By Sheikh Qayoom
Srinagar: Nail-biting cold, frozen water bodies, tonnes of snow and razor sharp icicles have always been the symbols of Kashmir’s winter, but the locals seem to have lost the instinct to enjoy the thrill and magic of the season.
Given the daily protests against the failure of electricity, drinking water facilities, absence of fresh vegetables from the markets and the lack of scores of other civic amenities in the Valley, one wonders why the older generation of Kashmiris still feel pleasantly nostalgic about the winter they experienced during their childhood and youth.
Although some areas in Srinagar city got electric connections in the early 1900s, all the rural areas in Kashmir lived without electricity, tap water supply and even motorable road connectivity till the 1950s.
“There was no electricity, no tap water facility, no motorable road connectivity and not even a proper market anywhere in the rural areas till the late 1950s in the Valley.
“Our village is 30 kilometres from Srinagar, but we had no electricity, no water supply, no markets, and no public or private transport till the late 1950s,” said Nooruddin, 84, a resident of Chanduna village in Ganderbal district.
“We had to walk to the nearest market in Ganderbal town, which is seven kilometres away from our village, to get medicines, edibles and other essentials in the winter months.
“One had to wade through knee-deep snow to walk that distance, but every family was well-stocked and self-sufficient to survive the winter and enjoy it,” Nooruddin added.
The octogenarian villager said his family had some poultry, a milch cow, stocks of rice from the family’s fields, a few sheep and lots of pulses and dried vegetables.
“Occasionally a vendor carrying tea, salt, spices and edible oils would visit the village and we would buy our supplies of these essentials from him. This ‘mobile shopkeeper’ would have an assistant carrying the stocks in a large bag. We would gather around him and buy things we needed once every month or fortnight depending upon the periodicity of his visits,” Nooruddin recalled to Media Sources.
“There was no question of crying for fresh vegetables or mutton. The village had a butcher who would once in a while slaughter a sheep and sell it to the villagers. Because of poverty in our village not many families could afford to buy mutton from the butcher,” Nooruddin said.
“If a family had a celebration or a social function, it would do with its own stocks of sheep and poultry. People did not eat highly spicy foods and what you call acidity or upset stomachs is something we rarely heard during our childhood and youth,” Nooruddin explained.
He said many families had their own stocks of oilseeds.
“The locally grown oilseeds would be used to fulfill the edible oil requirements in many villages. There, however, was a village oil seller in every village who would sell edible oil to those who did not have mustard fields”, he said.
Interestingly, the old man hardly remembers any hardship that his family could not brave during the winter seasons of his childhood.
“We, as children, would always enjoy and even look forward to winter. It meant taking joy rides on frozen water bodies, catching fish in local ponds by breaking the frozen water surfaces.
“Rolling ourselves on soft snow on the ground or simply watching the magic of snow fakes falling from the sky in whirls and curls. Man, I cannot fully tell you how tension free and enjoyable our childhood and youth have been,” Nooruddin said.
“Looking at today’s generation, I feel sad. They miss the television, the mobile connectivity, the internet; they miss everything over which they have no control. We survived the winter and enjoyed them because we believed in living a simpler, self-sufficient life.
“Modern facilities like electricity, Internet, better road connectivity, getting rations from the government-run subsidized shops, fresh vegetables, milk, edible oils, etc from outside the Valley is fine,” Nooruddin said.
“But the shortages of these amenities in winter cause hardship to people now because their lives are entirely dependent on things not in their control. You even get eggs from outside the Valley nowadays,” Nooruddin said.
The story of the old man leaves one in little doubt that distancing ourselves from tradition and heritage has brought in more heartburn than comfort. The winter might be the same in Kashmir then and now, but the people who live there have definitely changed – unfortunately not for the better.