Author: Saadut
•8:26 PM

The presence of military fatigues was overwhelming across the city and a return to home for those Kashmiri’s who left for the daily grind was guaranteed no more. Mehraj , a tall man of fair complexion and a longish face worked as a carpenter at a construction site on eastern shores of the Dal Lake, near Nishat. Would start early to commute to work from his residence in Downtown Srinagar, transverse via the interiors of the lake to avoid the main roads where many days back one of his friends had been picked up by forces and was yet to return home.

The spring sun had risen early on this Thursday, life returns early to the lake after the freeze of the winter chill has faded past. He had been working on this construction site for the past two months after being out of work for pretty long. Thursdays in Kashmir are the weekly wages disbursement time for the basic worker class, and Mehraj had not availed his weekly wages for the past three weeks, hoping to save and take home enough to pay for some of the debt accumulated during his no-work periods, and some to pay for his daughters school ‘new term’ fees. From a family of skilled craftsmen, who had specialized in making those beautiful ‘kahatmband’ ceilings, Mehraj would now take any odd carpentry job as a human survival necessity. During the lean periods when work was scarce and the number of feeding stomach many, necessity had become a luxury.

This was one of those few days that Mehraj had reveled in the beauty of the early morning lake, been enchanted by the different hues of azure, green or blue that the sunlight had majestically created in these waters. When the heart is happy, the world seems beautiful.
At work the day seemed to be winding into endlessness, on the rooftop of the construction site where Mehraj was working, even the spring sun seemed to burn like the summer furnace. Today he wanted the day to end fast, for the evening to close in briskly, for this Thursday to lighten his debt, to open the doors of a school for the little girl back home.

The sun was embracing the western mountains, a golden glow fast receding over the horizon and the work day had come to an end. Mehraj tucked away the ‘three weeks’ of wages in his inner waistcoat, into a pocket that felt close over his skin. Thursdays he used to take along his bag of carpentry tools from the work site to his home, just in case any odd work landed on the Friday weekly holiday. Retracing his steps back home, he was trying to march but his steps seemed unable to match his desired pace. Multitudes of thoughts were running parallel in his mind, about how many of his priorities would be able to squeeze within the waist coat inner pocket that clung close to his skin, about the waiting faces back home, about lost smiles.  From the eastern shores of the lake ran the big water pipes, centrally across the breadth of the lake and ended right into the city. On these water pipes by the shores of the lake, men in fatigues were seen in the evening. A posse of gun wielding uniforms had spread across some part of the road, their vehicles lay parked in a cluster closeby. Locals were being stopped and quizzed randomly, and Mehraj was next

“Kya naam hai?”              “Jinaab Mehraj”,
“kahan thaa?”                 “Jinaab kaam pe”,
“Kya karta tha’a wahan”  “Jinaab baam lagata thaa makan pe”

It was only after almost 20 days that Mehraj was released and came back home, crushed to pulp, battered, stripped, demolished and bed ridden.

Debt had grown behemothic; the gates of school for the little girl still closed and for many years to come there were no hands for his tools.

31st December 2011

Legend: ‘Baam’ in Kashmiri is a part of the roof
“Khatamband’ is a ceiling of geometrical designs made of wood by master craftsmen   from Kashmir

Author: Saadut
•8:18 PM

A Pheran is just a Pheran you might say, a long robe that has been passed on for generations and over centuries in Kashmir, a garment worn to warm. But every Pheran has some story behind it. As a rule the Pheran goes right over the knees and is loose enough to create your own warm space, Pheran having survived all winters of vogue & trend; but look closely and there is more to than just a garment in this Pheran.

Women’s Pride : The one preferred by Kashmiri Muslim ladies would have their sleeves folded midway through a half opening, edged with embroidery of ‘silver or gold thread’ (the tilla). Such sleeves are called the ‘qourab’e naerr’ (the qouraab’e sleeve). Such a Pheran would also have the embroidery patterns extended to the borders and spread motifs at the neck opening. Kashmiri Pandit women on the contrary would wear a long Pheran (tied at the waist with folded material called lhungi) that would almost go up to their feet, with narrower sleeves, more often of grayish dull colors. I have heard that the non-embroidered length and color of Pandit ladies pheran was linked to the economics and practicality of it, but I leave the reason to open interpretation. I have always marveled at the way my Pandit teacher's mother looked in her attire, so magical, so Romanesque.

Necessity: The workman is characterized by his Pheran usually made of rough and dull wool, very loose and likely to be worn to the end of fabric life, may be even beyond. The rich man’s Pheran on the other end of the social net, prefers a softer fabric often of subtle colors, a garment that gets replaced mostly because of vogue rather than necessity.

I am a class apart: Some novice ‘khojjas’ (neo rich ) who migrated to the newly clustered peripheries of Srinagar seem to have done away with this koshur garment, instead donning a cross between a shawl and a blanket. This garment often imitates the appearance of wool puffed sheep skin. But by doing away with the traditional Pheran, you don’t become a different social class; you are only likely to become a human icicle in harsh Kashmir winters.

Postcard Bright’s: Then there are the all weather Pherans made of ‘terry cots’ in bright colors offered to tourists in the gardens of Srinagar, for those photo clicks. Such flashy Pherans are complimented by fake headgear that is just as real as the current peace in Kashmir.

Political Convenience: The politician has also learnt to wear this Pheran for opportunities. On those occasions of addressing  political rallies or in those rare attempts to be seen as one among the ‘commoners’ a ‘political Pheran’ is conveniently worn over his Pierre Cardin’s, Ralph Lauren’s and Polo’s. The occasional ‘political robe’ is as misfit and as loose as his political promises and rhetoric. His only real connection with The 'Pheran' is his 'phiryeth Pheran naael tchunun' actions, which he has adopted as the preamble of his survival rule book.

Like the poor who use the Pheran to hide the defects of their old garments that they may be wearing underneath the robe, the politician also attempts to use this Pheran to hide his political infirmity and frailty, his ambition and malady, but having donned Pheran for centuries Kashmiri’s know how to see through this cloak. This political Pheran is riddled with holes of disconnect and anarchy, but ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ would not have any self realization. It only takes a child to see through his robe.

Our Pherans are a seasonal necessity, his Pheran is power convenience.