Then our songs had not been wholly snatched from us. There were taboos, but still one could dream big and ‘say we have always been green, white and crimson’- all colors in one making it a gorgeous rainbow. During those fabulous days, at noontime, the small street outside our school suddenly filled with melodious songs. The narrow road that had lived through oppression and witnessed ill-fated people offering relentless resistance against the marauders, during our days at school largely remained desolate with an occasional tonga, passing through it. At the recess time, with hawkers squatting on both the sides of the street, it suddenly came to full life like an almond tree blossoming on first spring shower. They hawked different kinds of stuff, the boiled red beans, black beans, roasted peas, sizzling chickpeas, crusty fresh snow (sheen), mulberry fruit, and candyfloss. Every hawker had a tuneful charming song for his stuff. Of all the hawkers, it was the epic songs with all their majesty and splendor by the crusty-fresh-snow and the mulberry sellers that attracted us the most.
The crusty-fresh-snow seller melodiously sang in praise of the alpine forests, the highland brooks, the icy tracts that led to the glaciers, where from he had brought a basket full of crusty-snow for the children to beat the summer heat. The mulberry fruit seller with his willow vat camouflage like an army bunker with green chinar leaves, filled with white, black and red mulberry fruit also had an epic song for the fruit. Melodiously, he sang how legendary lover Nagrai had offered Shahtoot (royal mulberry) to his beloved Himal on moonlit nights by the side of mythical spring. Of all the summer fruits juicy black and crimson mulberry allured us the most. We could buy a leafful for two Paise or one Anna but, the desire of plucking them from the tree always haunted us. Those days groves of mulberry trees dotted the city. On both the sides of roads, these trees lined-up as soldiers do today on highways and in the city centers. The government religiously painted the trunks of these trees for protecting their tender barks from cracking. For fear of authority, none, not even the political hoodlums having the license for committing crimes against voices of dissent dared to chop a mulberry tree- not even in their compounds without authorization.
There were many old mulberry trees, having as massive girth as that of Chinar trees with bunches of fruit temptingly drooping from the branches. But, we dared not to go up the tree for plucking and to relish the delicious fruit. That was not for fear of the authority but because of our belief ‘there was an old man in the tree.’ Most of the children in our generation had banished the fear of Sarkar and many times dared powers that be with our small homemade catapults, but the beliefs and superstitions inherited from ancestors persisted with us in our childhood. For our faith, that the mulberry trees were the abode of Jennies and fairies on the way to school we never ventured to throw even stones on bunches of the mulberry. In our Mohalla, there was a large mulberry tree. In the Mohalla folklore, there were lots of stories about men going up the tree with an ax for chopping it falling and breaking limbs and some erratic ‘coin-gambler’ pissing near the tree losing his sense. Not to say of tasting the delicious mulberry fruit, for fear of the wrath of the jennies, we did not even risk to play near the tree.
Interestingly, the spoiled brats indulging in Ponsi-Guti (Coin-gambling) did not gamble. These beliefs and superstition had perhaps perpetuated for protesting the mulberry tree- backbone to once flourishing silk industry. And we lived with these superstitions throughout our school days and never tasted the fruit from the tree of our Mohalla. In this column some years back I wrote it was years later when the mysterious midnight fires swept across Kashmir that the boys of the Mohalla exorcized the jennies from the mulberry tree. To guard our Mohalla against “Naar-i-Choor,’ the boys of Mohalla spread mats under the canopy of the mulberry tree- after that, the jennies were ejected from the tree forever.
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist