During evenings and sometimes after gas and candle-lit dinners, when the electricity often remained off for many days, so we had no TV, the elders in our family used to tell us stories which would largely include supernatural elements, and the stories about ‘Mujahideens’ and their encounters with army men and sometimes they would ask us to solve Kashmiri riddles and take part in other indoor games.  We hardly see such things now; people are mostly busy with modern gadgets – mobile phones, laptops, internet, TVs with cable and dish networks, and so on. 

Over the years the winters in Kashmir have changed and so has the approach of people towards it. Modern-day facilities, when compared to past winters, have made it easier to cope with the difficulties of the season yet wealthier people living here usually escape to other warm destinations. Food and beverages for example dried vegetables, vegetable pickles, different pulses, salt tea, kehwa, harissa, and other dishes and fresh vegetables continue to be special for everyday Kashmiris. The power cuts are intolerable and people are frequently seen blocking roads, protesting and demanding electricity, and this time we too had to spend almost two weeks without electricity. The power projects of Kashmir are controlled by the central government of India. Kashmiris are demanding back their power projects, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry termed it as “illegal occupation of India” and “unconstitutional”. The irony is that Kashmir despite having many sources of its own power is providing electricity to other places of India while its own people are being deprived. I hope good sense may prevail soon.   

Muddasir Ramzan studied English Literature. He was born in 1990 in Kashmir, India, where he resides. He can be reached at muddasirramzan[at]gmail[dot]com