Monthly Archives: July 2012

day 15


chicken *braai for azon’s goodbye dinner

representing kashmir at rio 2016, miss sabbah haji

Inspired by all the Olympic archery and shooting we’ve been watching (it seems to be the only thing Indian sport channels are showing) sabbah got out the air rifle, propped up a sheet of tin, drew on a bull’s-eye with some charcoal and we practised our aim. It’s a long but pretty useless gun she says and she brings it out now and then so that the boys from the school can have some fun. An extracurricular activity (she admits) that does not appear on the school’s website.

After target practice, we take a walk up through the cornfields. We see Hashim-Deen, a student from upper kindergarten, with a stick in hand, looking after the buffalo outside their house. In Gujjar culture, the women of the house often have to work in the fields and so when their children are still infants, they tie them on a string next to the buffalo and leave them there for the day. The buffalo protects the child and when the child gets tired, it rests against the buffalo for warmth and falls asleep. Because of this early relationship between the two, children are able to, at a very young age, control and attend to fully-grown buffalos. We go beyond his house to two more mind-blowingly enchanting houses complete with handmade chicken coops, in-house barns, carved out tree trunk troughs, secret gardens and fascinating people. I want desperately to take pictures but whipping out a huge camera on my first visit might have been a bit awkward, but! now that I have made their acquaintance, I fully intend a follow up photo trip.

We get back home with an hour to spare before sunset and help out with barbecue preps for Azon’s going away dinner. Unlike back home, there is no air-conditioned butchery you can pop into to pick up a tray of marinated steak, a couple of loin chops and a few pieces of chicken fillet and so in the interest of keeping as many animals alive as possible, we stick to chicken for the braai. Lattah and Nazir make a makeshift braai pit just outside our window and use part of the aunty’s gate as the grill. The power failures continue and the inverter’s not been fully functional for the last day or two but no complaints because at least for most of the day we have some sort of power which is more than can be said for most of northern and eastern India. Apparently there has been some major power grid failure that has left almost 600 million people powerless for the last two days. So really, occasional cuts are a minor thing and we get light for our outdoor dinner barbecue the old school way: gas lanterns and moonlight.

day 14


Today, in keeping with true Sundays-in-Breswana tradition, I did absolutely nothing. I slept, watched some Olympic archery, read a bit and even got so far as planning some productivity but then the lights went out, the inverter died, the generator wouldn’t start and since all my electronic devices were following the death trend, I thought I may as well join in and so, I slept some more.

Just before iftaar we went down to watch goolam bhai make chapattis. He takes little balls of dough out from the bigger blob, rolls it in flour, smashes it into little circles and then rolls them into paper-thin perfect circles. He then pops the chapatti on to a flat plate that is resting just above a little fire and turns the chapatti around a few times to distribute the heat. Once a sufficient number of air bubbles have formed, he removes it off the plate and stands the chapatti up against the edge of the fire where it starts to rise. Once it has puffed up completely, he removes it from beside the fire and transfers the ready-to-eat chapatti into a basket to cool before repeating the process.

I do not volunteer any assistance, as I fear my attempts at producing perfectly round chapattis without the help of a pizza cutter would be quite a disastrous affair and so I save myself the embarrassment. I have however offered to bake, but two problems arise in that respect. One: there are no baking trays in Breswana and sabbah looked for some in Doda when she was there the other day, without much luck. And two: it is one of those small black rectangular tandoori ovens and so improvisation plans of using pots as cake dishes has failed because they are all too high and so, until we find a suitable baking dish or think up an ingenious substitute, chocolate cake will just have to remain a tasty figment of our imaginations.

day 13


hameed and shenaaz doing their homework on the roof of the construction site of the new classroom additions to HPS

For the last two weeks I have been putting off mailing taz something she needed from camp, but after realizing it could not be put off any longer, I attempted mailing it yesterday. After 2 failed attempts at loading gmail in basic html format, I finally navigated to compose mail, attached my file and clicked send. Anticipating a long wait, I went off to do something and returned an hour later to find no progress in the uploading. The thing with 2G internet is that you need to be able to differentiate between situations that call for patience and situations that are simply lost causes and there comes a point where you just have to accept that the page will never load and move on with life. On the bright yet dim side, faster internet speeds have been known to make sneak appearances in the early hours of the morning and so now, at 3:12am I am up trying to load the file again. It seems to be working, but if you’ve ever had to load a 1.7MB file at 85kbps, you will know that it’s probably going to take awhile. Staring hopefully at my gmail page, while trying my best not to move an inch so as not to interrupt the good signal, has given me plenty of time to develop some home nostalgia and regrettably I think today is going to be one of those dreaded, ‘I miss home’ days. I locate my melted chocloate from the depths of my backpack. It’s going to be one of those days better survived with chocolate in your system i have decided. 

day 12


every school day begins with morning prayers, a quote for the day by one student, a short prepared topic by another student and some physical warmup exercises

