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Gloomy Winters: Kashmir’s Turbulence Frozen In Snow

No doubt winters are a time for celebration. The snow, the halt it brings, the serenity it spreads and the joy brings bliss for any place in the world. I have heard from my elders to how they celebrated winter in Kashmir. But in the period in Kashmir when I was born, winters have only brought misery.

Kashmir Weather
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Illuminated houseboats, shikaras in Dal lake and decked up Boulevard in the midst of bone-chilling winter in Kashmir was presented as a spectacle, a ‘Jashen’ (celebration), when most of the localities in the region were gripped in darkness. The spectacle was presented as a “light” in “darkness”, when most of Kashmir is getting a few hours of electricity and that too erratic.

This is what the story of Kashmir has been over the decades: a clash of narratives. A region where the sides are fighting it out for their particular narratives. A place where the sides are pushing Kashmiris to toe their line. There has never been an effort to find out what Kashmiris actually want. It seems it doesn’t matter to the warring sides in the region to find what Kashmiris want.

No doubt winters are a time for celebration. The snow, the halt it brings, the serenity it spreads and the joy brings bliss for any place in the world. I have heard from my elders to how they celebrated winter in Kashmir. But in the period in Kashmir when I was born, winters have only brought misery.

I don’t actually remember who told me about Kashmir in the winters of yore, but I do remember it somehow seeped into me. Perhaps, the situation, the happenings of Valley were enough to grip my mind.

I remember those conversations and anecdotes of the elders with whom I spend my childhood on shopfronts.

The place where I live is in the lap of Himalayas. It is surrounded by the mighty Harmukh on one side and Zabarwan mountain range on the other. During childhood, winter meant sitting indoors at home, playing cricket on snow, endless chatter on mosque ‘hamam’ during evenings and listening to stories until midnight from elders at home.

Kashmir’s winter mornings always have been a nightmare for me. The bone chilling temperatures make you numb. I always hated getting up in the morning during winters, but it was my father who always made me to get up on time. I always used to marvel how my father and other elders of my locality would rise up early at dawn, make bath and head to mosques for prayers in the sub-zero temperatures.

Later in my life, I remember accompanying my father, then going to the local baker for morning bread. It was at the baker’s shop that the political discussions used to heat the atmosphere in the subzero temperature.

Where I come from, fetching bread is not just a daily chore. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Palestine to Bosnia, from US to Ukraine, from Europe to Australia—everything gets discussed at these bread shops and bakeries. I remember my father in that period on those winter mornings had already listened to VOA, BBC and then AIR news. He would acquaint me with every news and analysis of the happenings, be it global or national. Later, in the evenings, when cable tv arrived in Kashmir, I remember watching news shows with my father till midnight.

Infact, this has been the case with most of my friends from my locality. Later in my life, when I had to travel to Srinagar for my studies, I remember there used to be discussions and debates on politics in those buses and cabs.

In Kashmir’s landscape moments of peace are always shattered by an occasional bomb blast or rattle of bullets. Although situation now is different from nineties, but occasional blast, bullet sounds still don the Valley’s landscape. One day it is about killing of a civilian, another day it is about killing of a militant and other day it is about killing of a policeman. The story of killings continue in Kashmir.

Not long ago, a friend from Delhi asked me: ‘don’t you find this abnormal’. It is no doubt abnormal. Perhaps, I have become immune. For me and most of the Kashmiris, “abnormal has become normal".  Abnormal has become a way of life for Kashmiris.

Winters bring a certain kind of stillness in Kashmir. It is a time when harvest period is already over, children have got vacations and most of the people arrive home early and stay indoors. Winter gives a chance to reflect back. In Kashmir memories are tragic. The memories are all pain. I remember my grandmother’s teary eyes whenever it used to snow in Kashmir. ‘Bobe’ used to weep like a child whenever it snowed during those winters.

It was on that snowy morning, blood soaked body of her young son had arrived. Blood all over his face and body. Snow had turned red on the day in the lawn. During winters in Kashmir, there are days and places which give you pain.

Sopore, Gaw Kadal, Handwara, Kupwara, Pathribal, Bijebehara, Kunan Poshpora and all, it is all blood drenched. Somebody’s son, somebody father and somebody’s everything was lost in those winters. Recently, February 14 incident of Pulwama, when over 40 soldiers lost their lives also got ebbed in my memory. I remember going to the spot and spotting human finger amidst sooth. I couldn’t eat for days. A drink or morsel would smell of blood in those days.  

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In Kashmir electricity plays hide and seek. It is always ‘kangri’ and pheran that turns savior for Kashmiris in the harsh winters. Even if you are rich and could afford the best electronic gadgets and inflated electricity bills, you cannot be cozy in Kashmir, since there is power-curtailment. At my place, people still use candles to lit their rooms on long wintry nights. You need to have candles at home in Kashmir because you are not sure of electricity during winters. As such your rechargeable batteries and invertors become redundant.

Most of my life, I have seen promises made by authorities of uninterrupted electricity during winters, however it always has proved farce.

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In Kashmir during winters, you always want to be home. There is no night life in Kashmir. In winters Kashmir comes to halt around 5 or 6 in the evening. In villages, it is even less since most of the roads remain cut and transport off the roads. A home for a Kashmiri means more than a structure of bricks, iron and cement. It is an emotion. I remember going to the places during my reporting assignments where houses are reduced to rubble. A whole big mansion in reduced to a debris leaving an owner devastated for his life. Again a common Kashmiri is caught between the warring sides for his fault that he opened a door to a gun wielding person or sometimes a gunman simply barges in. How can you ask a gunman to leave your house? It is situation when you are more focused for your survival.

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Post 2019, when internet had been snapped for months all together in Kashmir, I remember endlessly chatting with my friends at my place on the river bank. In Kashmir, those days phones had become redundant. Only way to communicate with your people at my place was river bank, where friends with kangris inside pherans would sit for hours around a bonfire chatting for hours. Those were our moments of joy in the world of desolation. Our joy was cut short when one of my friends informed that a cop had asked him not sit together on the evening at the bank, since they have got information of militants’ movement from the side.

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Sometime back a friend from Mumbai was on honeymoon trip to Kashmir. She was fascinated with Kashmir’s beauty. For her Kashmir was a “wonderland”.

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