By Sohail Iqbal
The legend has it that each locality in my homeland owned one pyjama only. Inhabitants of that locality would take turns to wear the solitary pyjama whenever they undertook a visit to another locality. Those times might have preceded me but the earlier period of the last fifty years or so contains significant tell-tales to suggest that the ‘pyjama’ story might have a been a real one.
Amongst other moderate houses, there were two sizeable houses in Sarye Bal diagonally opposite to each other alongside the approach lane from Hazuri Bagh to Dastgeer Sahib’s shrine. One was owned by ‘Choodries’ and the other one belonged to my paternal grandfather. There were only a few radios in the locality and the Choodries would flaunt their status keeping the volume blaring high. A passer-by often slowed down to catch the BBC news or get mesmerized by the legendary voice of Amin Sayani on Radio Ceylon. Sometimes it was difficult to judge whether that was a flaunt or a social service, actually. Whatever it might have been, hundreds and thousands probably benefitted from the radio owned by the Choodries.
Ours was also a large household, largely feminist, I must admit. In all, my father, two uncles and an aunt were parents to 14 girls. Whenever they moved out from the house for school in the morning, cat calls of ‘poultry farm’ would echo through from by-lanes. I believe all of them were allowed a mere 30 minute radio sessions from a Philips radio owned by my uncle.
Food was strictly rationed; an extra piece of mutton was only possible on festive occasions. It was not unusual for the girls of the household to borrow clothing or a piece of ornament from sisters and cousins whenever such contingency arose. The same was true for boys also. There were instances when my elder brothers and cousins would complain about a piece of clothing lost forever to a friend, because it was never returned back. And it is not difficult to imagine that same might have been the case with their friends also. The house did contain some almirahs but clothing would often be seen hanging on the nails rammed into the walls.
When my eldest sister and eldest cousin successfully completed their medical studies from Prince of Wales Medical College, Patna in early sixties, they possessed individual soap boxes, Colgate toothbrushes and towels too. It looked so distinct and fashionable. The younger ones in the house held that in great awe and admiration.
Weddings, especially the ones conducted at some distant place were usually avoided unless some tag was established with people promising a lift, for self-owned cars were few and far between.
When we moved to the principals’ cottage located on one edge of the SP College, we started to rear pets. The first dog that I owned was actually a pariah found within the campus of SP College, and I named it Bhaloo. It fattened and blossomed on the leftovers of the food, and how gladly he would devour the last bit. Upon my command of OOS-KISS-KISS, he madly rushed at anything and everything. My other friends had pets too, some were named Sheru, and others Dilawar or something that which connotates courage. There was a gradual shift in the nomenclature of the names. Tommy, Jerry, Aero, Fairo, Rover, Thunder, Storm, Snowy, Tiger (one even had a queer name of Whiskey) replaced the older order of names and the command of OOS-KISS-KISS changed the form and context to SHOO.
When TV transmission was introduced in Srinagar in the winter of 73, we were jubilant, if not my mother and the domestic help, at the prospect of neighbors and friends joining us to watch the weekly feature film beamed on Sunday. Poor mother missed many scenes and so did the domestic help, supervising tea and ‘qatlam’ service. That was a far cry to the present order when children desire one TV in each room.
Many such remembrances come forth but it shall take ages to represent all that, and time is a precious commodity nowadays. In my opinion, time has always remained precious to human beings. The only exception that differentiates the importance of time as perceived by our ancestors to the one perceived by ourselves is the second hand of the clock. To them the second hand of the clock represented the aspiration, want, desire, exasperation or mirth of a fellow human or a kin to us that means money and nothing beyond.
This early morning when I stepped into the lawn of our home, our kitten, actually an imposition from the previous tenants, whinged and moaned quite unusually, which prompted a query to my wife standing beside me, and thereby hangs a conversation:
Me: Why is she (I am not too sure about that unless we get to know in near future whether the kitten sires or begets the litter) so agitated?
Wife: I do not know, I provided her with the food all right, which she refuses to partake . I believe the food seemed slightly different in color.
Me: Did she finish the packet purchased last week?
Wife: Yes, Habib got a new packet last evening.
Me: Can I have a look at that?
(The packet read: ‘WHISKAS’ – with antioxidants for a strong immune system with Beef, Lamb, Rabbit Flavor and Meaty nuggets. The only one difference from the usual packets was contained in a narrow text – ADULT 1 year plus.)
Spouse: Weshte, tawee chaene khewaan, ye becheer chanaa laket (see, that is the reason of not eating for that is adult food, this merciful creature is so coy and little)
Me: Kar sa tsope, aemiss kadh kash deware nebar, darbe dar chae gamits chen beyer – kashir chunu looken khen chen melaan, I retorted. (Just can you remain mum throw her over that compound wall your kitten is a spoilt brat just imagine, people back home have difficulty to procure food )
Spouse: Ye kohende gare gates, saen baer (Whose door do you believe, our cat shall knock, she pleaded with a misty gaze.)
I was completely disarmed and requested Habib to procure the right meal costing almost as much as the salary of my grandfather when he first joined the services in the second decade of the 1900’s.
Sohail Iqbal is a Kashmiri writer based in UAE.