Since the turn of the century, Kashmir has witnessed great changes in every sphere of life. From the time when it was the question of basic survival, we are now focusing on improving comfort in our lives.
By Syed Aamir Sharief Qadri
Kashmir, a tiny paradise hidden by the high Himalayan mountains, used to remain cut off from the world every year in the past due to heavy snowfall in the winter months. All routes and passes leading in and out of Kashmir, including three prominent roads like Jhelum Valley Road, Mughal Road/Salt Road, and Banihal Cart Road, remained buried under a thick, impenetrable layer of snow.
During these months, the world didn’t know about Kashmir, and we didn’t know what was happening in our neighbourhood. The imports and exports, and the movement of people, remained suspended for months. In this way, our social and economic life got adversely affected.
It’s a harsh reality that when all doors are closed to a person, he or she finds a way out somehow. The same is true about Kashmir. When people realised they would not get any help from the outside world due to the closure of borders after every snowfall, they started hoarding essentials to survive the chilling winter months.
With time, people found solutions to every problem and succeeded in managing day-to-day affairs. This way, the hoarding culture started in Kashmir to reduce dependency on surrounding territories.
Society does not value people who have empty pockets and are unable to feed a hungry stomach. But thanks to Allah, if the pockets of Kashmiris were empty, they never slept on empty stomachs. Autumn, the season of harvest, brings happiness to the grim faces of poor farmers who sweat blood in their fields under the sun’s blistering heat during summer. A good yield is perhaps the only thing that keeps his hopes alive for the rest of the year.
Society does not value people who have empty pockets and are unable to feed a hungry stomach. But thanks to Allah, if the pockets of Kashmiris were empty, they never slept on empty stomachs.
A few decades earlier, thriving mustard and paddy fields in the spring and autumn were symbols of a prosperous life. It was only possible with the kind efforts of painstaking labourers and farmers who took care of the land throughout the year. The soil they toiled was less fertile in comparison to the plains of India. The peasants’ hard work turned the unproductive land of Kashmir into the harbinger of gold. It was due to their efforts that enough food grains were harvested. Some were sold, and some of it was stored too for use till the next harvest season. If the people of Kashmir did not export all agricultural items, they were also not fully dependent on imports.
Everything that could be grown here, they made it happens, such as different varieties of rice, maize, mustard, spices, beans, etc. Kashmiris needed only a few items from other places, like salt, sugar, etc. The year-long farming calendar and food menu of Kashmir were well-defined. The experienced farmers of the valley knew when, how and which crop to grow and consume.
The process of hoarding things starts in the autumn. The harvest, such as cereals, pulses, vegetables, and fruits, are dried first in blazing sunlight to end moisture and stop microbial growth. Next, the harvest is stored in big utensils available in the market, mostly made of plastic, steel, or glass. The conventional way of storing them is to put them in baked or unbaked clay pots that increase their shelf life. Earlier, people used to place big earthen pots (Lopun) under thatched roofs to store food grains.
In the past, small houses of people had only one or two rooms to live in but enough storage space. In the courtyard of every household, there used to be a wooden hut (Kuch) to store paddy. All this can be seen even today, especially in rural areas. The mud huts (Tabela) are common and are used to house cattle and poultry and to store fodder for animals. When it is loaded with hay, the nearby trees provide us with additional space to store more.
In some villages, big underground pits (Kheh) are dug out even today to place root vegetables like radishes, turnips, carrots, etc., in them to use them for a long time. The dried slices (Hachi) of fruits and vegetables were used extensively. Dried vegetables (Hokh Seun) are so important that people make garlands of raw vegetables and then stick them to the walls, windows, and doors of houses that face the sun to let them dry.
The food habits of people have changed much due to the availability of fresh vegetables in the market during the winter season, But until the end of the 20th century, dried vegetables were consumed in large quantities. Still, they are used in moderation in villages of Kashmir. The people who live in cities and towns cook them occasionally, but in remote hilly areas, the tradition continues.
Today, pickles are rarely prepared at home. But there was a time when people used to make pickles in big jars. The unique style of making different varieties of pickles through natural fermentation in earthen pots by following a long procedure made it a favourite dish liked by all.
In the old days, in its making, pure and natural spices were used that spread aroma while grinding in a big stone mortar (Kanz) with the help of a wooden pestle (Muhul). The excessive use of mustard oil and the famous Kashmiri red chilli powder make it colourful and crispy.
The people don’t have to arrange food items only but make heating arrangements and store fuel. Rich families can afford to buy electronic gadgets as well as to pay bills to get many facilities, but poor families are highly dependent on the old ways of survival. They must collect firewood and make cow dung cakes to fuel the hearth (Daan).
In addition to the traditional Pheran and Kangri, the hearth in their kitchens constantly increases the room temperature. It has also been rumoured that despite unhygienic conditions, sometimes people in the past used to share a chamber with cattle to keep themselves warm in winter.
The hoarding culture has reduced greatly but has yet to end completely, though it changes its nature continuously. The faulty geographic location, limited marketplaces, lack of a road network, and inferior transport facilities gave way to the hoarding culture. Eventually, these issues will resolve themselves over time. This culture will disappear soon in the near future.
A smooth road, rail, and air connectivity can help us to get rid of the hoarding culture. At the beginning of the 21st century, Kashmir witnessed great changes in every sphere of life. Early, we were struggling enough to make our survival possible. Then came the time when we focused on the things of comfort. And finally, exposure to new technology has revolutionised our lives, making us dream of luxurious life and control over our lives.