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day 120

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I wish that you could wake up to village mornings and mindlessly repeat outfits without any apprehension at all. 
I wish you could sow the seeds, watch them grow into towering corn stalks and eventually, when the leaves have started to yellow, I wish you could collect the corn cobs, locate the camouflaged beans that creep up the stalks and then head out with your sickle and chop down the stalks for animal feed.
I wish you could see day-old chicks, watch them grow, save them from abusive mothers and remedy their broken legs with some oil and a clump of girl’s hair.
I wish you could get fresh milk twice daily, from a cow whose name you knew.
I wish your meals for days on end would consist almost entirely out of produce from your garden and animal farm.
I wish you died a little inside every time you consumed something in a plastic wrapper because it seemed ludicrous that something could not be used from start to finish, like the crops.
I wish that days of the week were largely irrelevant and that working days depended solely on the daylight hours available.
I wish you could dedicate a month every year to harvesting grass for your livestock to live off during the winter.
I wish you could have the satisfaction of sharing a single walnut with a dozen other people.
I wish you knew how to make a fire, knew which wood burnt well, knew how to revive embers and most importantly, knew how to make the perfect winter kangri.
I wish that walking an hour to school, a wedding or to collect grass, was about as normal as hopping in your car and driving to the convenience store.
I wish you could attend weddings on a Monday evening and partake in main feasts on a Tuesday afternoon.
I wish that you praised God (subahanallah), thanked God (alhumdulillah) and remembered his greatness (allahhuakbar) instinctively throughout the day, rather than at routinely allotted times.
I wish that your garden chairs were picked out for their durability and ease with which they could be moved with the winter sun, rather than for their aesthetic value.
I wish you could by heart the electricity schedule and without fuss, time your baths, charging moments and television viewings to coincide.
I wish you could experience the joys of 2G Internet and the satisfaction that loading something for 3 hours at 3.4kb/s brings.
I wish you could live a life in which feelings of annoyance or depression are about as common as sightings of anything powered by an engine.
I wish that you weren’t afraid to sit in the dark and look up at the star filled sky, picking up your phone only to use the android star app to identify phantom constellations.
I wish that you could spend nights out on the machan, looking over your crops and sounding the bell to alert the village if a bear arrived.
I wish that your 7 year old kid would fearlessly lead you into the dark with a stick in hand, ready to hit the leopard if it popped up.
I wish that you accumulated enough to get by. No more and no less.
I wish you could live amongst a people whose poverty was overshadowed by their limitless generosity.
I wish that your life was filled with a degree of uncertaintity that disallowed anything but the present to matter.
I wish that you had someone to remind you every night that the sentence ‘see you in the morning’ was incomplete without ‘insha’allah (if God wills)’.

I wish that you could stop dwelling on yesterdays and losing sleep over tomorrows.
I wish that at some point in your life, if not for the rest of it, you could live for the present.

day 112

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Dear mother and father

Yesterday I fell asleep after school and by the time I woke up, the sun had already begun its descent, it was cold, the tea was staring at me and I didn’t feel like doing the laces on my boots, so I didn’t go down for my daily visit to the Bakarwaals. She’d told me the other day that they were headed to Jammu soon with the sheep and goats, but I figured they wouldn’t leave on a Sunday and so I decided I would deliver the stuff I had kept aside for them in the morning. Only, when I woke up this morning, I could not see the top of their blue tent from the balcony and my heart sank with the realization that days of the week really mean nothing to them.

Bakarwals are a nomadic people who move with the seasons in search of green meadows for their sheep and goats to graze in. They spend the summers in high lying areas and as soon as winter starts to set in, they move down the mountain with their herds to warmer and lower lying areas. On average they walk twenty kilometers a day and the whole journey can take anywhere from 20 to 60 days with herds ranging from a few dozen to a good few hundred sheep and goats. They walk along the roadside with the herd and the females walk a little ahead so that they can set up camp somewhere along the side of the road for the night.

