21st December every year marks the beginning of Chillaikalan, a spell of forty days of teeth-chattering, bone-chilling cold. In these forty days, across Kashmir valley, the mercury just dips and dips. When chillaikalan arrives, the days are as chilly as the nights. People wrap themselves warmly and prefer to remain inside home most of the time. With whatever means possible, they arrange heating facilities to save themselves from freezing to death. The daily routine of people undergoes a sea change.
Chillaikalan brings with it snow and rain that sustains our ecology. But such is the law of nature that in days past, people used to die of the severe cold of chillaikalan. No doubt, chillaikalan is combater better nowadays but still people die, especially those living in hilly areas, due to the unbearable chill. It is mostly poor people who fall victim to the chillaikalan as they are not in a position to keep themselves warm. They live from hand to mouth and with the advent of chillaikalan their normal life becomes more miserable.
The government does come to the rescue of vulnerable people but often it is too late. Our officers themselves feel helpless. As soon as the Darbar (civil secretariat) moves to Jammu, so do these higher-ups along with their families. They never come to know about the sufferings of common people here during the chillaikalan. It is through television or social media that they learn about the desperate plight of us.
This year the chillaikalan has added to the miseries of people who could not earn sufficiently to stock for the winter season due to the Covid-19 lockdown. These victims of the pandemic have pinned their hope on the government to help them face the vagaries of the season. In Srinagar city, chillaikalan still is relatively benign and the activities don’t come to a grinding halt. Here with the facility of modern gadgets people manage to fight the chill and continue their usual activities. But in rural areas life goes totally out of gear. If it snows, people are cut off from one another. Leh, Ladakh, Drass and other far-off places like Machil, Karna, Teethwal and Lolab remain isolated from the rest of the world all through the chillaikalan.
The intensity of the cold wave during chillaikalan remains such that one even doesn’t dare to take one’s hands out of the gown or pocket. Daily movement is hampered everywhere. In rural areas, where modern heating facilities are hardly in place, people beat the cold by clinging themselves either to bukharis or kangris (firepots).
In chillaikalan one prefers to sit indoors and wishes everything to be warm. One covers oneself from top to toe with all available woollen clothes. Chillaikalan brings with it several diseases, which if not treated properly can prove fatal. In the good old days, my parents tell me, chillaikalan used to be more cruel than it is today. Snow used to fall very heavily. It used to stay for months together. It would cripple life till winter was over. Everything would freeze. Temperature used to dip down to minus 10 to 15.
What people want during this chilly period the most is the supply of essential items should remain widely available. But, gosh! It’s during this season only that the supply goes down and the price of essential commodities touches the skies due to frequent blockade of the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway. The authorities should keep the maximum stock available in the valley and keep strict vigilance on shopkeepers who take undue advantage of the situation by selling out the essential food or other items at costlier prices. Such suppliers or shopkeepers who make the life of common people miserable during this season must be punished so that chillaikalan does not hurt people from all sides in the valley.
Some of the problems that people face in this forty-day spell include lack of road connectivity, shortage of essential commodities, and inadequate power supply. These services are highly essential and as such should fall in the priority list of the officials who are assigned duty to watch over the situation.
The writer is a Rafiabad-based columnist. [email protected]