Today azon tells me that the bathroom spider has had babies and so I must just be careful where I hang my clothes when I go for a shower. Its weird this insect business. If someone had told me two weeks ago that a tarantuala like spider had had a whole bunch of babies in my bathroom, I probably would have, without much thought, reached for the doom and begun some serious spider eradication. But I guess there comes a point here where you just have to suck up your insect paranoia give in to cohabitation. I’ve even stopped my nightly ritual of smashing all visible insects in my room with my emirates baggage tag before I get to bed. Not to say that my dislike for them has lessened, but it just seems selfish to keep killing them and so instead, I have established some simple protocols for insect contact minimization: in the evenings, I switch on the light at the other end of my room, so if they want to buzz, they buzz away from me; I do not use my phone after I switch off my room light, unless I use it under my blanket; I make sure my head, hands and feet are always covered when I go to sleep and just before bed I switch off my light, open my room door and let the insects fly off toward the light in the lounge.

I can handle the spiders, flies, weird flying things and moths I have decided, it’s just the fleas and mosquitoes that I’m quite tired of. I mean, I honestly thought I would return home after 3 months in a chocolateless village with amazing thinness, fairness and clear skin and as a result, become eligible marriage material but between all the food I’m consuming, my closeness to the sun and the crazy number of bites on my body, those visions are fast becoming a fading fantasy.


day 11


it rained quite heavily for a few hours this morning and so many kids did not come to school. left with only 19 kids, we marched them home for an impromptu movie day

This evening sabbah was telling me that after opening HPS (Haji Public School) in Breswana, they had opened two more primary schools in the surrounding villages, due to such high demand. All three schools run up to class 3 and every year an additional class gets added on. On the way up last week, her dad showed me a plot of land they had recently purchased for the building of a high school and, sabbah tells me, eventually even some sort of college.

If you stop long enough to think about it, it is actually quite crazy. I mean most of these villages do not appear on any of the maps I have seen and only a fraction of them have access to amenities like running water and electricity. People here are not, by any stretch of one’s imagination, well off and most of them get by through subsistence farming and occasional work on government funded projects aimed at developing the villages. There are no roads, cars, stores, telephone poles or hospitals and so honestly speaking, who thinks of starting English medium schools in Kashmiri villages separated almost entirely from civilization?

I remember visiting some people with my parents a few years back. The lady was telling my mum about this thing she was going to India to volunteer for. It was some medical caravan that went to the remotest villages, reachable only by horse, dispensing medicine and setting up clinics. I remember sitting there in awe and thinking that she was probably an amazing person to be inclined to volunteer for something like that. But years later, perched on my bed, in a remote village reachable only by horse, I realize I was wrong. Amazing does not describe the people who volunteer bits of their time for things like this, but rather, it describes the very people who care enough about the future of their communities to establish and sustain these initiatives. People with wild visions, laughable optimism, insane dedication and undying faith. People to whom, no cause seems too small or insignificant. People like the Haji family.

day 10


from my room window, the building on the far right is the school’s library and computer room, on the far left is the mosque (not sure what the middle one is) and that flat bit right on top is Srine (honestly further away than it looks)

‘Will you come up to Srine with us?’ Muneezah and Humeerah ask me at school today. I laugh. Not for the next month, I respond. They look puzzled. Confident in the legitimacy of my reason, I explain that I am fasting, and so foresee thirsty days for the next month. Muneezah, still looking quite unsure about what fasting has to do with anything, rebuts that one of the boys was fasting and he still went up. Evidently neither of the girls have been to my corner of the world where broken escalators from the parking lot to Shepstone are a legitimate enough reason to skip lectures in ramadaan. Srine, unlike Shepstone, sits at 11 000 ft above sea level and is the nearest flat plain to Breswana. In the summer, one member from each family takes the family’s livestock up to Srine to graze for the duration of the summer months as, in addition to being flat, it is lush and green. During summer vacations and on Sundays, families take picnics up to Srine and the kids spend the day there enjoying games of cricket and in general, the open flat land. Sabbah says that often people from the surrounding villages meet up at Srine and the kids have inter-village cricket matches and it’s great fun. Sure, it sounds great but my objections to Srine trips in ramadaan arise due to its 3hour walk up from Breswana. I’d love to go. I really would, but when i do, I’d very much like to have the option of hydrating. I promise the girls that as soon as ramadaan ends, I will most definitely join them. They don’t look entirely convinced but seem somewhat satisfied for the moment and I use their temporary silence as an opportunity to quickly change the topic. Mission GetReadyForSrine begins tomorrow!

day 9


not that i have nothing to say of the happenings of today, but i keep promising mum that i will upload some pictures and i never do, so! attached are some of the journey up from premnagar to breswana. considering my primary goal was making it up alive without catapulting off my horse, i didn’t take very many photos on the way up, but this is the general idea of the trip. we reached breswana in pitch black and so photos of the village to follow.