Hatan Kathan Kuni Kath: Finding Tranquility Amidst Turmoil

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Let’s keep the child inside us alive till our last breath!

Muteeb Giri

Who doesn’t look back on the carefree and intoxicating days of yore? Reminiscing, reflecting  on  past experience with fondness especially the early days of one’s life is an emotion not unfamiliar to us which sometimes engulfs us of its own while other times it’s a result of deliberate evocation, thanks to the exceedingly complex neural networks among  Amygdala, Hippocampus, Cerebellum and Frontal cortex. Excuse my usage of medical jargon, but I cannot help keeping at it, as they say in Kashmiri , ‘Kokras kuni zang’ meaning an adamant person who would not give up. Anyways, the fact remains that the childhood memories are like emerald among the pearls.

Well, with the arrival of spring, nature seems to have conspired in its own mysterious ways to blossom the flowers outside besides blooming the involuntary memory within me by bringing the mental images  of winters of bygone era to the fore which were buried under the piles of dust accumulated due to the ebbs and flows of the time.

If you make an effort to read this article I guarantee it will fill you with yearning, occasionally with pleasure mostly with nostalgia but will always tug at your heartstrings and strike a chord with you. If anything, in this critical time of pandemics it will keep you from venturing outside, risking your lives and might compose you as  Kashmiri proverb goes, ‘Asav nai, ti lasav kitha’ {If we don’t laugh, how can we live?}.

So Here we go!

Winter for us would start as soon as the winter-vacations were announced. The announcement would please us in more ways than just one and why not? Poor kids being emancipated from the trammels of monotony at school throughout the year. Plus, It served as a passport to avail the leisure time by painting the town red, no holds barred.

A great deal of time was spent playing games or just loitering around with no purpose whatsoever. Sometimes tracing the trajectory of airplane or walking with eyes glued to the moon as it felt moon were moving along you. Sometimes laying in the courtyard over ‘Pateij’- (Kashmir’s indigenous mat woven by intertwining of dried grass which has sadly become obsolete now) or staring at a drifting clouds.

Meaningless as it might have felt at that point of time. But in retrospection, it occurs to me that those were the moments which laid the foundation and built the walls of the adobe where we would be seeking refuge in the years to come. We never grew tired of playing cricket, bat ball in our parlance, all day long. Given the cash-strapped nature of our pockets, rather than Heads or Tails by flipping a coin we would do mount or plane by flipping a bat instead. In case the players played one by one, inscribing on any surface  a number of parallel lines depending on number of players and allocating numbers  to each line would determine the batting order which the inscriber would keep concealed while asking others to choose one. In case only four players had to play they would keep their hands over one another in pronated position and then flip them by choosing either to supinate or keep hands unchanged i.e. palm facing downwards. The odd one out would bat first while remaining three would continue the task all over again. Chair, table or drum (container) would be installed as a substitute for wickets, as necessity is the mother of jugaad they say!

Almost always we would have a prohibited area or no-go-zone wherein treading would mean inviting the wrath of the owner and the batsman hitting the ball over there meant he trespassed the boundaries and would be deemed out plus the onus to fetch the ball lied on batsman himself! My late maternal grand-father, a die hard cricket lover would sometimes jump into the fray and play with us but often times he would prefer regaling us with his exquisite commentary that always had more than a tinge of humour associated with it which would set us all rolling in the aisles. Needless to say his umpiring being any less either. Ricky Ponting having spring in his bat was widespread rumour among kids those days and he would just laugh it off as a seasoned campaigner.

Today I am being accused of being master-cheater during such matches. Truth be told, I am guilty as charged. I am ready to compensate for every cheating I have done! lets  reunite and play all over again on the same pitch, with same bat and ball and with the same enthusiasm. Will you?  Alas! Lost time is never found again even if you pay a fortune for it. ’Playing marbles’’ alias ‘Baantan Gindun’ –played by striking a marble with another in a specific  posture of hand to duck it into a hole dug in the centre. ‘Tanga ya choat’ a phraseology that will take wagers or gamblers for that matter down the memory lane.

Playing ‘Gilli-Danda’ was also in the vogue among kids way back before gadgets overwhelmed the poor kids. Played using two wooden sticks-one Gilli— small(3/4inch) length, tapered at both ends and  the other longer stick, which would be used to strike the former at either end tossing it in the air and then hitting the gilli as far away as possible.

Besides these, other games we would play were Hopscotch, Lakad-lakad, chupan-chupaayi (Hide and Seek), jahaz making (paper plane) and launching them to see whose goes far away, making Tick Wavej a mini-windmill using paper which fanned while running et al have become endangered, if not, extinct and are destined to suffer a natural death!

Winter sans snow was incomplete in our part of the world. As temperature started dropping, The expectancy and anticipation of snowing would keep us warm inside, notwithstanding ,the  teeth-chattering cold  that tightened  its grip on every nook and cranny of the place. For we would orchestrate loads of plans that would be filled upto the barrel of our minds that snow was going to unleash.

Dysania during winters was not uncommon, more so when it snowed outside. These would be the times when nothing would feel more tranquillising than remaining  snuggled up under the stack of blankets and quilt but the sound of snow sliding down the tin-sheeted roof was enough to take the bloom off the comfort zone so much so that we could not resist the impulse to venture out and let our eyes witness what our ears had suggested. As soon as one peeked out of the window they would be smitten with the captivating beauty of the outside world. Surrounded by snow clad mountains, branches of trees lowered due to the weight of snow perched on them were cynosure of our eyes. I was brought up in Banihal under the lap of a mountain that beheld my home at its very heart, hence providing a vantage point to see the whole Banihal town painted white by God himself! As snowflakes descended from the heavens like showering pearls my infantile attention would incorrigibly be caught by looking up in the sky which would make me feel as if I’m going upwards in lieu of snow coming downwards!

Having breakfast was mandatory before undertaking  endeavours that were in the offing. Gyew-Tcsot (hand made bread mixed with ghee and baked using the taev (pan) kept on the top of earthen oven daan. It would open up to a chimney- Vogeh over the top of roof to let out the smoke], Nun-Chai-[pinkish Kashmiri salt tea would be served in samovar-A metal container used to brew and serve tea having a fire container in which embers are placed.]  Soat (roasted maze-flour) sometimes makai-tscot (baked maize bread ) would be our recipe for breakfast. Apart from having ourselves a sumptuous breakfast, grandma would make it a point to bake a bread exclusively for feeding  hungry birds, mostly crows, outside, which I would volunteer by hurling small pieces up in the air and would look for the struggle of existence unveiling before me every morning.

We would relish eating concoction of sheen (snow) and sugar that was often smuggled from the kitchen when no one was around.

Making snowman in the courtyard was something that was much sought-after job which we religiously did every winter, oblivious to the extreme cold, in concert with siblings often under the tutelage of uncle.

How could one afford to forsake Sheen-Jung (Fun fight with snow balls) ! As without it our festivity seemed incomplete and unfinished.

Slipping down the slope while keeping polythene bags underneath,to keep clothes from drenching and ensure smooth slip, was our version of skiing.

Erecting Vaelvash- a trap for capturing birds; using a basket and few twigs and keeping any eatable for example rice, roti inside as a bait was another feat we indulged ourselves in and waited for hours to look how the plan will play out.

Although we would dote upon the aforementioned activities and get a thrill out of them but after returning home we would get a lot of sticks for drenching our stockings which would then be left for drying over the Kangri (Kashmir’s indigenous fire pot made of terracotta bowl for storage of embers ,enclosed in woven wicker shell, having two handles kept inside pheran) Kangri in addition of its raison d’tetre i.e. warming ourselves doubles up as cloth dryer. Kangri was also used for setting Isband (harmala) ablaze to ward off the evil. Sometimes elderly people would use it for spitting mouthful of naswar.  While kangri remains the lifeline throughout the winters, the risk of it being spilled over is always there. I have spoiled so many carpets by toppling the kangri upside down that I have lost count of how many times I received my fair share of offerings on my face as a kid. While Kangri has been attributed  to the main cause of squamous cell carcinoma -skin cancer, but living in a place where you aren’t sure if you would make it to tomorrow, It is  is superfluous, if not naïve, to abandon the temporary comforts for something injurious that takes years to develop!

Only if we could go back in time and relish these moments all over again and prevent our lives being ruined at the hands of technology that has wrecked havoc as far as social life is concerned. But if fantasising could have yielded anything apart from consuming time I would have long created vaccine for coronavirus and saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of fellow beings. But C’EST LA VIE- that’s life, there is no going back! Before I end it, as they say in Kashmiri, ‘Hatan kathan kuni kath’ –Cherish every moment of your life; relearn to take things in your stride as you did in childhood and keep the child inside you alive till your last breath!

The author is pre-final M.B.B.S student at SKIMS, Srinagar and can be reached at [email protected]


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