Friday, May 21, 2010


( Boats carrying HAKH or  drifted wood at Kraalyaar Rainawari ..Photo..1920.. )







“Bobu Ji hukh chhuyi aamut. pataa mokali. Buthee chhuyee krooth vandhaa” 


( Pandit Ji, Hakh has arrived for sale. It shall be sold immediately. You have to face severe winters ahead.) , said Ali Mohammad Mattahaanz to my father.


 And we went to Kraalyaar Maar (canal ) and purchased about two quintals of Hakh for the ensuing winter season. Hakh consisted of pieces of drifted wood collected from rivers by boatmen and then brought to the city for sale in big boats called Bahetch. Hakh collected from Doderhaama near Ganderbal town from Sindh Nallah was marketed as special ‘Hakh’. It was used for burning in the kitchen hearth during winter. It made the kitchen warm when burnt in Dhaan ( kitchen hearth ) by our womenfolk. I would sit in the kitchen to have my food when my mother burnt Hakh for cooking. She would also burn a stick of willow or some other timber along with Hakh pieces. We used to get a good feeling upon seeing the Hakh burning in the kitchen. Quite often Hakh was mixed with dried cow dung and burnt in the Kitchen hearth.

 In extreme winters, we would come to the kitchen repeatedly to fill our Kangris ( braziers ) to keep our bodies warm. The kitchen turned cosy and warm with Hakh burning. Our ladies used to make charcoal from the burning Hakh or firewood in the kitchen. They would keep a Leijj ( earthen pot ) with a lid in the kitchen. Very skillfully, they would remove burning coal heaps from the kitchen hearth and throw them into the Leijj and then immediately keep the lid over it. The burning charcoal would cool down and the fuel so prepared would be used to make the afternoon or evening tea for the family on a small hearth called Haakol or sometimes for the Samovar ( traditional teakettle ). 


In so far as firewood was concerned, its procurement from the government timber depots spread all over the city was a tough job. You had to get up early in the morning and keep your Chendee ( timber consumption record book of each ) near the window of the Zeun Ghaat ( timber depot ) one over the other in proper order. Generally, milk-selling families supplied the labour force at these timber depots. A labourer would carry 100 -120 kg of timber log on his shoulders. Then he would suddenly throw the log with a bang in the courtyard making windows rattle. Thereafter the Tabardaar ( woodcutter ) would come and cut this log into pieces for ultimate use in the kitchen. We would then carry the pieces for storing them in a safe place. Hatab (timber from False Witch Hazel tree ) was preferred stuff by the Kashmiris. I vividly remember Kashmiris keeping a vigil on the arrival of Hatab at the timber depots to buy it. It produced quality heating fuel for the Kangris.


Electric heaters were also used in the kitchen as everyone stole power with the active connivance of the linemen or the meter readers. Every Kashmiri ( Pandit or Muslim) had some skill in this field. A direct wire hook on the main service line or bypassing the electric meter or making meters dead was a usual practice. Right from a petty trader to the top bureaucrat, power theft was relentlessly practised. The field staff in the electric department made extra income from this power theft. They facilitated this theft and provided all types of help to the consumers in this area. Stolen electric power was used for water boilers, room heaters, kitchen heaters and lighting. I never understood the mechanism adopted by electric revenue collectors. If one had outstanding dues of say three hundred rupees, one could settle it by paying one hundred rupees. The clerk would give a receipt for fifty rupees and keep fifty in his pocket while writing ‘ No Outstanding. All cleared ‘ in the electric record book of the consumer and also in the government records. Most of the consumers after stealing power resorted to this second theft in connivance with the employees of the electric department. 


Another fuel with Kashmiris was the sawdust popularly known as Kosh in Kashmiri. They would use it in Kangris and more specifically for boiling water to wash clothes. Every Sunday, we would use Kosh-damchoola (a special mobile hearth made of iron for burning sawdust ) for boiling water to wash clothes. It produced an irritating smoke. Sawdust was also used in Kangris. For bathing, we had a special Hamam made from galvanized iron sheets which used to give instant boiling water once firewood was burnt inside it. The wastage from the poplar logs sold by the band-saw mills was burnt in this Hamam. The wood used as fuel was called Mocha or leftover ( scrap ) by the band-saw mills where sawing of poplar tree logs was done.



Many families had kerosene stoves. My father had also purchased two kerosene stoves for our kitchen. In Rainawari, Triloki Nath Pandit whom everyone called ‘Treya Tsoor’ ( Treya the thief) and who reportedly had some criminal past in the plains of the country, had opened a stove repair shop in Jogilanker Chowk. His shop was near the police station, Rainawari just opposite the shop of Chuni Lal Watloo. Chuni Lal Watloo had a small chemist shop where Pandits would sit for gossip. These gossiping Pandits made Chuni Lal Watloo lose all his customers. When new chemist shops opened in Jogilanker Chowk, Chuni Lal Watloo shifted his activity to a more lucrative trade and started working as an agent of the police officials in the nearby police station. Any person who needed police assistance had to come to Chuni Lal Watloo's shop for direct or indirect help. Coming to Treya Pandit's stove repair shop, every time I went with our stove to him, he would just change the burner. He did it to all the kerosene stoves coming to him. For him, a change of the burner perhaps solved all problems of a stove. He did so even for minor blockages in the kerosene passage of the burners which could be easily cleared by a stove pin. Perhaps he knew nothing else and also it made him earn instantly. His customers paid without any argument. My father had also purchased a kerosene cooking stove that had a thick cotton strap wick. One could adjust the flame by raising or lowering the burning wick strap. This stove produced strange bang-like sounds at regular intervals when put to use. Hakh, heaters, electric boilers, electric room heaters, Hamams and Kangris would arrive in the market with the onset of the winter season. For procuring kerosene, one could see long queues. Kerosene was supplied through PDS ( public distribution system ) by the government. The LPG cylinder in the kitchen is a late story.





To conclude this write-up with lines from Padamshri Moti Lal Saqi’s Kashmiri poem.


"Koat gatchhukh subahai vaeni nai gaash ph'oll

 Naag joyi pyaath vothh na vaeni sandhyaai kaa'nh

 Masheidi mehraabus andher katiejun nendhar

 Dhaan dalas munz geill chha traavithh zeeth lar,

 Kulleiy laenjen sosaraai chenna vathharan gatchhaan

 Koat gatchhukh ?"………….Moti Lal Saqi


"Where shall you go so early? 

It is not daybreak as yet.

 None has yet come to perform *Sandhya at the water spring,

 Even the swallows are fast asleep inside the *Mehraab of the Mosque,

 In the paddy fields, *Gill birds are still in deep slumber.

 Leaves of the tree branches have not turned restless as yet,

 Where shall you go ?"


( Avtar Mota )




 * Rudy-breasted crake is Gill in Kashmiri. It is like a house sparrow and black. Mostly seen around paddy fields. After harvest, it flies away from paddy fields.


*Sandhya is the daily religious ritual of Hindus performed at the time of two twilights or the opening and closing of the day. It is generally performed on river banks or springs or any other source of fresh water or even inside their dwellings. Sandhya was a ‘daily practice’ with elderly Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir valley.


*Mehrab is the decorative groove in the wall of a mosque, which marks the direction of the Qiblah. The traditional Mehrab is a common element of Islamic mosque architecture throughout the world. During the summer season, swallows would make nests inside mosques, temples and residential houses in Kashmir.


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