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Childhood: When Freedom Came In Big Way To Us


Autumn And Cricket Bat


Every leaf turned into a flower had its beauty- beauty that waxed even prosaic amongst us poetic. The leaves of all shades and colors, crimson, cherry, chocolate brown and golden yellow cascading at slight wind turned us into singers- even one with croakiest voice believed that he was a melody king.

The season of fruits and honey had an added beauty for us, the luxury of time. Having done our six monthly test in September and the annual examination far away, we were as free as birds. Then there were no term examinations and no nuisances of squatting huddled together in congested tuition centers like sheep in pens.

Come autumn; freedom came in a big way to us, the wee hours, the dusks and the Sundays were all ours. The nippy autumnal mornings and sunshine had plenty to offer; walking in a group through desolate streets and going up the hillock to the mausoleum of greatest native saint Sheikh Hamza Makdoom and relishing boiled sizzling black small beans peppered with red chili and ginger powder in a loaf of bread had its excitement for us.  The bean-sellers with huge cane baskets filled with pyramids of small hot beans decorously sprinkled with red chili and ginger powder and the trinket sellers with their showcases sitting on the long and winding stairs leading to the mausoleum had become part of the ambiance of the hillock. On some Sundays, armed with homemade fishing tackles, we descended from the other side of the hillock for fishing then lustrous waters of the spring-fed stream at the Khoja Yarabal- one of the main ghats for going to Hazratbal in a boat.  Believing, waters of the stream had medicinal properties some elders with skin problems walked a long distance for a bath in it.

Sitting on the high ramparts around the hillock constructed by Moghul Emperor Akbar and enjoying autumn sun was yet another delightful pastime.  One, of our friends, who was part of the school band had mastered playing the flute. Like great maestro playing some old film songs, he created a haunting melody heard at a distance. In their joviality, some pals cried at friends playing cricket or football in the small grounds dotting the vast expanse of Mallakah. Then this graveyard gifted to Muslims of Kashmir by the illustrious son of Mir Syed Ali Hamadani had not been intruded upon by the unscrupulous with official connivance. During our childhood, people did not construct houses on graves of the ancestors but planted shady hackberry trees and Chinars- then vote bank politics had not dented the edifice of our centuries-old social ethos. In the middle of this vast expanse, there was our small playfield- the Makdoom Grounds, as it was known for generations.  In the autumn lush green turf manicured by hordes of goats and sheep turned golden- the golden ground had an extra attraction for all of us- a good pitch. In the autumn, for playing cricket, it was one of the best haunts for a whole group of boys of our locality. Most of us could not afford to buy a complete cricket set from the sports shops in our own ‘Oxford Street’ the Siraj Bazar nor from the sports shops on the Residency Road. Our entire cricket equipment bat, ball, stumps, and bails were made locally from the available wood. Every autumn opened an opportunity for us for getting a new set of cricket made by the carpenters in the neighborhood. Those were the times when the most affluent and the neo-rich had not dreamt of the liquid petroleum gas stoves, even kerosene stoves were a distant dream, and all cooking was done on the Dan- mud stove made from clay.

In autumn, given to ants habits like dried vegetables and fuel for Kangar huge stocks of firewood were also stocked. Like driftwood, some barges stocked to capacity with firewood from different kinds of trees remained anchored on the banks of the Jhelum. Some of the much sought after fuel known for their high-value firepower included Bremiji (nettle tree), Hatab (false witch-hazel) Tulazun (mulberry tree) Bren (elm) Doonzun (walnut wood) and Veerizun (willow). Once firewood was stocked, in the sauliher (outhouse), we looked for the best pieces for wood for getting our cricket set made from a carpenter. Veer was best for a bat, hatab for wickets and doon for the ball.

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