It was at the fag end of 1985, one of the heavier snowfalls occurred in Kashmir. It started just after Christmas and after initial rainfall, it started snowing around 4 am in the morning and continued throughout the day until 11 pm in evening. In the process, more than two and a half feet snow accumulated on the ground. It was heaviest snowfall in my living memory. In my childhood days, it did snow heavily, but that usually happened in the month of February. Sunlight and raised temperatures in the month of February helped in melting accumulated snow quickly. But at the end of Ninteen Eighty Five, so was not the case. Snow had less water content called “Tohsheen” in Kashmiri and big flakes fell throughout the day. What a scene and charm for children in these conditions are always the best because elderly people have other things to worry about. It snowed heavily for twenty odd hours and days to come were heavily clouded. The result for Kashmiri citizens was minus temperatures during daytime also. It had not happened in my living memory in Kashmir with only clear sky in winter during night accompanied by minus temperatures. But late December of Nineteen eighty Five and early January of Ninteen Eighty Six had a different story to tell. And the story was, it became minus ten during daytime. Anybody who had lived in Kashmir in the preceding century will remember how people fought cold, with Kangaris filled with burning coal and covered with woolen, Pherans and blankets. But winter, I am talking about was different in more than one ways. Taps froze quickly and water shortage became first misery among many miseries heaped on citizens of Srinagar. Vehicular traffic initially created slush but froze quickly to glassy ice. Two and a half feet on the ground and same on the rooftops, trees laden with it as well with some of the branches curved under the weight of the snow, occasionally ruffled by crows and birds, was a sight of some quality. Cows deposited heaps of dung on the white snow and its heavy breath clearly visible in the freezing conditions as was its quivering back trying to draw some warmth, horses breath was laboured and hard as was its nearly insulated hooves trying to draw itself from the snow.
In the initial phase some snow did come out of rooftop covering the lanes and by lanes with tons of snow. But that stopped after it froze and conscious effort by the denizens of Srinagar was an uphill task, raising fears of collapsed roofs. Vegetables and even mutton quickly became short in supply, news poured that Jammu-Srinagar highway was blocked and thousands of sheep died due to cold and hunger. Electrical supply was also affected as it usually happened in seventies and eighties of last century. But in this case, the problem was not man-made. Nature was entirely to blame. People covered themselves with toe to foot with blankets, Pherans, and woolens. It was arduous task to cover the distance of nearly three kilometers from one’s home to office. In those days, cars were not as ubiquitous as of now and citizens relied mostly on public transport in the form of buses and matardors. Government missionary did make some effort to clear snow from the roads but it was not enough. Lanes and by lanes owing to people movement was heap of stony ice where movement was as difficult as normally the case on cliffs. News poured from four corners that how people slipped and fell. And in some cases, it was a serious matter with broken limbs and slipped discs. Some even fell along with their constant companion Kangari thereby burning themselves in freezing temperatures. Hospitals reported more than usual cases of fractures and burn injuries. Everywhere one looked, there appeared unity of nature. It was snow on the ground, resting at many places in its unadulterated form, but disturbed at many with human interference. Sky was also laden with heavy clouds with not a single wrinkle in them. Occasional crow and eagle offered a contrast to the settings, otherwise, nature was draped with whiteness, it was at peace and in unison with elements save the discomfort it caused to living beings like humans. It was an uphill task to keep warm as even coal used in Kangaris evaporated quickly from the market.
However the most spectacular scene Srinagar people witnessed was freezing of Dal Lake. It was first time in my memory it happened that all four corners and all parts of Dal Lake from center to banks was covered with five inch thick ice sheet. With no cracks and fissures visible, people walked on its surface, played cricket and chatted in groups. It was that festive only broken by intense cold but a moment to savor such discomfort was easily overlooked especially by young men and children.
As I remember sun finally came out of its hibernation on eleventh JanuaryNineteen Eighty Six and the government of the day quickly made announcement not to walk on the surface of Dal Lake as it was dangerous to do so now. That year also had personal streak for me as my nephew was born in the midst of that punishing winter. It was a hard task to reach Lal Ded Hospital from Rainawari to carry out all the necessities. I slipped too and fortunately for me without injuries. But closing of Nineteen Eighty Five and launching of Nineteen Eighty Six was and unforgettable experience. It has remained so for many years and as I begin to write this piece, news is pouring out that closing of Two Thousand and Thirteen is lashed with heavy snowfall in Srinagar. My memories were rekindled to the extent that I wanted physically present in Kashmir to savor the moment as snowfall has lifelong fascination with me.
|*Bilhan Kaul is a freelance writer and hasbeen a regular contributer in various magazines and newspapers.The writer has written extensively on forced conversion and believes it to be the root cause of the conflict in Kashmir. A Central Government Employee presently lives in Janipur, Jammu (India).|
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