Khamosh's Corner


Yes, it was her marriage and whole village was celebrating it. All the relatives and friends had arrived or were arriving. Nears and dears were busy decorating the venue and entertaining the guests. All her friends and other damsels of the village were preparing for song and dance presentation on her Mehandiraat. It was going to be a gala event.
One of the guests observed that the bride to be was not on the scene. He asked her mother as to where she was. Her mother replied that she was just nearby, collecting cow-dung (lo’bar) for making dung-cakes for fuel.
The guest remarked, as they still say on an occasion, where the person most expected on the scene is missing:
Yas kori khaandar, soa’ koor lo’bran, nahakai chobran* maenzeeraath
(The girl whose marriage is being celebrated, is out collecting cow-dung, other damsels are unwarrantedly celebrating mehandiraat)
*(a colloquial kashmiri word for a pretty woman)



Jan 26, 2015
There was this damsel, who was giggling with joy while dancing about her way home. Once awhile, she would smile and then blush again with an unknown feeling that gave her goosebumps. 
Along came a friend of her and asked her the secret behind her smile, her blush and her cuddlesome attitude.
She started to giggle and blush more and more. As her friend asked many times, she revealed the secret of having a feeling of walking on the cloud nine. Her employer, the rich merchant (khwaja), in whose household she worked, had said to her, “fetkhe” (burst you) or (drown you).
‘fotkhe’ and ‘fetkhe’ (said in the tune of – damn you, but not as harsh) used for masculine and feminine genders respectively, are mild scolding words uttered while amusingly acknowledging one’s negative traits or gestures like stupidity, naughtiness, cunningness or meanness.
If someone is very happy at an apparent praise showered at him or her unwarrantedly, it is amusingly remarked as a syndrome of ‘Khwajan dopnam fetkhe’ (The master said – burst you !)


There was this shopkeeper who could not handle the competition and rivalry, that is otherwise normal in the business community.
We often see most of them continuously devising of novel methods for promoting their respective businesses, like advertising, giving discounts, slashing the prices and giving something free with the items, which do not sell fast. 
This man, facing a stiff competition, thought of selling his merchandise on credit. While this is usual for local businessmen operating in a closed community or area, there is always a limit to everything.
Soon, most of his merchandise was going out on credit and he would be left waiting for his bills to be paid. With credit periods extended on one hand and payments to be made to the suppliers like wholesalers, mill owners and farmers etc. on the other hand, the going for him began to be tougher by each day that passed.
Once started, he could not stop the offer of selling on credit, because of the apprehension of customers going awry. Also, once the payments stopped, his suppliers did not favour him with fresh supplies.
And then, there was a day when there were only empty containers (deg’ly’) in his shop. He would open the shop with empty containers and wait for his erstwhile customers to come to him with the money that they owed him. The people on seeing him would just say, “Khwaj’ Byootth Waan T’ Dyaglyav Saan”.

One of my favourite things for breakfast in England is a Bagel. It comes in many varieties. Often, the one with sesame seeds is my choice. Just toast it with butter or fruit-Jam and it goes well with a cup of tea. It goes very well with a cup of Kahwa. It is not just like the ‘telwor’ we used to have in Kashmir; it IS a big telwor. Rather it is more a ‘tchochiwor’ of a ‘muslim’ baker than a ‘telwor’ of a hindu baker. With a crisp crust and a soft kernel, it tastes fantastic.
It also gives me a nostalgic feeling of my school days when having one from the ‘muslim’ baker of our locality was taboo for me. I would be expected to buy them only from the ‘hindu’ baker for tea-n-snacks. I did not understand, why! We would purchase almost all our food items from ‘muslim’ shopkeepers and vendors like a puj (butcher), daandur (green grocer), vony (general merchant), galu’daar (grain merchant), goor (dairy merchant) and so on; but not our ‘tchochi’ (bread). Perhaps we had a choice here and the community exercised that. In all other items, we had the ‘Hobson’s choice’.
One of the arguments provided by my Grandpa or mother would be that they would make the dough with their feet and that they use ‘charb’ (animal fat) to polish the ‘tchochiwor’. Honestly, I had seen Mohana, the assistant of Veshi Kaandur (the hindu baker of our locality), also making dough with feet (with rubber boots on). I also never expected him to use ghee instead of ‘charb’. Nevertheless, a taboo is a taboo is a taboo. However, once in a while, I would stealthily buy one ‘charb’-polished ‘tchochiwor’ from the ‘muslim’ kaandur for my on-the-way snack while going to school or returning therefrom. The decorated racks of his bakery were too irresistible to me. It would taste great, as all furtiveness does.
Months after our exodus in 1990, I was compelled to report back to my office at Srinagar, following the big question of sustenance of my family staring into my face, in absence of any job or income. Leaving my family behind at Faridabad was as agonizing. I and a few of my ‘hindu’ colleagues were given refuge in a hotel turned into a hostel, and our movements were restricted for our own ‘safety and security’. The hotel would ‘mess’ our breakfast and dinner only. But as we would be hauled to our office in some Government run buses, escorted by Police vehicles; sourcing lunch on the weekdays was somewhat of a problem. Our office canteen would serve tea and some snacks but had no facility for serving any proper meals.
So, we would whisk away out of our ‘security zone’ for a while to the nearby market to buy some lunch. One of the choices was a ‘battu kaandur’ some 1.5 kms from our office, who was catering for the remnant hindu population and security personnel situated in that area. But to reach him was difficult as public transport was not available on that road for security reasons. So I and my friend, discovered a ‘muslim kaandur’ nearby whose hot bakery not only satisfied our hunger pangs but also catered to our taste-buds. We would buy any of the available varieties of ‘hot’ baked items from him including ‘Bagirkhani’, ‘sheemal’, ‘kandi-kulcha’ and ‘tchochiwor’, toast it with butter or fruit-jam and relish it.
Days would pass by and at some specific intervals, we would leave for a few days to be with our family located in various cities like Jammu, Delhi, Chandigarh, Bangalore etc. On return from one of such trips, we went to the baker to buy something for our lunch. He exclaimed to have seen us after a considerable time-gap and enquired if we were buying things from some other shop. Before my friend would cease to blush (for fear of having been recognised as a KP) and I could place an alibi for our absence, he hurled a sentence at us: ‘kinu jom aesivu terymuty’ (had you left for Jammu?). I just smiled ‘guiltily’. Our stealth had shown.
Now that was a taboo from the other side. Taboo against ‘unwanted’ presence of KPs in the valley. And that sounded an alarm for us, lest some ‘alert’ militant would come to know of our identity and shoot us with his AK47. We had to discover an alternative soon, until a staffer of the office canteen made arrangement for the bulk purchase of ‘tchochihen’ (bakery items) for the use of office staff.
A decade has passed since I left Srinagar for New Delhi on deputation and eventually retired. Today in England, I am re-living the privilege of sipping kahwa and eating a bagel, while looking at a field-maple tree from the dining room window, whose autumn-red leaves resemble those of the Chinar. I neither feel guilty of being a Kashmiri Pandit, nor of purchasing ‘tchochivor’ from a muslim ‘kandur’. I feel like humming the lines of Josh Malihabadi:

“Mamnoon tarab se lutf-e-paiham lene
Shuja ke shajar ke saaye men dum lene
Awaz do ki pahuncha hoon Kashmir men ‘Josh’
Khuda se inteqam-e-Adam lene”
(Enjoying to the hilt in the tabooed manner; unwinding under the canopy of heavenly trees, say ‘Josh’ has made an entry into Kashmir, to avenge (the oust) of Adam (from the paradise).

- Ashok Handoo 'Khamosh'
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