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Nostalgia: Veshyakh Festive Day

Nostalgia

Veshyakh and Us

Z.G.Muhammad

‘I take back all the joy that all oppressors have stolen from me.’  People adopted this maxim as their philosophy of life in ‘the city of Srinagar ‘- my birth burg.   Having learnt to transcend being oppressed and not allowing deprivations sapping their resilience, in all situations, they stole the moments of joy and celebrated every season and festival with great hilarity even during troubled and oppressive times of the fifties and the sixties.  Having enjoyed almost a three weeks long almond blossoms festival on the foothills of Koh-i-Maran. Having enjoyed enthralling and soul-stirring musical evenings under the canopies of purple and white blossoms in the garden laid by Waris Khan. And having relished roasted Gaer water chestnuts squatting on the small hillock, called the tail of Koh-i-Maran overlooking Dal, Nigeen, and Anchar lakes, all children waited for the Veshyakh. In essence, April 13, holiday the day  Mogul gardens after winters were thrown open for ordinary people. None of us, neither my siblings nor my buddies and nor I  knew that the day was of great religious significance to the Sikh community. For us, the day was just a holiday for visiting the Mogul gardens; I believe so was correct about the whole population of craftsmen, weavers and daily wage earners living in and around the historic ward-4 of the city. For us, the word Veshyakh was nothing but a synonym for a seasonal festival- a day of cheerfulness, joy, and excursion to the Mogul gardens.  

Like, other festive occasions, the preparation for going on an excursion to the Mogul gardens started much in advance. For closing the workplace on the Veshyakh for allowing them to have an excursion to Mogul gardens,  the boys working on the carpet looms, young artisans chiselling life out of walnut wood and conjuring magical paisleys with a tiny needle on Pashmina shawls started coaxing and cajoling their wousta-kars (master craftsman) much in advance.  Once, the wousta-kar or wousta agreed, the apprentices pooled money for meeting all expenses, including getting the best cuisines cooked by a waza (chef).  The wousta-kar was invited for the excursion as a guest of honour. Sometimes, these working boys, mostly school dropouts and unlettered instead of getting the cuisines for the occasion prepared by professional chefs, cooked multiple dishes for the day themselves. Some of them would be proficient in preparing tasty foods. 

In our locality visiting,  Nishat and Shalimar gardens on Veshyakh had become customary for many families. Visiting Mogul gardens on Veshyakh had become so much a part of our culture that many poets have written romantic poems about this festive day. One of the earliest masterpieces of Rehman Rahi is Veshyakh and Rafgaar

Those days hardly any family in our Mohalla afforded a car and only a couple of city buses plied on the roads. The most available mode of transport for visiting the gardens was boats and tongas. The downtowners embarked on shikaras from one or other ghat on the Nallah Mar.  Each Shikara carried ten to twelve passengers. On a couple of Veshyakhs, our family has also travelled to the Mogul gardens in a  boat.

Nonetheless, tongas were the most favourable mode of transport.  I remember, we boarded the boat either at Bohri Kadal or Naid Kadal ghats. The boat zigzagging its way through small waterways under the awnings of the willow trees reached Nishat Garden almost after one and half hour.  Travelling to the Mogul gardens in a boat compared to Tonga was soothing and refreshing.

Like the almond blossom festival, the tradition of celebrating the Veshyakh by of working-class died after the seventies.               

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