By Archana Dhar
Thoughts are gushing in and every memory wants to come alive in a hurry, craving for singular attention. One memory leads to another and so on, culminating in an endless stream of images. Notwithstanding the importance of this memoir to others, I am sure most people who spent their early childhood in Kashmir will definitely find something they can relate to.
Every day started with Sheer Chai and Tomle Chot, one dipped in the chai forever and the other finished while taking sips. Moghel Chai would replace the divine sheer chai if any of your family member caught you sneezing or with a running nose.
All that mattered to me during this phase of life was how well do I play cricket and ‘leth kij loth’. As a child life was not so easy. I had to make sure that I am always part of the dominant group who captured the Boni Bagh. That’s where it all started, my natural progression as a cricket lover. I have seen it all and played to my hearts fill. I have had the privilege of playing with ‘Birra’ (the wooden ball), the plastic balls; one with lines and the other with hexagons and to top it all the Cork Ball. Having graduated to the leather ball as we grew up was also accompanied by the ecstatic realization that even the core of the leather ball could be used long after its leather had weathered. The shin bone was always bruised with Neel Dag and that never dampened the spirit of fielding with your legs or foot.
The most important part of the game was the recovery of the ball from the infamous !@# Dob next to the Boni Bagh. Mind you every village had it without exception. And then one of us had a nobel prize winning idea of connecting a P-Mark teel dab to a long stick for this vital task. The struggle surely reduced but it never ended. It goes without saying that we still managed to lose the ball all too often to long sixes or wear and tear. This would eventually shift the focus of the team from cricket to ‘leth kij loth’ which was our second love.
Don’t know how many of you have been introduced to the game of ‘Phatt’. All day long we used to search for empty cigarette packets and most of the treasure was found outside Ved Kak’s shop. Other games that reminds me of my village and the Koli Both is the ‘Gav Khodje’ and the ‘Swaz Long’. Nothing can beat the happiness of playing these games on a warm sunny day. Of particular tediousness was playing Swaz Long in NYLAN CHAPPALS and you surely did not want to spoil your only pair of school shoes not just because it was all you had but also because it would inadvertently be a reason for Soi Shalakh.
About the Trees in the Boni Baag, one was eerie. It was hollow, dark and one accidental view inside left me shivering. Probably there lived bats, or birds or something unknown. But all the smart boys would hide inside the dungeon, never to be caught while playing “I spy” or “aais paais” for us. Almost every child in the village had two names and we were always pushed to remember our “asli naav”. But to belong to “Boni Baag” cult, everyone had to be rechristened. “Rechch” that’s what identified us as individuals among the friends, and a lot of labour went into finalizing it. It had to be as close to the personality as possible. I was “watter“, probably I was always doing trrr trr like a frog. The more I showed my disdain for the name, the more it was played in loop. Have you ever been this helpless? Well I was. If I was “watter”, someone was birra and somebody else was tingu ji. I think I should have put a disclaimer before writing this. There is total resemblance to real and alive. They are going to kill me for this. But I am saved as I have not mentioned their “asli naav“. As time passed by, my early childhood playmates went ahead for better studies to a residential school. I missed them then, and now it is no different.
Kite making had never been easy. The kite paper “hareer” was 50paise a sheet. In Kashmir, bamboo sticks were not easily available in plenty. So, every time we planned for making one, I had to plead my “bub” grandfather to take me to the “watalan hund” for they were the only bearers of the magic bamboo wand that made the kites fly. This was followed by a promise that I will not tell my father that “bub” smokes too much of “tamook“.
A special mention here about my mentors Rinku bhaya and Bhaya (it’s a complete name in itself) who made my childhood interesting. They taught me everything about kites right from making, flying and the best one i.e, selling them. If they were able to fetch 12aanas or Rs 1/-, my earnings of 50paise were not bad at all. The more the designer hangings at the three corners of the kite, the more money it fetched.
I have always tried to leave no chance to impress my son, so I once showcased how to make and fly a kite. That’s it, that was my moment, he was cheering.
I went to Muslim Education Trust for my schooling. I still have flashes of “Maatu Saab” the ferocious principle kicking the boys, which of course they deserved (every teachers belief). I always dreaded studies. The peak of mental harassment is grilling a student while eating. The sad incident is etched in my heart. I was enjoying by first buy of “Krackjack” biscuits and suddenly I felt the presence of “Alaye sir, my math teacher, and it took me no time to get into the act of “sudden darkness around”. but alas the question was already on its way, one can hear in darkness. Why would I want to eat this biscuit every day, what is 3.5×30…..there was chaos in my head. That was a Gods way to tell me, Maths was out of bounds. But I paid no heed, and the “engineering ” curse fell upon me. Anyways, amidst all this, we also had a magic trick to put all the teachers to sleep. Believe me it worked. The mud from a nearby graveyard (mazaar mech) was pasted under the teachers chair and in no time one could hear them snoring. I feel like one from the Hogwarts. Sadly, the trick never worked on “Maatu Saab” and ” Alaye sir”. Naaz, shubi, Tajamul are a few names I can recall. Shubi was the only girl who used to wear a skirt without “gallace” (suspenders). That was a fashion statement. I always wanted to look like her, she was beautiful and I was jealous. Tajamul was one of the Charlies Angles. Her nails were her weapons. In order to get a place on the front “tath” (rug) was not a cake walk. There was a boy, he was swift. He did secure places in the front row for the pretty girls, and I always landed up in the last row.
God has his ways to look after the less privileged. When I performed on Republic Day, the whole district was the audience. Our school was even presented with a harmonium. Do I need to mention that I was the star?
If you are a teacher’s child attention is something that is never in dearth. I had all the required credentials. I was a teacher’s only child, he was famous, hard task master and he taught English. I was carrying it all. It’s an amazing feeling when everybody knows you and takes care of you. The “raedi woal” selling muth and channa was the only exception where I exploited my Princess Status. My pockets were always filled after a walk to his “raedi”.
“Tang” was the most natural way to travel in those days. “Akbar tang” and his horses were so towering that I still dread going for a horse ride. It would just not give in to cross the “aar” during rains. The front legs going up in the air, was a sure short cut to heaven if not hell. Recently, I tried to get on a horse, but childhood fears run deep into the blood.
There is so much more, so many memories but so less patience to make a note of everything. All of this leaves me wondering how would it have been now?.. if only….
Life was beautiful then, life is beautiful now.