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Peace Watch » Kashmir-Talk » Story of An Era: Story of My Uncle Part iV

Story of An Era: Story of My Uncle Part iV

My Memoir: My Uncle Part IV

Of Unique ecstasy, words fail

Z. G. Muhammad

He was like a bouquet. It would be fair to say he was an assortment of beautiful flowers, as varied as narcissus that heralds springs and chrysanthemum that greets winter with its diverse colours- each colour having its uniqueness. I am talking about my uncle, who loved to live a worldly life and relish the pleasures the world offered while remaining subsumed in the spiritual world. He was courage incarnate and had a booming voice that struck awe. The word timidity was not part of his lexicon; he taught me how to fight this malice, prologue to cowardice and eventually to a weak personality. I wrote about it long before in a column but will revert to a bit in detail at a later stage. He was intelligent enough to outsmart anyone- one example of his smartness that lurks in my mind was his trespassing the Curfew imposed in the city through his share cleverness.

In 1953, when Curfew was first imposed in Kashmir after Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest, I had just started walking, and it did not bother me. In 1958, during his ‘ release and subsequent re-arrest, I had a second experience with Curfew. It had upset me for not allowing me to chase the swallows flying on deserted streets. In August of 1965, I was no longer a child; I had just joined college, and though it was my third liaison with Curfew in my life, it was the first one that pinched me. I had already learnt that the six-alphabet word, tracing its genesis to old French cuevrefeu, from cuvrir to cover’ + feu ‘fire’– had become Curfew in English. In the 14th century, the word was connected with an evening bell which warned people to cover their fires for the night, to prevent their homes, and their neighbour’s homes, from accidents- then it was a caring word with a noble cause. In six hundred years since its birth, the term has undergone mutation. When my siblings and I came into contact with it, it had moved far beyond its given meaning – ‘restriction on citizens after the dark. It did not just mean empty streets, desolate lanes, occasional shrilling orders announced from megaphone-fitted vehicles- ‘remain indoors, violators will be dealt with—- it was life-threatening. During these harsher curfew days, my uncle exemplified his intelligence when he crossed the curfewed road to reach a neighbour’s house hassle-free.

 A big family lived in separate homes just across the road in front of our house- their houses were interconnected. They could move from one place to another without being noticed by Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC). To while the time during curfewed days, most of the men of the family gathered in a big room and played cards and enjoyed long puffs of smoke from a couple of carved copper Jijeer. The laughs coming from the room tore apart the sullenness of the Curfew- it was tempting, and my uncle wanted to join them and play cards. He felt in deep water to cross the roads with soldiers guarding every lane. Suddenly, my uncle left the house with a small sack of rice; to know what he would do with the bag of rice, we watched from one of the windows. As soldiers stopped him, he showed them the bag and, without uttering a word, pointed towards the neighbours’ house and showed them the bag of rice; perhaps the soldiers concluded that the family had no ration and allowed him to cross the road. Crossing the road was not a one-day affair; he had probably cultivated friendship with the soldiers, or they had realised he was a harmless person interested in cards. The uncle played cards for whole days with  Mohammad Maqbool, Mohammad Amin, Ghulam Hassan, Ama Saib,  Ghulam Mohi-u-Din and Ghulam Qadir Bangari, who lived in the back lane. Perhaps they played rummy- I never dared to ask my uncle what card games they played because playing cards for children was taboo. Besides puffs of smoke, they occasionally enjoyed a cup of Nun-Chai from hissing and fuming  Samavar of Nun-Chai. While they played cards with interludes of laughter, peeping into the room from across the road was our best pastime. I don’t remember how long the Curfew remained imposed in the city – perhaps it started in August and ended by the close of September. I don’t know if they discussed the situation, as obtained while playing cards, or just had forgotten the problem.

Interestingly, all those playing cards in the neighbour’s house during the curfewed days were politically on the same page, except Ama Sahib, nicknamed Dembi-Gauga. He had joined the newly founded Pradesh Congress Party and put the Congress party’s flag on his house, which he removed whenever protestors flooded the street. The recently launched Pradesh Congress had inherited leadership and cadres of the Democratic National Conference- a group of “communists” who had rebelled against the National Conference led by Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad. The poor tailor master in shroud-stitching received some incentive for putting the party flag.

