On the Joys of Apple Picking

On the Joys of Apple Picking
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JAVEID HASSAN MALIK

If I say, every working day in college is like a holiday for me and every holiday at home is like working day for me especially in the season of harvest called autumn it won’t be wrong. The amount of physical work one has to put in gathering the harvest sown in spring far overweighs the mental work put in my job to prepare lectures. I no longer gaze at my calendar to remember red dates as holidays; I just want to be at college but Kashmir is a place where one gets surplus holidays in the form of strikes in addition to official holidays and every holiday during autumn in countryside means day meant to be spent in fields and apple orchards.
On October 11, as the sun was just busy in playing hide and seek with clouds in the battle for dominance, I was preparing to leave for college; hardly had I stepped out of my front gate I received beep ringtone message on my cell phone reading, “All educational institution will remain closed in North Kashmir”. Thus I was compelled to retrieve my gentle steps back towards my home and upon knowing the reason about my return my mom ordered me to brace myself for apple picking which my brother had already planned a day before.
Our apple orchards are located on sloppy terrains so it takes some work to reach there. I dressed myself with casuals meant for apple picking and loaded myself with three legged ladder called “Tool” in local parlance locked between my arm and armpit. Along the way I could see the hustle and bustle of people in orchards quite missing in other seasons ; some people carrying wooden empty boxes on shoulders and some on tractors and tellers, women too had joined the party in assisting their families as apple picking isn’t a gender specific work. The whole environment was so enthralling and enchanting it seemed like a place of singing birds was taken over by peasants in orchards and clear frown visible on my face was overtaken by a smile.
So I began to pace myself towards my destination to enjoy the milieu of apple picking with my colleagues. Finally the trail of trekking slopes on way to my orchard ended and I landed there breathing heavily; upon noticing my arrival, my cousin shouted at me in Kashmiri: “Az haa Phasiokh ,Tsei Taree Fikre”(Today you have been caught ,now you will get to know how hard this work is) and I could only shrug in the affirmative at his statement.
After a brief rest, I took the charge of my work by erecting my ladder against a branch bent at height towards the ground due to heavy load of ripe apples. Apple picking is based on a division of labour and work to a person is assigned depending on his or her skills. If a person is good at climbing tall trees he is given task of climbing inside half of the tree and if a person is good at acrobatics he prefers work on ladder used for collecting apples on outside half of tree and if a person is not good at both of these two works mentioned above he still can’t avoid work by remaining idle as he is given a task to empty plastic barrels loaded with apples in rectangular wooden boxes and finally sealing them with nails.
While doing all this one can’t keep his lips sealed, so gossiping with each other is the side business during this work. We had a productive debate on many topics but unfortunately all these debates generated more heat than light and at, one moment of time in the heat of debating, I almost slipped from the ladder(I somehow not maintained my balance). It was 11: 30 am when my mom arrived with Lipton tea to serve us with Kashmiri kuliches under the shade of green leaves with small stream flowing by our side (it felt no less than having tea in a meadow of flowers)
Back to routine business, roles have changed now: I am climbing heights of tree to collect apples and we feel more energetic at work and our pace of work has increased. Our lunch is arriving I could see my cousin from the top of the tree carrying lunch for us in a big basket balanced on her head and her right hand holds a water container, I wonder how she was able to climb sloppy terrains with so much to carry, but it isn’t anything new, as they say, village women are natural athletes. We had our lunch under the shadows of a peach tree with chicken and cheese.
The post lunch session proceeded as per routine and we had reached the sharp end of day and we began to quantify our days’ work in terms number of boxes filled. Our tractor arrived to carry apples boxes back to home as threat of robbery looms over if these boxes are left at the orchard. Back home, I can feel the fatigues and I am reminded of Robert Frost’s poem on apple picking: certainly, I had lived what Frost narrated in his poem for real.

—The author teaches Chemistry at GDC Boys, Baramulla. He can be reached at: malikjavid86@gmail.com