So really, considering my basic Bakarwal knowledge, I guess I knew that they had to leave eventually, but I honestly don’t understand why they didn’t say goodbye. Sabbah seems to think that them saying goodbye would have been more abnormal than the alternative and cannot understand for the life of her why I think that Bakarwaals are in the habit of such pleasantries. Either way, I decided that I was still heart broken and so I spent the rest of the day on the couch wrapped in my blanket, with my box of chocos, which I have started eating as a recreational snack and a constant stream of Yash Raj movies playing in the background to further fuel my depression.

While I wouldn’t go quite as far as saying we were bffs (best friends forever), I definitely think we shared a magical bond, even if it was a bond based largely on her interest in my worldly possessions. I am especially sad that I will not see Afroza anymore, mostly because she was insanely cute and admirably self sufficient for her age, but also because she was too young to realise that I could not speak her language and judge me for it.

Anyway, as I was making wudu for magrib, it struck me that Afroza and her mum, very much like my goat Billy, would not want me to sink into a depression on their behalf and in a moment of inspired brilliance, I stumbled upon the greatest idea my brain has ever had the privilege of thinking up: I will return home and perfect my (non existent) Bakarwali and animal clicking sounds. I will practice 20km roadside walks and prepare myself for showerless fortnights. I will brush over tayamoom techniques for when I need to pray when there is no water available. I will train my bladder to comply with a strict organized schedule, google foolproof fleabite remedies and THEN I will return to Jammu in March and join Afroza and her family on their return trip with the herd back to the village.

While I am still working out the logistics, details and mandatory pit stop arrangements with Saleem Uncle and sometimes Sabbah, whose enthusiastic encouragements are laced with a distinctive layer of mockery, I am rather excited about the prospect of a Bakarwaal walk. I realise that this is probably not the best way to inform you of my plans, but I didn’t think that it was an ideal topic for a phone conversation and since you’re both always complaining that I never blog, I decided I’d blog it instead.

Mad love to you both
Your (soon to be Bakarwaali) daughter

day 111

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in preparation for my departure in a few days, weeping classes have made a comeback. clockwise from top left: ayaz, shahid, muneeza and mehfooz

some of the kids weren’t weeping on demand and so as an incentive, we changed the Kishtwar Trip blackcross chart into a ‘weeping chart’ with gold stars being awarded to the most promising weepers of the day. 5 gold stars are up for grabs for anyone who can weep on demand with real tears and not just sound effects

marking their work while simultaneously receiving a back massage from shahid. exactly how it should be done

while awaiting dinner, aamir, amjed, shahid and naushada being blown away by the wonder that is talking tom

we had just about exhausted about all of our pre dinner talking points and phone amusement when sabbah saved the day with videos of her nephew.

dinner!

after dinner neat rendition from shahid and amjed. so good, so good.

shahid, dad, amjed, mother and naushada (cousin). madhuri took the picture and is convinced that the dad doesn’t like her, hence he did not look up for the family photo.

This afternoon we brought the second, third and fourth standards home in the last two periods of the day to watch The Gods Must Be Crazy. Sabbah, in her prefilm spiel, told them that the Kalahari was in my garden and that Botswana was in my neighbourhood which is really not something you tell impressionable kids, no matter how geographically correct your statements might be. And so as a result, Mehfooz now thinks that all the people in my country run around barely clad, Shahid is convinced that my village is not much different from Breswana and Amjed cannot understand why I do not have zebras and rhinos in my backyard.

Muneeza, far less concerned with the minor details of the overall film, turned to me halfway through and said: ‘ma’am, I see that the only thing the people do in your country is fight’. I tried my best to explain that Botswana was not my country, that Sam Bogo and his gang of banana-hiding guerillas were not actually my people and that most of my people wore a fair amount of clothes, but she would hear none of it. Instead she told me, rather disapprovingly, that yesterday on her walk to South Africa, in addition to meeting my parents and being gifted a piece of meat from them, she had seen my country and seen for herself that all the people were doing, was fighting. She would not return, she added with a scary amount of certainty.

At some point during the movie, Shahid and Amjed’s dad called Sabbah and for a moment I was worried that he’d gotten wind of the barely clad bushmen through the Breswana Grapevine and was calling to remove his kids from the school, but as it turns out, he was calling to invite us to a farewell dinner at his residence. Sabbah accepted the invitation and just after the magrib prayers, Amjed, Shahid and Umar showed up at our door, to guide us to dinner.

The Latief residence is halfway between Hajipura and Wanipura and we reached their house just after 6. Shahid’s mum, dad and sisters welcomed us in and after quick greetings and pleasantries, showed us in to the room on the right of the corridor. It was the room the size of a garage and there were some cupboards along the wall to the left and a single bed and fireplace against the wall to the right. They showed us to the mats laid out in the corner of the room, made sure we were seated comfortably, that there were enough blankets available to keep us warm and then promptly disappeared into the kitchen, leaving us in the capable hands of Shahid and Amjed for predinner entertainment.

Sabbah used the time before dinner to enquire about the house and its occupants. There were two floors to the house. The bottom floor had two rooms; the one we were sitting in and a kitchen. The top floor had another kitchen and two or three more rooms. 15 people stayed in the house. Shahid and Amjed shared the single bed in the room that we were in and their parents slept on the floor, in the spot we were sitting on, to be exact. Their sisters, elder brother, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins all slept upstairs.

Dinner had still not arrived and so she enquired about each family member individually, even about the uncle who was in Dubai and when she had exhausted all possible questions of the family inquisition, we entertained them with the universal wonder that is Talking Tom and just as their enthusiasm for causing the cat much pain, began to wane, Molvi came in with a tablecloth, laid it on the floor and dinner was served.

There was rice, pheasant, mutton, some grilled meat pieces, potatoes, chips, dhal, chapattis, turnip chutney and some other vegetable dish. As ashamed as I am of my eating reputation, I am glad that news of it had reached the Latief household before we did and so I was not left awkwardly declining several variations of meat dishes and the potatoes were strategically placed right in front of me. I had boiled potatoes and fried chips on rice. Then I had the boiled potatoes on their own. Then I had a few solitary fried chips and then for good measure, I ended off the meal with fried chips on top of boiled potatoes on top of a chappati.

Best CarbFest. Ever.

day 110

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so much to worry about. so little time

aadil preparing himself for his daily whack on the bottom with the cricket bat

humaira, first face from the left, totally unamused that our current game does not suit her preferences. the rest, from left to right: rubeena, hamid totally getting ready to hit saaqib and safder

afroza, at the back entrance of their humble abode

Billy was served at lunch today and while he was a truly petrifying sight and not very nice to me, I must admit that it broke my heart to see him sitting in gravy on the placemat in front of me. Nazir, employing my boneless chicken logic, had very kindly taken some of Billy’s meat off the bone, shredded it into bite sized pieces and placed it in a little bowl with some gravy near my plate. Sadly, I am not big into mutton, least of all mutton that comes off a goat I know, saw, named, owned and walked hours to see, so there was really no way I was going to eat Billy, but in the spirit of qurbani, sacrifice and the essence of it all, I had some of the gravy, concluding that it contained some of the meat’s juices and therefore basically equated to eating the actual meat.

It seemed weird going down to the bakarwals in the afternoon because there was no Billy to visit, but I didn’t think Billy would have wanted me to sink into a depression on his behalf and so I went anyway. Afroza was playing with a chipped ceramic bowl on a mat dangerously close to the fire her mother had just started and they seemed genuinely happy to see me which never failed to amuse me since I spoke no bakarwali, the mum spoke no English and Afroza, well Afroza didn’t really speak much of anything. Either way, there was something about the ritual of our failed conversations over the past month that both entertained and cheered me.

The mother grabbed a blanket from the back of the tent for me to sit on and placed it near the fire, just as she always does and after some polite refusals, I made my way to the warmth of the fire, as I always do. Generally the half an hour that followed was filled with attempted conversations and misplaced smiles at awkward moments of misunderstanding, but today the conversation progressed shockingly well.

