Kashmiri Elite’s Winter Migration

Kashmiri Elite’s Winter Migration
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BY M J Aslam

In recent years, a good number of better off Kashmiri families have been purchasing properties outside Kashmir in Jammu and Delhi (mostly) and other warmer places of India, too, for winter residential use. While, some others among bad offs, have also chosen to fall in the race due to a “herd instinct” which the Kashmiris are generally believed to have. A Kashmiri proverb “Guren Lageikh Naal, Khar Doorehi Padder Heth” (when horses’ hoofs were fitted with hot-metal-shoes (for making them run a cart), donkeys rushed in to offer their hooves for the job) may not be inapt to describe this particular behaviour. In fact, a malady of show off, which is sagely described in yet another old Kashmiri idiom is “Chhum Te Karas Kyah” (show off finds it unavoidable) has infested Kashmiri community, so much so that if one is wealthy, he will make every possible effort to make every other Kashmiri notice and follow it. Here comes, hence, the “herd instinct” of bad offs adopting the bad precedence of self-styled Khojas.
The reason behind this migration, as given by the migrants, is “severity” of the winter in Kashmir which, they, however, correctly claim, gets worse by “the absence of basic amenities of life” the requirement of which is increased manifold during cold weathers of winter.
Not being any firm-tempered community, owing to age old enslavement at the hands of “others”, Kashmiris blithely make wry comments upon trivialities and fancies- something related to their “habitual behaviours”. During the last decade of nineteenth century (1889-1895), when Sir W P Lawrence was on an official visit of Kashmir valley for discharging the colossal assignment of land settlements, he noted in his memoirs that he saw old men declaring that the climate of Kashmir was fast changing and that it was not what it used to be during their childhood days. They would publically say that “in Maharaja Gulab Singh’s time the snow was up to a man’s shoulders, in Maharaja Ranbir Singh’s time up to his knees but now winter passes without any snow fall. Nearly every man who talks on the subject holds to this belief”.
But , contrary to these declarations and beliefs, in 1890-91, it is a fact, “snow was four-feet deep in the valley and thermometer fell below zero; in January-February 1893 due to intense cold it was possible to skate all over Dal”. (The Valley of Kashmir (2014) , pp. 25-26). Till date, Kashmiris are by temperament engaged in many a kind of gossip. One of the tattles frequently exchanged among them, to this date, is that as “Winter-Queen is terribly severe on Kashmir”, it is better to have a temporary shelter outside the valley. But, the question which catches attention is whether the Winter- Queen is as harsh with Kashmir as it is with most of the Europe, America, Canada, Central Asian States, Russia, and Antarctica? “No” is the answer. Then, why they prefer temporary shifting to hotter places of India during winter?
Partially, it may be due to “improvement in their socio-economic status” that enables them to get better facilities of living, residing and academic coaching (of children) outside the vale. In this sense, can we compare the seasonal Kashmiri-migration of self-styled Khojas to avian migration of birds, who in order to find better ecological conditions and habitats for feeding, breeding and raising their young one’s migrate to different conducive places for the purpose? Avian migration is a natural phenomenon to look for better breeding conditions when they become harshly difficult at home for migratory birds. Admittedly, it is a fact that cold weather conditions during winter in Kashmir become aggravated by absence of long list of basic facilities of human life with no-electricity topping it.
Equally, it is also a reality that the migration of few well off Kashmiris outside the valley is driven more by escapism and materialism. Homes cannot be locked for a seasonal entertainment regularly without finding solution to the problems of lack of basic facilities of infrastructure at home, alleged to be the cause behind locking of the doors at home. For east or west, home is the best, is the adage. Even if the home is in a mess, residents shall have to work hard with honesty and fairness to bring it out of clutter to let posterity feel it better. Escapism or elite migration, as one may call it, is not an answer to the problems at home. They cannot be made an excuse for temporary change of residence leaving millions of fellow countrymen and co-community members facing alone the difficult weather season sans amenities at home. This is selfishness at its peak.
It cannot be ignored that the people in other countries, which get heavy snowfalls and experience the harshest cold conditions during winter, do not undertake any such mis-adventurous journeys of temporary migration to warmer places, despite the fact that they are far ahead in all segments of life and much wealthier than Kashmiris. The cold adaptation trait seems to be fading in these time-migrant-Kashmiris. If this unhealthy trend of leaving home and hearth behind, and living for considerable periods of time of cold weather in hotter areas continues, then, the descendants of these seasonal migrants may, one day, find it too hard to live in cold weather conditions in Kashmir. They will fear , abhor visiting and living in the valley during winter as its very name might arouse goose bumps on their bodies.
It is common knowledge that the chionophile persons- those who thrive in severe cold conditions- whether in Europe or elsewhere, love and enjoy cold weather at their homes. It is not a wrong assertion that residents of warmer places of India crave coming to and living in Kashmir for its salubrious climate.
Then, is it lethargy or dislike for winters that these partial-migrants have developed in them? If this is the reality, then, certainly it is quite awful as no people on this planet hate a natural wintertime in their country and escape from it like a nesh who is susceptible to cold.
Notwithstanding, Kashmiris in general from their ancestors’ time have adapted themselves to live in cold climatic conditions of their land. They, like all other people of cold places of the world, think and believe that winter is one of the blessed seasons of nature which is a harbinger of many a good of spring-summer-joys in days ahead.

—The author can be reached at: mjaslam09@gmail.com