Kashmir's wintry highs and lows
Winter in Kashmir is music. It lives in the notes of Santoor, in the long icicles creaking down from the sun-beaten roof of the desolate Gulmarg church. On the whoosh of a fast running stream melting down from northern glaciers or the rustle of the crisp brown autumn Chinar leaves.
The valley winter is a recipe. Its aroma wafts from the secret kitchens dishing hareesa (a meat dish grounded with rice) and huksun (dried vegetables prepared in oil). Or the vapour rising from the hot cup of saffron kehwa towards khatambandh (ornately-carved wooden ceiling).
It picks the tiny red nose-tip of a three-year old, his or her face beaten by the icy chill from the lake water freeze. It glows on the snow-sun-tanned white face of a Taiwanese girl descending on the skis from the steep slopes of khilanmarg.
Winter beneath this side of Pir Panjal is a culture. It is the wrinkled-faced woman of a distant village, who blows with difficulty a mouthful of air into a kangri to stoke its hot red ambers. It is the breath of the smoke enjoyed by a shikarawalla, absorbed in his hookah that he places carefully in the corner of makeover boat.
It is two-month old but lasts three generations, every season, every year. Chill-ae Kalan, Chillae Khurud and Chille Bache, the older and longer the three are, the stronger they get. Kalan is a guest for 40 days, Khurud is hosted for 20, and Bache, as the name 'baby' signifies, stays briefly for 10, to perhaps welcome the Spring later.
Rooted in tradition no doubt, the winter is also soaked in the rough and tumble. It is the frown on the face of a young housewife, struggling to adjust her mean budget as nights become cruel and clumsy. It's the agony and estacy of a truck driver stranded for weeks on the inhospitable highway.
It is a headache for a family of twelve which on an extremely freezing morning wakes up to a frozen tap or for that matter, spends even harsher evenings in darkness.
It, however, is no pain for our pot-bellied politicians and unimpressive bureaucrats, not to line up power, water and, at times, fuel for people when they need it the most to fight ruthless weather Winter for them means fun and leisure as they already have travelled out of the land of chinars before even their green leaves attain the brown hues.
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