She told me the story of the leopard that had almost attacked the sheep the night before and showed me where it was when she had started screaming, no more than 20 steps away from their tent. She motioned to the two big bundles on the side of the tent and told me they would soon been leaving for Jammu with the sheep, where they would spend the rest of winter. She admired my chain and tried to take a picture with my camera pendant before realizing it was no more than I shiny piece of metal, laughing to herself and diverting her attention to my actual camera.

She enquired how many cameras I had. I replied that I only had one. She took it off the floor and held it in her hands, carefully inspecting it before telling me that I should leave it with her. Not knowing exactly how to respond, I replied that it had cost a lot of rupees and was a gift from my dad. She didn’t dwell on the camera for too long and shortly after, asked where my phone was. I told her the battery was dead. Why didn’t I charge it? She asked. I replied that there was no electricity. She asked if she could have my phone. I smiled and continued making weird faces at Afroza, pretending not to have heard.

Undeterred she moved on to my chain. She pointed to her neck, at the beaded chain, from which two keys hung and said we should switch. I would have, and I probably should have, but I figured I’d see them tomorrow and take her a beaded bracelet I’d brought from South Africa and so before she had the chance to ask for anything else I had on my person, I left her and Afroza with a chocolate each, promised I would see them tomorrow and left.

Day 100 and something

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I’ve always been a fan of winter. Besides for obvious reasons like winter sunlight, chocolate, popcorn, bedbound Sundays and electric blankets, I have found that It’s always so much easier to appear less fat in the cold. Bulky jackets aside, winter boasts none of this chiffon nonsense or stretch monstrosities that are designed to keep you cool at the expense off displaying an unflattering amount of your figure, or the sheer cotton affairs that inevitably need to be layered with a million things to prevent see-through.

No, winter is about strong fabrics, layering and long clothes that are always great for people like me because aside from the fatness issue, winter automatically lends itself to thoughtless shariah compliant outfits. It’s always a great feeling knowing you’re wearing a cardigan because you’re genuinely cold and not because you need sleeves to layer on top of your sleeveless summer dress (automatically eliminating any cooling effects that said summer dress has to offer). 

Sadly this weather does not resemble any version of cold that I am familiar with, but rather bears striking semblance to a horrific Antarctic simulation and thus is in all honesty the reason for lacking blog posts and productivity in general. Schools in Kashmir have shifted to winter timings already and despite school only starting at 10 am everyday, I set my alarm for 7, so that I have enough time to eat, contemplate a shower, bask in the sun, watch some pointless television and blog. Sadly that worked for a few days only, somewhere near the beginning of October and as the month progressed, less and less time was allocated to achieving morning objectives that did not include assured warmth or edibles. And so today, while my alarm still goes off promptly at 7, and my good intentions still stand, I find myself sinking further into bed for another hour before a quick bathroom dash and breakfast accumulation, after which I spend the remaining two hours before school basking in the glorious morning sun, all the while justifying to myself that actions are based on intentions.

The days, while not as cold as the mornings and evenings, are consumed by tireless kids, relentless math problems and never-ending administration avoidance and by time the time school ends, mandatory afternoon naps follow. On especially cold days, naps are replaced by trips to the bakarwals or to the fire in the downstairs kitchen in aid of keeping your wudu for as many salaahs as possible.  Afternoon tea, essential to regulating your body temperature back to normality, coincides with sunset as do the sporadic electricity cuts that never seem to stick to the predetermined cut schedule and so the time between tea and dinner at 9 is generally spent drooling over the latest food safari episode or in the weekends, watching the best that Indian reality tv has to offer.

The time after dinner is spent contemplating, attempting and ultimately avoiding or postponing productivity efforts and depending on your resolve to continue trying, the degree of coldness and the ridiculousness of whatever the television has to offer, bed follows some time after.

I guess once all things are considered, there does seem like a lot of time for potential productivity from after tea to bedtime, but really once the sun goes down, any activity that requires the removal of your hands from under your shawl, is frowned upon and only worth considering if there is food involved. There’s something about winter, I have decided, that blurs the lines between coldness, tiredness and hunger, often rendering them interchangeable and thus feelings of any of the three are almost always resolved by adding more layers, consuming more tea and chocolate or crawling under heavy blanket mounds, sadly leaving little space for productivity of any sort.

day 100

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admirable dedication to cleanliness

sabbah might have gotten the cuter one, but madhuri got the smarter one

money garlands

the cooking squad

the groom’s horse

the self acclaimed queen, bestowing dots of cream on the faces of her loyal subjects

let it snow let it snow let it snow. the groom being carried out the house and on to the horse

OMG SAFIYYAH, IT’S SNOWING!!!

okay i lied, it’s just party spray. bwahahahaha.

the groom’s procession making their way to the bride’s house

the groom and company waiting for the nikah (marriage ceremony) to begin

the bride looking rather glum. sabbah assures me it’s custom for the bride not to smile. she is not unhappy

the paalki used to carry the bride from her house to the house of the groom

To say that the delegation woke up just after dawn would be to imply that they slept at all. They had left the festivities a little after midnight but their absence, simply fueled the party and all inhibitions lost now that the strange trio had departed, ensured that the parties continued till dawn. The old one and tall one braved the bathroom but the young one, unwilling to relive the trauma that was her 2am visit to the sole outside bathroom, 3 stories down, popped a stick of gum into her mouth, rubbed some cream on her face and decided that that would suffice for the day.

Breakfast was brought to the room by the kind uncle and after intensive negotiations between him and the older one regarding their departure time for the city, the older one won, mostly because she is quite scary. They grabbed their stuff and headed down to one of the teacher’s houses nearby so that the old one could brush her teeth before returning to the groom’s house and seating themselves on the edge of the porch so that they could watch the morning’s activity.

They heard the wanwun, softly at first, drifting toward them from the tent. Wanwun, the old one explained were traditional Kashmiri wedding songs, the tune of which remained the same, but the lyrics altered according to the function. They saw scores of five and ten rupee money garlands making their way to the tent to be presented to the groom. They saw the cooking contingent down below serving up plates of halwa and bowls of chai, mixing the contents of pots with huge sticks and moving pots with carefully selected y-shaped branches.

They saw the beautifully decorated horse arrive to carry the groom to the bride’s house. They saw the uncles, aunts, cousins and elders from the night before, all dressed up for the wedding, in high spirits and showing no signs of evident sleep deprivation. They saw Mr I-am-the-after-party tending to his two kids.  They saw snow, which after a moment’s shock turned out to be party spray, as the groom was carried out of the house and onto the horse. They saw unprecedented numbers of camera phone photographers positioned at every corner of the house, porch and outhouse roof. They saw the wedding procession leave, the groom on the horse and the rest following on foot, to the bride’s house. They saw the groom seated in one of the top rooms of the bride’s house surrounded by his family and representatives. They walked down the side of the house to a room below and saw the bride, in a crowded room, standing rather glumly against a blanket backdrop, with one of the ladies holding up a gas lantern to light up the room. They saw the paalki on which the bride was to be carried to the groom’s house, luckily for the carriers in this case, not so far away.

The young one looked hard for the imported napkins she’d grown accustomed to at weddings back home. She looked for the predetermined seating plan that dictated at what distance from the bridal party she was allowed to sit. She strained her eyes to find the guest list; surely there was a mistake. There were too many people and far too many kids. Didn’t the invitations have a family quota? She combed the room in search of the judgmental aunties, criticizing the décor, food, outfit choices and flower arrangements. She searched the faces of the family for signs of wedding frustration and fake smiles. She even lurked in the corners to see if she could witness tension filled arguments between tired family members. She searched tirelessly but after yielding no success, several hours later, she eventually gave in and trotted off in her two day old jeans-mexican-dress-hiking-boots wedding ensemble, to find the other two.

day 99 (part 2)

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the meal tents

the musical group. scary man looking up was the drummer

the groom recording the evening’s festivities 

motion shot of lattah, totally a crowd favorite, styling in his Michigan pullover 

 

one of the ladies handing out sweets to everyone in the tent; or throwing in this case.