One of the exciting features of the political scene; the workers of all political parties carried one or another Sobriquet. The supporters of Bakshi were nicknamed Gauga a word derived from Urdu shor-o-GauGaa, meaning those creating uproar and commotion. Nevertheless, it had become synonymous with hoodlums and mobsters- some of the Gaugas had earned the dubious distinction of being rowdies who had the licence to dishonour any gentleman. Their number in our locality could be counted on fingertips, and mostly they were unlettered with the pretension of having left leanings. Some of them were nicknamed after the leaders of Soviet leaders- we had Stalin, Khrushchev, Bulganin etc., in our locality. In his old age, Stalin, the elder brother of one of my friends at Khoja Bazar, had turned a devout Muslim, a mystic in his own right who spent a lot of time with his rosary in Khanqah-e-Naqshbandi.  

The Dembi-Gaugas were largely bete noire. Nonetheless, my uncle had some card-playing friends in this clan. But he never discussed religion or politics with them, not even inside the barber shop of our Mohalla, the Sultana Hair Cutting Saloon. The shop would be abuzz with political discussions in the mornings and evenings. My uncle also did not know who had nicknamed them as Dembi-Gauga. Like many others e also could not inform me about the word’s etymology- perhaps coined by some impish mind.  

My uncle and his friends did not gamble; they played cards for fun; other than the curfewed days during hot summers and early autumn on some Saturdays and Sundays, card playing used to be a pastime for him and his friends. As lovers of scenic beauty and natural splendour, they often loved playing cards in the best natural ambience. Till the early eighties, we had our cruise excursions, the “Dal Waasun”- a three-day or weeklong rendezvous to the Dal Lake in Doongas. ‘These six feet wide and forty to sixty feet long humble boats made of deodar had different compartments, with every chamber having a musical name. The names of these chambers were not similar to the names of the rooms in our houses. They sounded musical and had a romance about them. The entrance to the boat was called Num. It led to a small hall called ‘Bushqaan. The Bushqaan was followed one after the other by two chambers, the first named ‘Galaw’ and the second called as’Mahtaeb. And on the extreme of the boat used to be a small kitchen, it was named Khouth. Usually, a Waza, a professional cook, would be engaged in preparing dinners and lunches during the trip. The women of some Doonga Hanji also used to be proficient in cooking multi- cuisine dinners and lunches, surpassing the best of professional cooks. Their extraordinary expertise was in cooking spicy freshwater fish and Nadroo- the fragrance of which would tantalise the taste bud to drool from a distance.

My uncle often took me on boat excursions with his friends. The last destination of their odyssey on the lake’s calm and sparkling waters would often be Telbal Nallah- the most serene and sylvan waterway for anchoring the boat for the night. These trips used to be with his office colleagues. Usually, they would arrive on Saturday before dusk to embark on the boat, and by Monday morning, they returned to the disembarking point at Salam-Peer’s Yaribal on the Nallah Mar. Names of some colleagues and friends still live in my memory; these included Ahmad Ullah Sheikh, Ghulam Ahmed Sheikh, Muhammad Sultan Fundha, Wali Muhammad Kundjoo, and Shah Koul. Some names have either evaporated from my memory or are buried somewhere in the hinterland of my mind. One or two were staunch supporters of Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad; their names were also suffixed with the word Gauga.

On several occasions, his Dal Lake journeys ceased to be pleasure trips; they would be spiritual pilgrimages. Invariably, at least twice a year on the days like  Meraj-ul-Alam and Milad Un Nabi or other holy days, our entire family, including some nieces and nephews of my father, would go on three days spiritual journey to Dal Lake. The highlight of these journeys would be Majlis Khatam Al-Quran and Daroud-Azkar at Char-Chinari or under the canopy of willows in some still corner of the lake. In my book, ‘Story of Downtown Boy’, I have written about these spiritual journeys in detail. I have described every aspect connected with Dal Wasun: selecting the boatman and cook,  all the three days of the trip, including two nights on the boat, with lulling breeze kissing the grass-mat blinds making to go into a deep sleep. In the morning, the golden rays of the sun stealing their through to the holes in mat blinds, waking us up. The three days journey in the boat used to be a tremendous spiritual experience; unique ecstasy words fail to explain.

With all his quirks and flukes of youth, my uncle was a spiritual man, hidden even from his friends, who looked at him as an imposing personality, “expressing with force and conviction”.  

To be continued   

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