“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Zahid takes the reader to the time when life was at peace with calm waters of the Dal

(Mr. Zahid G. Mohammad, 63, was born and raised in Srinagar. He earned his Master’s degree in English literature from the Kashmir University and has completed a course in Mass Communication from Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He is a writer and a journalist who has written for many newspapers, including the Statesman, the Sunday, and the Kashmir Times. He currently works for the Greater Kashmir.)

Fishing At Char-Chanari

How an ocean looked like! I had no idea. My siblings, my peers too could not envision it. Born in a vale surrounded by tall mountains, kissing blue skies, all I could imagine about was hills, forest, cedars, lagoons, waterways, birds and flowers- I do not know exactly, when I heard word sea for the first time. I might have heard this word for the first time from my grandmother. She attributed all her sicknesses- from fatigue to her aching joints to ‘samandar-noon’ (sea salt). She cursed this ugly blackish salt coming in dirty gunny bags through Banihal cart road and put on display in big deodar wood vats by all grocers. She all her life had relished white- crystal-rock salt that used to arrive on donkeys or on ‘nanda bus’ through the Jhelum Valley road- latched with bayonets year’s back- its closure had coincided with my tumbling into the world.
The word ‘samandar noon’ never set me on a cruise of imagination. It was learning English language alphabets that worked as CGI, and generated images after images in my mind; (Z ‘Zebra Maanay Samandari Gowda) on learning this alphabet we believed that Zebra lived in sea – some massive lake. I remember during our school excursion to Nishat and Shalimar garden the teachers would mostly compare the Dal Lake with an ocean and I would often imagine Zebras living deep inside the Dal Lake.

On crossing the Bouddal, sitting on the front of the Doonga, I believed that we were crossing our own ocean. It was lucid and lucent water everywhere, mountains perennially bathing in these waters would temporarily dissolve in waves on a speedy motor boat passing by causing panic in my mother and all children reclining against the boat walls.

Sitting on the num, I love watching waves tossing against small boats of anglers, these caused them to spin. It was a spectacle that caused curiosity in all children- fishermen casting their nets with full force into the force- then with his casting their nets into the water and then with a “naroch” in hand fixing eyes on bigger fish- and hitting at it with precision. This five-blade spear used by the fishermen for hunting bigger fish had a place in history of freedom struggle.

The children admired the anglers for their precision and the elder felt nostalgic about the 1931 struggle- they remembered “Narchoo Paltan”- and down the memory lane they remembered saint Syed Mirak Shah Kashani- whose abode in Shalimar used to be another destination during our family’s three day Dal Lake sojourn. Having been eyewitness to September 1931 showdown against the Maharaja, my uncle narrated story about the saint bidding adieu to his hermitage and marching towards Khanyar on a horseback with sword in his hand ahead of his thousands of his followers. More than sixty thousands people armed with spears, axes, spades shovels, lances and Narchoo. Narchoo had been the main weapon- the story had many twist that retained children’s interest in the story. My uncle even the boatman took pride in having made Maharaja to bow before the people power; not daring to use the force but sending all his important functionaries- but castigated him for not living up to his promise.

The boatman Mulla Subhan while enjoying puffs from the Hubble-bubble wanted to share some more stories he about ‘Narchaoo-Palatan’, I and my sibs were more enthusiastic in playing hide and seek on the island and catching small fish (Gorun). Instead of a fishing tackle, we used a basket for catching fish- our hearts would even fill with joy on netting larva’s. Sitting on the chiseled limestone Ghats of Charchanri- we dipped the basket deep in waters.

The Doonga remained anchored at the Ghat for hours together.

I would then accompany my uncle to the Hazratbal shrine in a small boat for inviting some “peer sahibs” for offering Khatmat – over a luncheon… and buying meat and vegetables from the market… collective prayers in doonga had almost become an annual ritual for our family—after prayers the doonga would start moving towards Shalimar garden…