Author: Saadut
•9:15 PM

At the starting corner of the lane that split out right from the downhill road was this four storied old house. Made of old ‘half a size’ bricks that fitted closely in a pattern and latticed windows with small stained glass, it was home to many families of Kashmir Pandits. With a rusted iron roof, this old structure stood quietly overlooking the mohalla square. A mud and rock wall bordering it ended by the old wooden door that creaked and opened with some effort, leading to a barren mud baked courtyard. On the fourth floor of this cluttered house lived my mathematics teacher, my tuitions of evenings became a journey of sorts from here. The Mathematics professor took fewer and small groups of tuitions, not more than 4 or 5; more often than not it had Muslim students.

A low entrance door on the ground floor lead to an old narrow staircase that wound up to small and dimly lit rooms. The professor’s family had three rooms of this house, three and a half to be precise. The room on the top floor overlooking the square had the ‘dubb’, a wooden extension that gave more space (dub could be seen somewhat a cross between a porch and a Rajasthani Jarokha). This room was the kitchen and the sitting room combined, divided by a half wooden partition in between; we sat by the first partition where the professor used to enjoy his ‘kho’ess’ full of tea during sessions of learning. A family of three, the professor had a beautiful daughter, who we never dared to see in the face or talk about; the sanctity of teacher – student relation was adhered to by us in totality. Form a learned family, our professor’s other brother was also into education, an English professor known to resemble a famous movie star of his years, lived in a separate house next lane.

Mushtaq and I studied together in this group and even though were not from the same school (I had come from boarding & he studied locally), became best buddies. Mushtaq would take out his shoes outside the ground floor low entrance only; some of us would carry them to inside where the professor also had his pairs kept. My pairs soon joined Mushtaq’s outside the ground floor main door, part of his code of teacher house ethics.

Two bends down main road near the govt boys school was the post office. The road widened here to narrow again ahead, and it was here that Mushtaq leant of this Pandit bully lad, who had been troubling the professor, his imputations that reeked of viciousness. One of those occasions when the professor passed that way and we witnessed the bully at his wily ways, Mushtaq and I confronted him. For all the ‘bully’ that this Pandit lad was worth, he stood no ground before us and fled. We thought he was done with, but he was not. The fox won’t try conviction & bravery but will attempt deceit. The ‘paper bully’ tried provoking the local milkman’s son, a strong wide bodied young man with a flat nose known to throw his weight around, against us but unsuccessfully.

Next day afternoon during tuitions for the first time ever tea was offered to us by the professor. Aroma that had always tinged me during learning sessions of complex theorems was finally conquered, the ‘kho’ess’ of tea was briefly in my hand.

It was a bleak winter morning that had cast barricades over a curfewed night, January clouds gathered ferociously across Kashmir. In many places even the Muezzin has gone silent, his Azaan muted by a petrified quiet. Days barely passed, lengthened by their own shadows, time had no course to escape. By one of these evenings I juggled by the inner lanes, crisscrossing bolted doors and sobs of a terrified population. Over a dirt filled track which had not been cleaned for days, I crossed over the square being placed right in front of the old four storied house. I was all alone confronting the brutal emptiness that blew like the tundra wind in my face, Mushtaq had since taken to sleep (Mushtaq died, shot by security forces near hawal while he was coming out from his classes). Confronted by an intriguing noiselessness, the old house stood like a lifeless monolith, occasionally only disturbed by the hum of overhead wires. Everybody was gone and soullessness had taken over. On the top floor, an old latticed window by the ‘dubb’ was creaking, hung in stillness of time. Had the window been left unlatched by the fleeing owners as the only sign of a lifeless existence or was it trying to break free from the bonds of this reluctant lull? I kept searching for souls, for voices in this forced insipidness, but in vain.

Many years later on one of my autumn vacations from college, I was revisiting this place (my family had long ago shifted (migrated?) from these habitations in that coerced winter chill, to city suburbs, nocturnal flights of a conflict land). In the faint sundown golden glow, the monolith structure stood as lifeless as could be. The creaking latticed window of the ‘du’bb’ remained no more, perhaps blown away by the winds of desolation; a philosophical interpretation could be ‘it finally managed a union with its fleeing souls’. The rusted iron roof had caved in, no longer able to sustain the burden of neglect in this conflict. When human lives become collateral, skies are known to have collapsed in torment and twinge.

I stood there still and frozen in infinite turbulence. Deep inside I heard the professor asking me to redo the mathematical theorem, I heard him praise Mushtaq for his efforts and hard work. I could see the glee of his daughter running down the old stair case, his wife by the kitchen corner stove and the latticed window open by the professor’s side. It soon rained, outside and within me; the skies had opened up. Time and apathy had swept ruin to homes of Kashmir and time like sand slips from our hands even before we realize it.

