Numaish had become our dream world, and with father’s juniors holding the fort, we felt no less than princes during our visits. The grand illuminations, the music at the bandstand filling the exhibition ground with lilting tunes and the well of the death with a motorcyclist playing stunts inside wooden well had its thrill for my elder sibling and me. But it was some toy stalls that offered us far more incredible excitement than all other attractions on the exhibition grounds. One of the stalls stuffed with the latest imported toys instantaneously put brakes on our feet, and we did not move a step beyond it and dreamed of carrying all toys in it to our home.
Just a few years back, before we were exposed to the festivities of the Jashin-I-Kashmir, the terracotta toys were all we could think of buying at Hazratbal or Khanaqah-e-Moula. On a visit to Hazratbal or any other Astana on Urs, my younger sibling, sister, and I often tightly held the laps of Koshur Burqas of my mother or aunt and dragged them to the potters’ canopy to buy some clay toys for us. The boys’ choices often would be horses, and girls looked for Chaedwaer and palanquins. The visits to Numaish, mainly the toy shop there, transformed our imagination; the terracotta toys, palanquins, horses, small samovar, cups, and Chaedwaer had now no fascination for us. One of the toy shops had the finest toys, some of them very expensive. Some of the toys that my elder brother and I purchased still live in my memory, one of them was a battery-operated car; its beauty was it could move in both forward and backward directions, and another a jumping dog. My elder brother’s collection of toys was far more extensive than that of mine.
More than toys, I was interested in birds and pets. Despite my mother’s annoyance, I had a good number of pigeons and a pair of partridge. I admired dogs. For many days I implored my father for getting me a dog of good breed. One fine evening he brought a puppy of the Alsatian breed, a month or so old.
I named the puppy Jackie and spent a lot of time looking after him. After one year, when Jackie was about twenty inches tall, I pestered my father for a Pomeranian.
Many of us mistook Pomeranians as Leh dogs- my father was ignorant about breeds of dogs, as was I. In our neighbourhood, a coppersmith and his son hammered out copper utensils for the entire winter in their shop and, during summer, as soon as the road to Ladakh opened, he took copperware for selling in Kargil and Leh. Those days only one government bus left from Srinagar to Leh. Gojwara was its first stopover, just a ten-minute walk from our house on our way to school. Many a resident of Ladakh also boarded the bus at this bus stop. They arrived on this stop from Bota Sarai in Safa Kadal after making bulk purchases in Zaina Kadal and Maharaj Gunj, the main commercial hubs of Kashmir. Because of dress, knee touching gowns, poncho of animal skins, perhaps of yak slinging on their backs and long braids- both men and women used to have ponytails they looked us as if having come from a different planet. Sometimes, mischievous amongst my schoolmates touched men’s ponytails and cried Bota Kani Pooh to their annoyance. None of us knew what this catcall meant. Later on, we learnt another word Julley, and on seeing them greet them with this epithet, they always reciprocated happily. Interestingly, in class seven, we learned that the first Muslim Sultan of Kashmir was also a Bota- Sultan Saddar-u-Din. In those days Kashmiri history, which had been part of school curricula from the Maharajas time, had not been removed from syllabi.
Some Puy waen or phamba wain who would go to Ladakh and other far-flung villages atop the rugged mountains to purchase pashmina wool and coppersmith of our Mohalla also took the bus from this bus stop. I think those days, the barter system was still in practice in Ladakh; the coppersmith, after selling utensils, also returned with sacks of Pashmina. One summer, when our neighbour was ready to leave on his journey to the state’s rugged northern region, my father requested him to get a puppy for me from Leh. After his departure, I asked his son almost every day about the return of his father. That year he returned with more sacks of Pashmina wool to the happiness of his family but, to my shock, brought no puppy for me.
Sad, as I was on coppersmith not having brought a Pomeranian puppy for me, one evening, I was sitting on the window with my chin on its sill looking towards the main street. In my heart of hearts, I was making supplications for my father to get me the puppy. God has his ways; perhaps he listens quicker to the prayers of the children. I believe it was mid-Novembers, tiny flakes of snow that are zuv-sheen were slowly dancing down, that a Tonga stopped outside our house. Our father, accompanied by an office boy, disembarked from it, the boy was holding one end of a chain, and another was hooked to a blue belt in the neck of a ten to twelve inches tall snow-white Pomeranian dog. On seeing it, adrenaline might have rushed through all my veins; excited, I ran to the main door of our house to hold the chain and touch the silky fur of the dog. My father told me that Tommy was the name of the little cutest dog, and it had been gifted to him by an engineer friend of his, perhaps from Jammu, who had got home posting.
Jackie was now quite huge and ferocious, and I was afraid to hold his chain and take him for a stroll, particularly when snow would carpet the roads. The snow turned him mad, he wanted to roll in it as my siblings, classmates, and I wanted, and he often dragged me into the snow like a tumbled skier. Jackie was no different from us in his desire to run over the virgin snow and dot it with his paws and create patterns as our naqashs do on white shawls; we also ran and rolled over the untouched snow.
Snow used to fire up Tommy as well and he would dance with the falling snow flecks; he also wanted to be unchained- and would pull at the leash, but he was not ferocious like Jackie.
My siblings and I had made separate kennels for them in the corner of the ground floor of Sulehir(outhouse); the ground floor had various utilities. It was used for storing firewood, sawdust, Hak (driftwood), charcoal for Kangri, all requirements for braving the chilling sub-zero cold of months-long winters. Tommy loved playing on the dunes of sawdust and enjoying a nap on them. The ground of Sulehir had a wooden wicket gate. My sibling and I often went to Siraj Bazar, Zania Kadal, for buying the best leather belts for Jackie and Tommy and long chains from Bohiri Kadal. During night inside the Sulehir, we never kept them chains and never locked them in their kennel. On a fateful snowy night, a pack of street dogs had jumped over pa’chibarrun (wooden compound wall), into our compound and crossed over the wicket gate of the Shlehirand attacked Jackie and Tommy. Jackie ferociously retaliated, but poor Tommy, my loveable Pomeranian dog, succumbed to his wounds. My siblings and I wanted to give him a royal burial in the backyard of our house. Instead, our father sent a word to Habib Sheikh, who carried him on a wheelbarrow for final rites, perhaps near Malakhah.
Tommy’s death came as a profound shock to my siblings and me.
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist