Villages are the factories which provide the country with cereals, pulses, vegetables and fruits. Paddy cultivation is an important agricultural activity in our country as well as in our valley. Rice is the staple food of our country and also of our valley. These days, it is the season of paddy transplantation in Kashmir. In our villages men, women and children are at work in and around the paddy fields. That is how it must be, because Haakh Te Batte (Greens and Grains) is synonymous with our self-reliance and affluence.
The paddy plantation season is no less than a festival in our part of the globe. It is believed to be the season of blessings and auspiciousness. Thej Kaad (a group of people pulling out the saplings from the seedbed and transplanting it into the open prepared fields) is organised to transplant the paddy saplings on a certain day, when everyone does it together. The sight of Thej Kaad can mesmerise the onlooker. It is an example of unity and togetherness. It instils the spirit of brotherhood, mutual help, and compassion in the villagers. It may be one of the reasons why villagers are comparatively kind and generous.
Some ten to fifteen years earlier, preparation of paddy land would start with the sowing of paddy seeds in the seedbeds. There were no tractors and power tillers, then. Ox-driven ploughs were used by farmers and the ploughs were mostly made up of wood. Some progressive agriculturalists had bought steel ploughs. Oxen were well fed before the onset of the season. Bran, linseed oil-cakes, and green fodder was served to the oxen. The oxen were tamed and trained by the farmers. They were commanded with some typical cautions by the men in charge. A long but thin and rigid stick, preferably from a mulberry tree, was used by the ploughmen to command the oxen. Paddy fields would often resonate with the cautions of ploughmen during the whole day. At noon, the ploughmen would take meals. Two or three bundles of hay were served to the oxen. The land was tilled multiple times, leaving it soft and gel-like. Before any kind of tilling, cowdung and other manures were added to the soil in abundance. Chemical fertilisers were rarely used. The season would almost last for two and half months which included weeding (nende). Weeding would preferably start after one month of transplantation.
After preparing the land fully, neighbours and relatives were invited to Kaad. The saplings were knotted in small bundles and transplanted. Men and women would report early in the morning at the paddy farms. These men and women would never work silently. Special songs were sung in chorus by them. A naat or dua was sung at the beginning of the day. Special supplications were recited for the safety and better yield of the crop. Sometimes, the owner of the farm land was ridiculed for being harsh to the workers or for inadequate or substandard food. Tasty dishes, preferably non-veg, were prepared at homes, and served at the farms to these transplanters. Women would carry the meals on their heads, in big wicker baskets. The meals served at the farms were no less than a treat. It was almost a picnic. In the evening, songs of gratitude or complaints were sung by the transplanters.
It was followed by weeding, with a break of almost one month. Weeding was done manually. Unlike today, there were no chemical weedicides then. Agriculturists and farmers would start their first weeding after 25 to 30 days of transplantation. It was followed by a second round of weeding, and in some cases, a third round of weeding was also carried out to help the paddy plants grow healthier. In August, when the crop would reach the panicle stage, the farmer would prepare a special meal called Baale Batte. Fish cuisine with rice was served to children at the paddy farms. A share of it was left for the rats, with the hope that they will allow a bumper crop. Now, the tradition is no more in practice.
Now, we have progressed and prospered. Industrial revolution has obliterated our ox-driven ploughs. I vividly remember that my father would look for a strong wooden plank, preferably from a mulberry tree, for the base of the plough, in which the sharp iron blade was fitted. Some men from Kupwara district would sell the shaft poles and handles of the plough prior to the start of spring, in our area. Beams which were mounted on oxen were designed by the local carpenters. Now, even those oxen are nowhere seen in our villages, though we still have cows. Chemical fertilisers are added to our paddy lands which have degraded the quality of our soil. If the excessive usage of chemical fertilisers is not checked or at least minimised, the mother earth will refuse to produce the yield for us. Scientists believe that immoderate amount of chemical fertilisers will leave the soil barren. No doubt, chemical weedicides check the growth of obnoxious weeds to a great extent but these chemicals have invited other woes to us. They have drastically reduced the population of fish and other useful flora in our wetlands.
Leaving everything to machines and chemicals, we have become susceptible to different lifestyle diseases and ailments. Our fathers and forefathers would spend most of their time in farming related activities. Thus, they were healthy, joyous and contented. They would hardly visit a hospital because their lifestyles were active. Now we have become dependent on non-local labourers for our every necessity. It has become a double-edged sword for us. It drains us economically and makes us vulnerable to deadly diseases. Our young men and women are suffering from diabetes, hypertension, cardiac ailments, obesity and sundry other diseases. Here, I don’t want my fellow people to abandon technology but we should at least take part in our farming. It is not a matter of humiliation, rather a matter of pride to be called farmers. It is our culture and heritage as well. Thej Kaad and other related activities are part of our ancestral legacy, so we should take every necessary step to preserve and safeguard it for our coming generations. Let us protect Kashmir by protecting Kashmiriyat.
The writer is a teacher and columnist. [email protected]