By Mushtaq Hurra
Gula was releasing dense puffs of smoke from the earthen Hubble bubble (Hookah) on the broad windowsill of his old raw house, all contented, with no signs of worries of extreme poverty his family was bearing. His youthful son, Sultan, wearing an old woolen headgear and a woolen pheran ( a long woolen gown worn by Kashmiris during winters), was artistically weaving a cattail mat( Waguw), under a thatched shelter erected by his father. It was snowing heavily since early morning and Gula was repeatedly looking towards the thatched roof of his only dwelling. A thick layer of snow had piled up on the roof and any delay could have resulted in a tragedy.
Gula sent his wife, Mukhti, to his neighbor’s house to fetch the typical and indigenous wooden roof rake to clear the thick layer of snow from the roof. He climbed the thatched roof of his mud-house with a long-handled wooden roof rake and began to clear the snow. It was extremely cold and everything had almost frozen. His son who was weaving the mat, complained about the extreme cold and said to his father, ” Kaka, my hands have turned numb. It is getting duskier and colder, Let me finish the mat tomorrow”. His mother was preparing his favourite dried fish cuisine in the kitchen. She called him in, to make ablution for the dusk prayers ( Magrib) and to have hot salty tea, to overcome the cold.
Gula was snuffling on the roof of his house and was pushing the thick layer of snow with difficulty .He was chanting a Kashmiri folk song to overcome the pangs of cold. Other neighbors were also on the roofs of their small raw houses. Finally, he cleared the roof and came down to have dinner with his wife and son who were waiting for him very eagerly. Gula asked for Kaangri ( an earthen fire-pot used by Kashmiris for keeping themselves warm during winters) and wrapped the only indigenous woolen blanket. His wife asked him to have Kehwa which was ready for him. Later, the trio took meals under the light of a burning piece of Cedar wood. They grew apprehensive about the safety of their house if it snowed the whole night; the fear was quite evident on their faces . Finally, the wooden lamp exhausted and they were forced to jump into their ragged and dingy bedding.
Next morning, the trio woke up merrily. After offering dawn Salah, they had black salty tea with rice flour bread. There was no arrangement of milk in the home because they had stopped milking their only goat, in order to get enough white produce after the parturition.
The father-son duo was about to leave their Kaangris to resume the work on the unfinished mat. But, there was something else in store for them. The morning chilly breeze brought a cruel ruling rage for the family .The village headman (Mokdam) called Gula out very arrogantly and said, ” Gula, Kotwaal sahab has called you and your son to his bungalow”. Gula and his wife turned pale but their young son who was unaware about the cruelty behind these official summons, remained calm rather asked his parents not to worry. The Mokdam left the house and Gula grew anxious.
His son tried hard to console his father but probably, he was too innocent to understand the ordeal behind these orders. Gula ceased to work and asked his son to accompany him to the bungalow of Kotwaal sahab. The next hour, the father-son duo reported before the Kotwaal and said, “My Lord, here we are.” The bumptious Kotwaal ordered them in an arrogant tone, ” Lift these jute-sacks on your shoulders and join the group of bonded labourers which is about to leave for Gilgit.” Their grass-made shoes (Pulhoar) had already frozen their feet, and the royal decree froze their hearts. The decree shattered the joys of the family in a few moments like a high magnitude earthquake destroys life and property within few eye blinks. The father-son duo left for Gilgit and Mukhti remained all alone in her raw mud house. She was hardly able to bear the separation of her youthful son and loving husband. Days kept passing but the agonizing wait took a toll of Mukhti’s health.
Mukhti was counting the days, and looking at the ways to see her husband and son. The thick snow vanished, the giant mulberry tree in the courtyard of her house sprouted but there was no clue of the duo.
Days kept passing, Mukhti’s patience faded away, and finally, she left her home and began to wander like a mad-woman (Metchh) and was often heard chanting, (Naad layay Myani Yousufo Walo)”Come, I am calling you ! My loving Yousuf…”
The writer is a teacher and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org