The taste of yesteryears still makes my mouth water.
The room, I opened eyes for the first time, the clay daubed green walls that greeted me with a smile on my first day in this world, the window that allowed golden sun rays to stealthily steal into the room to kiss my rubicund face for the first time are now no more there. The house I was born in has been devoured by the ferocious monster that eats heritage and gulps down the past. They call this monster as development.
This monster eats beauty- my garden city that used to be rash with beauty in spring, filled with the fragrance of roses and jasmine during summers and drooping with ripeness during autumn was eaten by him years back. Now the behemoth has eaten everything that often reminded me of those golden days- golden days of childhood, whistles resonating from lanes and by lanes, giggles and laughers coming out from behind the half-shut latticed windows, the lone flute playing youth at night lending cheer to the desolate streets, hordes of swallows perching on electric wires, beautiful makeshift markets and eating places.
I never believed in that Maoist saying, ‘there is no construction without destruction’- I believed old is beautiful – it needs to be preserved. It provides an edifice for creating something more beautiful- but who could make them understand that destruction of heritage is no construction but destruction only…. In the name of monster they have destroyed everything connected with my childhood- they first destroyed the roof gardens, then they vandalized my eternal home by marketing every rhizome that blossomed irises- pink, white and magenta, they chopped the mystic berry-bearing Celtis- the three my peers and I loved, they filled up canopied willow waterways and called it reclaiming of land- now I am left with nothing but tales of yesteryears with traditional intro for all such tales- ‘Once upon time’…
And on narrating these tales I may sound as strange to my children as many travelogues by European writes like E.F. Knight, ‘Where Three Empires Meet or Francis Younghusband, ‘Kashmir As It Was’ read to me. I did enjoy the thrill and romance of their travels and many years after reading them some of their experiences live with me, but they often looked far from realities to me. So would be my tales one day.
Some sentences in Knight’s travelogue often bother me even today: “A Kashmiri will unresistingly take a blow from anyone, even from a Kashmiri…. they never come to blows by any chance, having attained such cowardice they actually fear one another. I had been a good deal among Mahomedans in other countries and had always associated dignity and courage with the profession of the creed, so was disagreeably surprised to discover this cowardly, cringing, cackling race among the followers of the Prophet” (SAW). So have been the tales about reception accorded to the Maharaja on his arrival in Srinagar, recounted by Young Husband.
I may sound strange to children when I say that once upon a time a canal named as Mar for its serpentine course flowed through my part of the city. The vivisected city was connected by many bridges. The canal was an engineering marvel. It brought everything from fresh garden vegetables to grains to the doorsteps of the people. It worked as the jugular vein for the city’s drainage system and saved it from stinking and sinking. I have written sometime about the grand morning spectacle on the banks of the canal. There used to be a lot of hustle bustle on the Ghats of the canal—many stories mystic as well romantic surround it.
The areas on both the sides of the bridges over the canal in my childhood were the busiest marketplace. From wee hours in the morning when scores vegetable and fruit vendors used to put their kiosks in the area too late in the night when appetizing and mouth-watering aroma exhaling out of barbeque stalls filled the air, the marketplaces would be full of life.
Of all the markets around the bridges on the canal Bohri Kadal for its being adjacent to the main trade centers Zaina Kadal and Maharaja Gang where from snuff to shahtoosh everything was sold had earned distinction for emerging as one of the best eating places- what today in fashionable colonies is called the food street.
Looking back, the Bohri Kadal was the best food street one could imagine in the city. This place would be one of the best examples of medieval period markets with small-time vendors sitting on both the sides of the road leading to the main market. The vegetable sellers sitting in the midst of their huge willow vats with fresh vegetables filled to capacity added freshness to the market. There were a couple of Moungegear ( I have no English alternative for the word) making different varieties of sizzling food items in flour in their huge boiling oil cauldrons-Nadarmunge ( lotus-reeds-in-flour), Mungegada (fish-in-flour) and Moungegool( water nuts-in-flour), Teli-Kara (peas-in-flour) and there were some local sweetmeat sellers selling sugary items. Some of Moungegear were known for the quality of their preparations. I do not if these food items are indigenous or have some Central Asian connection.
In the nearby lanes, there were some very good eating places known for quality Kashmiri wazwan- but those days having food on these food joints was not looked at as gentlemanly. These eating places were visited by the traders from rural areas who were on a shopping spree in the nearby markets and were famous for their lingos and argots.
Of the entire food item, Bohri Kadal was known for its Kulfi and ice cream. There were a couple of ice cream sellers- at often put their stalls in the afternoon. One of the ice-cream seller or the Kufli-man, I remember had put his kiosk on the corner of the bridge. His name was Ghulam Ahmed- popularly known as Ama Budda . He would squat on a mat amidst huge earthen pots (Nauut). I loved watching him rolling his pots filled with ice and small kulfi containers- I enjoyed watching him taking out kulfi out of the tin containers and then decorously opening it on a plate.
As the sun set the rush at his kiosk would increase…I have seen many leaders stopping at his kiosk for enjoying a Kulfi at his shop- but that was once upon a time.
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist