Culture & Society

The Culmination Of Winter In Kashmir

Despite the late mornings, the fog and the cold, people find the motivation to come out from the cosy warm beds and restart the (literal and metaphoric) struggles to survive.

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Tourists enjoying at famous Ski resort Gulmarg after snowfall
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The Chinars in the month of November are the most exquisite shades of gold and pastel across the whole valley of Kashmir. A mere glance at the surroundings fills the heart of an average person with all shades of happiness and bliss. However, there is a duality of literal and metaphoric that ties and dyes the soul of every person born in and living in the region. The autumn sun shines dimly on the dangling leaves and the fallen ones. A dash of dryness around the edges of these leaves tends to weave a unique delicate carpet around the radius of the tree. The brooks nearby recede in the flow of water day by day, quite similar to the dwindling hope at the very brink of winter. 

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The bare beautiful boulders reflect their true colors of innocence through the thinnest layers of flowing glaciery ice-cold water, all done and dusted with masking the happy-singing-gliding summer rush. The fields are a unique shade of gold and rose with no roots clinging to the chest of the earth in the presence of a stagnant longing for the same in thin air. This is the truest reflection of the local people, their past, their surroundings, present and the future. Autumn is also the busiest month in Kashmir as people prepare their hearts, souls and selves for the long upcoming winter and all that unfolds within its ambits.

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Growing up through the ups and downs of organisational unsteadiness and ever-changing administrative dynamics, an average Kashmiri has witnessed a lot. From seeing petite spells of peace through navigating between fragile situations, individuals have lived through major earthquakes and devastating floods. Despite all this, the zest of the people has always pulled them through these ups and downs despite being affected individually to the very core. Quite emblematically again, the winter in Kashmir is categorised among the most aesthetically pleasant seasons and is recognised across the world. Every person born and raised in the valley of Kashmir comes to evolve with her/her own schedule and definition of winter cosy rituals, ranging from sipping tea to reading books and munching on walnuts. There, however, is a simultaneous eternal winter that has been blanketing the souls of people in the Valley. Despite the pleasant surroundings, there are some scars that no time has been able to heal. Every person has his own yearning for a desire that is never fulfilled nor will it ever be met. There is a certain fraction of hopelessness at the individual level that has been tagged to the corner of each beating and stagnant heart; an unmet person, an unsung song, a faded meeting, a disremembering face and much beyond.

On a wider practical front, the tourist inflow to Kashmir during winter is quite high. Economically, during the firm years, the winter in the region is quite yielding. Despite the late mornings, the fog and the cold, people find the motivation to come out from the cosy warm beds and restart the (literal and metaphoric) struggles to survive. Over time, people have learnt that a day of peace and amity is above everything and as such a(ny) chance of working and living through a stable day is never missed. Since tourism is the major GDP contributor to the local economy along with horticulture, people work in these directions throughout the year. Across rural Kashmir, men and women dressed differently across four different seasons can be seen dotting the orchids and fields in melodious solitudes. People live in the moment as much as they live in their thoughts. Each person is on an individualistic solo journey of yearnings and healings contributing equally to the practical circumstances and day-to-day life.

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Nonetheless, for the common people settled across the lengths and breadths of the region, things are not often rosy and snowflake glossy. On the day of first snowfall of the season, it snows more on the Instagram handles from Kashmir than on the surface. People of all ages have been learning the lesson of finding happiness in whatever little and momentarily is available. The immediate moments of snow are enjoyed by one and all. The pantries are full, inverters are charged, electricity lines still stand high, Kangris are warm and the roads are tranquil. Each individual feels absorbed and liberated at the same time! But but but; the following days are just not as pleasant.

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The first casualty comes in the form of ‘gone electricity’. It is followed by the blockade of the roads. The egg prices inflate by a big number to quite the minutest example and the state authorities take a long long time to clear all sorts of snow-specific clutters. And in chorus, the dark and gloom takes the toll it always has; on the hearts and souls of people. The re-remembrance, of the sorrowful events, the reminiscences of the lost time, and a dearth of happy memories all get arranged into a dancing elegy, painting the gloomiest of winter minutes.

On the evolutionary front, the people and their resilience have grown so much that despite these hardships they discern the principles to survive; with or without ease. There is the creation of substitutes for everything. Kangri (the fire pot) for warming the body when there is no alternate source available like electricity, Pheran (long woollen cloak) to stay warm yet mobile and good to go any and everywhere, dried vegetables and the storage of different types of lentils to enjoy the warm winter meals when the fresh veggies may or may not be handy and available and the list just goes on. On the cuisine vibe, the Kashmiris are known for the wide range of spicy foods that they consume throughout the year. During the winters especially early in the morning, Harrisa is consumed which is predominantly prepared from lean lamb meat. It is believed that to stay strong during the extreme winter high amount of protein consumption is important. And apart from the necessity this cuisine is highly tasty and rated high amongst the locals. The trout fish is consumed by people prepared in a unique way with lotus stem, tomatoes and Haakh. And Halwa is something that is never missed during the snowy season. Despite the colours, aromas and assortment of the food for appetite, the soul food is unprepared. Beholding through the souls of people, a hollow hunger reigns high. The humane desires at multiple levels have a feel but a shapeless form and thus the starvation of the soul lingers extended.

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While the fragility in the valley of Kashmir has been oscillating between highs and lows over decades at a stretch, lately, durable peace has been witnessed. During the 1990s when the rapid socio-economic transformation was yet to tornado every aspect of life not sparing the people of Kashmir as well, people of all ages across genders used to sit back in during the winters mostly in the absence of electricity, sipping the pink Kashmiri tea warming themselves with the Kangris inside the Pherans. With change and modernisation in the region, people have been switching to inverters for a constant supply of lighting the houses along with charging phones and running TVs. On the warmth front, Hamams have replaced the Kangris across the middle and upper-middle-class households (that form the majority of the people living in the region). Of late there is quiet in the region which might be taken for a durable spell of peace yet the winter with its artistic sky arrives with a mosaic of despondence, hope and a walkway to optimism of blooming flowers.

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One of the most unique egalitarian features of the region however is the homogeneity of the populace. There is a general absence of the absolute rich and absolute poor in Kashmir and thus the housing, eating, living and thinking habits of the whole population are more or less the same. From taking a stroll by the bank of a brook to healing in solitude; every individual firmly breathes through the winter months knowing the arrival of a literal spring is as due as the lingering of metaphoric winter.

(Mehak Majeed teaches Economics at the IUST University Kashmir and has been living through the seasons of Kashmir steadily over time, can be reached at dhaarmehak@gmail.com )

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