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

Zahid Mohammad recalls that fateful day that did not seem all that fateful then

(Mr. Z. G. Mohammad, 59, 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.)

Those days Nehru’s death meant holidays for us

Then it used to be bleak and desolate landscape- yes the streets beyond my school used to be empty with nothing attractive happening on them. The deathly silence of these streets would be punctured occasionally by a horn from a lonely bus that plied after yawning gaps between Lal Chowk and Soura, or honks from an old bus on it way to Kangan, or it would be a lonely single horse driven chariot (Tonga) that tore apart the serenity of these streets. There were clusters of houses around my Alma Mater; Islamia High School on three sides (north, west and east) but on the Northern side there were no houses but vast tracks of vegetation. Every Mohalla flanking my school had its own history- by and large the mohallas surrounding my school were named after the profession of the people living in a particular Mohalla. There were lots of weavers on the Western side, the tick-tack sounds emanating constantly out of striking of looms many times resonated in our classrooms, on the Eastern side, many a blacksmiths had their shops and houses- I on my way to home after school hours stopped near these shops and watched hot iron being beaten to different shapes by brawny blacksmiths.

Many boys from blacksmith families were my classmates, some of them made it to the top in medicine, engineering and administration and those who dropped from school took to their ancestral profession. On the Southern side there were many a mohallas inhabited by people from different professions, the most famous Mohalla was of bookbinders. Amidst verdant vast vegetable farms known in local parlance as “aaramwar”, there were only a few houses mostly belonging to the owners of these farms. Most of the houses on this side were open; there were no walls around their dusty compounds. The compounds would many a times look like red carpets with red chilies spread in tracts for drying up or green with huge tobacco leaves left being scorched to brown covering every nook of the compound. The spectacle that I liked to watch from a distance was women pounding dried up red chilies in huge wooden or limestone mortars. The rhythm of lifting and downing of massive wooden pestle mesmerized me. Women would often sing duets while pounding the chilies- many songs would be born on the spur of the moment. I do not know if any of our folk literature scholars have collected the songs that were sung while pounding chilies or paddy.

And beyond my school it was by and large barren landscapes in between punctuated by a house or two- I do not know why but areas beyond Gojawara was named as sirhad (Border) and people living their as sirhed. How and why the areas beyond my school were named as sirhad- when during the time of Sultans the capital of Kashmir was in Nowshara or the Moughals had set up walled city of Nagar Nagari in this area only. I think the area suffered a setback after the Sikhs set ablaze the capital built by Badshah. The area also suffered a set back after the Dogra rulers built their palaces on the banks of Jhelum near today Badshah Bridge. It was always a new experience for me and my friends to walk on often deserted streets beyond our school. Our school those days used to have a weekly holiday on Friday- it was one of the features that made our school distinct from others. On Friday’s we often walked through these deserted streets- and our destination most of the time used to be beautiful fresh water translucent Pukhrabal lagoon or shady willow tree banks of the Nallah near Amda Kadal.

Fishing at Pukhrabal or near Amda Kadal was our favorite pastime on all holidays particularly during fifteen days of summer holidays. It was beyond our means to buy a fishing tackle from the lonely fishing tackle shop on the Bund- perhaps belonging to some Munawar Shah. We made our own indigenous fishing tackles- it was equally a good time searching for long straight and strong willow branch, then buying a nylon line from Siraj Bazar in Zaina Kadal and buying hooks from blacksmith at Nowhatta or Naid Kadal. Armed to teeth for fishing we moved from homes in the wee morning hours- it was one and half mile distance that I had to cover for reaching the banks of the stream abounding in mirror carp fish. Sometimes we hired a small boat and an oar paying one rupee for the whole day. In this boat we moved up and down the stream. After anchoring our boat under some shade, we sat for hours together for catching the fish. Deena- as Ghulam Moh-u-Din’s was then called, a boy who was elder to me by a couple of years, was always lucky. He would often catch big fishes. I was a novice- I lacked accuracy in watching the sinker sinking and pulling the line faster as it dipped. After days of wait, I often returned home with one or two small catch while as Deena always carried a bagful.

The boatmen who passed through the stream often greeted each other louder- many times they laughed at my naivety in catching fish. The boatmen not only exchanged greetings but shared news about the happenings in the city. One day when I and my friends were looking pensively at the sinker, not showing even slightest dip, indicating that there were no fish around- a boatman informed another boatman, “ do you know Nehru died… I heard it from Radio Kashmir in the news—it has stopped playing film songs” Those days there used to be Urdu news from All India Radio at 2.10 PM.

I do not think I or my friends understood importance of the news- though we knew Sheikh Abdullah had been sent by Jawaharlal Nehru to Pakistan but we at that time did not realize the importance of the visit- nor the impact of Nehru’s death on this visit- Nehru’s death was important for us for the holidays that would be announced… I do not remember if our school was closed next day or not- let my contemporaries scratch their memory.