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

Zahid affirms his place as a master story teller

(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.)

And how can I forget the memory?

Should I call them souvenirs? There were some artifacts in our home that were precious possession of my grandmother. It was a porcelain bowl with ingrained floral designs, an old porcelain flower vase, a candle stand, an old wick lantern, a velvet bolster and a velvet mattress – She had an emotional attachment with these items.

Why my grandmother was so possessive about these old lusterless items? This question often haunted me. Many times my imagination would go wild. The child story writer in me that bloomed but withered away after writing just a few stories would weave many stories about these old artifacts and my grandmothers’ emotional attachment with them. I would many times look at them as objects with some magic spell- I many compared old velvet bolster and mattress with magic carpet in Arabian nights.

I would many times prodded ‘Diead’ as grandmother was called by all children in the family for being overprotective about these articles of no value. I asked her why did not she give away these worthless old items to hawkers whose used to buy all trash or to hugdawala – perhaps corrupted form of huch-i-gadawala (Dry fish seller) or to mutter-wala (Roasted pea seller).

The bits and pieces of barter system survived in my childhood. In exchange of old goods of brass, copper and some old porcelain items the hugdawala- dry fish sellers would give you some sundried fish may be a ‘paow’ (250gms) or less depending upon the value of goods that they weighed with their brass balances. The weights used were mostly some chiseled stones. There were many varieties of sundried fish these hawkers would give you in exchange of old items. The dishes made of sundried fish were very popular in most of the Kashmiri families- I think it was only in neo-rich or upstart families that had lost taste for sundried fish. The most popular dish of sundried fish was chutney known as hugadachout. There was hardly a family in our locality that did not preparer chutney of sundried fish during the holy month of Ramdan. The dried fish would be roasted on live embers, then pulverized in ‘wakhul or Naim’ stone mortar by Kajawuht limestone pestle and mixed with salt and red pepper powder. Some would fry them in mustard oil and mix with salt and red pepper powder. The sundried fish chutney was seen as an appetizer and one could take a full bowl of rice with this chutney. The Pacha-Hugada was yet another variety of sundried fish that was cooked with some wild vegetables.

The spinning wheel known in local parlance as yender was an important possession of most of the families in my birth burg. There was a hardly a family that did not have a yender. The spinning wheel like many other important tools like carpet looms that had changed economic scenario of Kashmir had perhaps come from the Central Asia after the advent of Islam. Most of the women would spin finest threats out of puhmb raw Pashmina wool that was imported from Leh and dispensed by Pumbhwanis. There was hardly a locality that did not have one or two shops of the Pumbhwanis. Many traders during summers would travel to Ladkh with number of goods such as copper utensils tea, salt and other items and buy in exchange the pashmina wool.

Some teachers who were posted in Leh would bring a sack or two of Pashmina wool with them. Most of the women twirled as gossamer fine threads. I loved hearing songs that my friend’s mother would sing while spinning the wheel. I remembered many of them for many years.

The wool would undergo many processes before it would reach the spinning wheel. It was mixed with dry rice- flour, kneaded thoroughly and then passed through a comb fixed on a wooden pedestal. The coarser hairs were combed out. Then small balls were made of it and spun into fine threads.

The yender and the pedestal comb were not imported but manufactured by local carpenters known as “turka-chahan”. I remember there was ‘turka-chahan’ a few hundred meters from my Mohalla in Malarta. I often visited this carpenter’s shop for buying ‘bera’ (wooden ball) used as cricket ball. Mostly bera was made out of willow wood and sometimes of walnut. The bera would cost one or two annas as against leather ball that would cost one and half-rupee. We would get even wickets and bats made by the carpenter. The carpenters would not only make the spinning wheels and pedestal combs but also wooden sandals with or without straps. Some made mortars and pestles, vats, and drums of some good quality wood.

I do not know to what used were the hair from Pashmina wool used but both hugadwalas and mutterwallas would barter them against the sundried fish and roasted peas and soya beans.

Though I was eager to barter away old artifacts for some roasted peas, soya beans and maize but my grandmother was never ready to sell her possessions to hawkers. She one day said these artifacts were precious for the family as they had been brought by my late grandfather from Lahore. Many times tears welled in her eyes as she narrated stories about golden old days when my grandfather left for Lahore in what she called Nanda Bus- perhaps some bus service that operated between Srinagar and Rawalpindi through Kohali bridge. She had not visited Lahore but had heard lots of stories about twin cities of undivided Punjab that were second home to Kashmiris before the closing down of the Jhelum valley. She narrated these stories as if she filliped through the pages of history. She had a story to tell about every souvenir from what market and what place in that historic city grandfather had purchased those items.