The burden of our relentless wounds far overweighs our human capacity to heal. With the unsparing conflict tornado unleashed by political proxies fuelled to further cull, defile, deprave and oppress;  when will we all heal?

10th July, 2012

Author: Saadut
•9:33 PM

In the reclusive freezing cold and the inflicted dark of Kashmir winters, when every service fails to the whims of the state, it is this age old “kaang’er” that continues to warm commoners; portable, independent and cost effective. Autonomously ‘azad’ and ‘as of yet’ free from iron ambit or ‘service denial ring’ of the state, the individuality of this firepot stays close to winter commoners of these lands; their only amber warm hope.

The skill for carrying this ‘mini reactor’ for Kashmiri’s comes naturally. However during the induction training on handling this ‘mini reactor’ many a shalwaars will have their edges burnt and many a pyjama strings will have been smoked and shrunk. The smell of burning cloth underneath the Pheran or blanket and that expression on the face of the victim bring out those comically capricious expressions. The smoke and burn often followed by a self apologetic red faced victim and the facetiousness stealing onlookers.

Basic users are comfortable with having it under their pherans, shawls or blankets for brief intervals, intermediate users carry it along with ease often in one hand while at the same time juggling work and shopping. Advanced users having gained full control on the ‘mini reactor’ also carrying it along to bed, holding it all night in sleep without tripping; an act of absolute winter companionship.

Like with other fuel reactors, this mini device is also prone to accidents most common being it’s tripping, first causalities becoming the flooring rugs of the Kashmiri households. Irregular brown, black holes and obnoxious smoke smell on rugs and carpets would point to the frequency of such fire tripping disasters, the domestic mini Fukushima’s. 

The “kaan’ger” being very closely knit into the culture of Kashmir, it is obligatory for the new bride to receive a special variety of this ‘firepot’ as a gift from her parents; the “tchaar’e kaang’er” takes its name from “tchaa’r” in central Kashmir where they are specially made. The “tchaar’e kaang’er” comes fully decorated and colored, a stark contrast to its plain, roughened non bridal ‘firepot’ cousins.  Other common varieties used in Kashmir are also known by the places where there are made in, like the “Islamba’ed kaang’er”, the “Shopiya’enn kaang’er” and the “Bandei’poer kaang’er”.

Drying the morning towels, warming to change clothes and getting the butter pot to preheat are just some other multitude of tasks assigned to this small device. Much before computers knew what multitasking was, this Kashmiri device had already been practicing it. I remember as a child whenever I used to visit one of my aunts who lives in the Kashmir countryside, their domestic help would offer me an in “kaange’er” baked egg. The timing and accuracy exhibited for this process inside the firepot often amazed me then. Here was one of the most basic, portable and wireless ovens I had ever seen in my life, this was energy efficiency at its best. 

Then there are some ‘warriors’ of Kashmir who take the ‘firepot to human’ companionship a little further, this device also used a weapon in Kashmir. Since such ‘warriors’ do not adhere to any ‘no first use pact’ they may use this weapon either for self defense or for the first attack. The successful firing of this weapon often depends on the trajectory of the ‘firepot missile’ launcher and his earlier expertise in such war exercises. The consequences for the aimed target in any successful attack may range from coal black, ash grey to reddish, depending upon the coal to fire ratio inside the ‘firepot missile’.

Like the handyman of a politician, every “kaang’er” has its “tchaalan” often used to stir the coal and adjust the fire. And as does the handyman of a politician hang around him, so does the “tchaalan” usually hang around the “kaang’er”, in most cases tied to wicker ring on it. Not surprisingly just like the ‘politician – handyman’ nexus, in many cases the “kaang’er” may or may not want to be seen with the “tchaalan”, denying it the right to stick around publicly, but inevitably will use it to stir or adjust the fire.

Such an intimate relationship between the “kaang’er” and Kashmir would be incomplete without some incorporation into the Kashmiri proverb and curse lexicon. The state here fully practices the “Ratt’hh mye’n Kaang’er vyechh mye’n davv” (Hold my Kaang’er and watch me flee) *proverb*, more especially in winters when it flees to warmer plains leaving the commoners to their own frosted fate. Winter evenings in Kashmir are often times when the state exerts its will on darkness, blinding out electricity from habitations. The cold seeping in, darkness enveloping and left God forsaken then Kashmiri’s are heard saying “Pey’ye naar’e kaang’er yeman pa'warr valyan'n”

January 12th 2012