living up to his shirt’s ‘i am the after party’ print. on a disturbing note, we found out the following morning that he was married and the father of two

elders from the family rinsing the hands and feet of the groom before applying henna (held in the bowl by the lady on the left). behind the groom, the two clever men who decided it was far too crowded in the tent to get a good view and so resourcefully found themselves the best viewing spots in the house.

the room on the second floor from which the groom’s mother (second silhouette from the right) witnessed the formalities

The delegation reached the outskirts of the village to find two boys with torches who had been sent ahead to usher them to the wedding house. After quick greetings, the first boy led the way and the second brought up the rear; even the moonlight rose to the occasion and bounced off the tin roofs, following them like a spotlight. They passed through a second pine forest and as they emerged, they saw in the distance a house covered in brightly lit lights and buzzing with activity and they headed in its direction.

There were hundreds of people scattered around the house and even more inside. Everyone stopped and stared at the delegation as they entered the courtyard and to make the walk less awkward, the older one started talking. She explained that weddings in the village were big affairs with the average wedding involving no fewer than a thousand guests, no matter how rich or poor the family was. The elders of the family decided on the wedding particulars and everyone in the village contributed to the wedding in someway or other whether it was through a spoon of butter or an animal, making weddings a very easy undertaking for everyone concerned.

She stopped briefly to greet some of the family members and as they continued on through the house, past hundreds of staring eyes and up the treacherous staircases, she continued on. She pointed out the cooking area, a big open space outside and the dining area, a large tent and explained that long dasterkhans (mats) were laid out on the floor of the tent and meals were served in as many shifts as it took to feed all the guests. The young one tried to concentrate but between trying to negotiate her way up the staircases and wishing she had worn her Indian attire, she barely heard the rest of what the old one was saying.

They finally reached an empty room at the far end of the third story and were escorted in and handed blankets to keep warm and every so often the door of the room would open and someone would enter to greet the delegation. Tea was served by two handsome young lads and dinner, served by the groom and a few others, followed soon after. The older one, in between spoonfuls of rice and some type of animal stew, explained that women did no work during the wedding. The males were in charge of setting up, cooking, serving, clearing up, organizing and well basically everything. And the ladies? All the ladies had to do was eat and look pretty. Definitely worth moving to the village for, the young one decided.

Dinner came to an end and the wise man, slid slowly down from his upright position until he, quite pleased with himself, was lying straight down with a blanket on top of him, ready for bed. Just as the young one contemplated following suit, the sound of music and excitement drifted up through the windows and led by the Uncle of the groom, she along with the other two, went down to investigate. Three chairs were squeezed into the already bursting-at-the-seams tent and the old one, tall one and young one stepped gingerly over heads, fingers, babies and toes to reach the chairs and the two handsome lads from earlier followed closely behind with a blanket to keep them warm.

Not much can be said about the musical ensemble who were mediocre at best. The drummer, through no fault of his own was rather frightening with his lazy eye and the only band member worth looking at was allocated a steel cup and spoon as an instrument, tragically killing his appeal. The band continued on with regular smoke breaks punctuating their performance and the young one pinched herself several times during the course of the night, not quite believing that this was real and after realizing the blatant camera phone picture taking that was going on, abandoned all tries at discreet photography and tried her best, despite the poor lighting, to capture it all.

The musical entertainment came to a temporary stop an hour or so later to allow for the formalities of the mendhi-night (in which the elders apply henna to the finger tips and feet of the groom) to be carried out. The band was relocated and the groom’s seat placed strategically near the opening of the tent, easily viewable from the upstairs window, through which his mother peered silently from the corner. The young one remembered being told that the mother was gravely ill. She had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and after the operation and continued treatments had failed to yield positive results, they had brought her home to make her last days as comfortable as possible. They had moved the wedding forward for her benefit and had done it properly in accordance with her wishes. She was so young, pale and frail and as the young one looked up, a little part of her died. It made her sad that the mother was too weak to make it down the stairs. It made her sad that the mother didn’t know that it was cancer that was killing her. It made her sad that the boy would soon be without both parents. It made her sad knowing that such tragedy existed amidst the festivities. It made her sad that such good people had to endure such hardships. But mostly it made her sad that life was so fleeting and she took so much for granted.