Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yellow rice people

We have had fried rice culture in Kashmir much before the Chinese became rich. Taeher is rice, sprinkled with mustard oil and freckled with a lot of turmeric. Kashmiri women have forever distributed Taeher to the faithful, outside countless Astans [shrines/reliquaries] and graveyards. I remember running as fast as I could in my childhood to collect a handful of the sticky yellow rice, generously strewn with golden brown onions. There would be a million random reasons why Taeher was offered to neighbours, friends and bystanders: A birth in the family, someone getting a job or simply Dastageer Sahib’s day [Abdul Qadir Jilani, lovingly called Dastageer Sahib, lived from 1077-1166, was a Persian saint who never visited Kashmir and yet we adore him].

We are a very natural people. We have these large barns of rice that we devour in decent amounts. Rice is well stocked in every Kashmiri family by fall. Crops when mowed down are collated beautifully in small hut like formations. Thea-per. Our meal. Threshing completed and husking done, the rice grains, heart like, light, crisp and razzmatazz, are barreled. And then it may snow over and the ever-leaking Jawahar tunnel may close on us and the only airport in Kashmir may appear deserted, we don’t give a damn. As long as there are endless degchis [cauldrons] of Taeher.

[Makhdoom Sahib, courtyard corner]

On rough-hewn stone stairs leading to the mausoleum of Makhdoom Sahib, also called Sultan-ul-Arifeen [king of knowledge], people can be seen divvying up Taeher to the pilgrims. The trek to the top of southern side of Kastoor pind is about 90 stone stairs from the north [Bashi Darwaza end] and about 127 from south [Kathi Darwaza end]. Makhdoom Sahib, for the uninitiated, was born to a Rajput landlord family some 500 years ago in Tujar, near Sopore. They say no one goes hungry from the mystic’s abode in Srinagar. Cinnamon color sparrows can be seen feeding on Taeher crumbs along the flight of stairs.

We are a hugely exuberant people also. In the decade of 90s we suddenly rebelled. Like March of the penguins, we poured out on the alleys, in the countryside and in the hills. Hundred thousand, two-hundred thousand. Hollering loud. Singing songs of the revolution. Women would pack Taeher in polythene bags and throw it into the crowds. People partook of the offering, readily. Azadi [Freedom] hovered above, like tumble-weed clouds. We were told later that it was mass hallucination.

As 2009 fades, serious things continue to happen to us. We handle them with such lightness that evokes Chaplin. The conflict years have seared the collective consciousness of a generation and as we try to emerge out of it, the scars remain. Yet there is laughter shining in people’s eyes. I met this very chirpy boatman in Srinagar, this time around, paddling at the putrid waters of Dal, singing in atmospheric, whisper style Kashmiri. ‘What do you do Chacha, I asked, when there are strong currents in the lake?’ He raised his oar high in the air and held it in both his hands above his head. ‘Ya Peer Dastageer’, he replied in a soul-baring way.

We continue to be such simple Taeher people.