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Untold Tales of Kashmir

It was time of change. As, I was leaving my mother’s lap, that warm hug, where evil could not harm me and learning to waddle with watangour- walker,  toddling and  stumbling at every step,  lots of changes were taking place– changes that were bringing down the towers of Ilium, hubris and hegemony. It was a period of paradoxes and power.  I do not know if these changes could be compared to the changes during the Victorian period for criss-crossing of ideologies, politics, duality and duplicity. It was a period of what social scientists would call as ‘paradigmatic change in the socio-economic structure.’  Panting for breaths the centuries old order and practices was dying – feudalism was dying, the brutal institution of moneylenders was gasping for breaths,    and peasantry was discovering its powers. Trapped in ‘slough of passivity and despond and resigned to a life of mere endurance like Toni Morrison’s characters  the title-less was looking up for his newly discovered heroes little knowing it was more of an illusion than reality.

The ‘paradigmatic change’ was not all song of love and hilarity. I remember, as I bade adieu to walker and no more took measured steps avoiding stumbling, and learnt to run with my peers on the streets and shoot with precisions with my walnut-wood catapult the “heroes” had turned into intimidators-yes they had become villainous.

It was now story of toughs and thugs. I have very vivid impressions about a stoical and sturdy tangawala, wearing Gilgit cap- those days many wore this cap but he was distinct for peculiar way he wore this cap- it touched his eyebrows. He aped his boss who wore astrakhan cap in same fashion. He was known for browbeating the gentry and disrespecting the dissenting political voices.

I am reminded of a brutish anecdote of this hoodlum: The thug along with his accomplices was relishing ‘barbecue- skewers’ (tughe’) at a kiosk near Naid-e-Kadal. And a respected Khouja businessperson professing a different political belief   passed by, the hoodlum called him and asked him to keep the count of the tujhe’ he would eat. The respectable man could not dare to disobey. He started counting as the hoodlum munched barbecue-sticks. No minute, thug finished, he asked the businessperson, “How many did I eat”?  Khouja replied sixteen, at this the hoodlum roared and said, “You are lying, I have eaten just fifteen, you are in league with the vendor,” and   started thrashing him and drubbed him to pulp. In fact, this during our schooldays was a routine tactics for silencing the voices of the dissent.

My peers and I heard many such stories while squatting under   shade of chinars on   lawns of the grand mosque. The stories about respectable people tied with straw-ropes paraded through the streets buzzed on shop fronts. There was famous story of a governor’s son who lived barely few hundred yards from my first school in Daribal paraded through the streets in his own locality by one-eyed Amma- a worker of a political party. I thank Noor-ul-Hassan Rufai, for updating my knowledge about the incident- his name was Hisam-u-Din,  who had worked as  Tehisldar in 1946, he was son famous Salam Peer.

In this bizarre scenario of suffocation and intimidation, the ‘ordinary legendaries’ often caught my imagination.  These ordinaries were mostly God fearing, served people with commitment- Kale’ Miss, a christen nurse was one such.  She had a dark complexion, perhaps was nicknamed Kale’ for the same. No children knew her name- perhaps no one knew her name.

She lived just few hundred yards from our house in a small alley. Tall four to five story houses on both the sides of the lane stopping sunrays entering into had made it darkest lane in our locality. It smelled musty. It smelled fish, smoke fish, and pickle even during wee morning hours. During day with fisher women, smoke-fish vendors, pickle sellers, ‘hoof-meat-butchers’, cottage-cheese sellers and vegetable sellers  sitting on its side it buzzed with activity. I remember the house she lived in details. In one floor of the house lived a tailor.   If he too was Christen, like ‘Kale Miss”, I do not know but he was not a Kashmiri and had served in military. He stitched the best uniforms. I loved my blue poplin shirts with shoulder and pocket flaps and Khaki pants stitched by him. Shirts stitched by him made me distinct in amongst my classmates.  I have no idea if Kale’ miss worked in Christen Missionary Hospital Dalgate or Rainawari but for her commitment towards her profession, she was iconic for all children.  This old frail lady cycled her way to the hospital through our street at morning. The mischievous children at full throat cried at her Kale Miss- Bedah Miss but she often laughed at them. Most of the children knew her residence as she was known for her proficiency as midwife.  There was saying: If it was not Jana Waran then it would be Kale miss that might have shown light of the day.  She did not charge for her services as mid wife…those day I  am told most of the nurses in hospitals were christens…



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