The day doesn’t entertain one much in Kashmir anyway and the nights shouldn’t be a surprise either. It only turns gloomier as the day breaks. Winters are harsh; it kills you silently, and the silence kills you separately. The darkness sets in at 5 pm, and as if we are trained biologically to get into our Pherans (traditional cloaks that protect you from cold). Soon after a competition ensues to secure a Kanger (hot embers in an earthen pot that rests in a cane basket), a Kanger is what keeps ordinary people warm in the most chilly winters. For most part it is an interesting innovation, it sends heat waves through your body and is easy to carry under your pheran.
Kitchen, in a typical Kashmiri house, is the warmest space of a generally spacious house. Since mothers spent most time cooking and warming meals that generally raises the temperatures making Kitchens a source of warmth and an escape from the brutal cold. Power cuts are forever, and can be particularly brutal. For where I made my stay, it generally was to last eight hours or so but often it went well beyond 12 hours. People always rush into their homes by 5 in the evening, and there are no night outs or any night bazaars. What matters is how the people manage to stay warm and kill the night. Kashmir has had the worst days. During last twenty years, in it’s struggle for freedom from India, thousands of men, women and children were dusted to the ground, the nights at a household in Kashmir were scarier. Men come from where-you-have-no-idea about and snatch almost anyone they feel like, and you can’t fight against it, or go look for the missing ones in the morning. No one would tell you. Here I sit in a kitchen, in an era when the conflict is relatively low key. But yet, the memories haunt all of them, you can’t find a soul who didn’t lose someone dear, who didn’t lose their own blood. They fear the nights. It’s important that we all sit together in the kitchen, where we all witness each other, our silence will speak for ourselves, and no one can drag us away in the silence. We talk, not too loud, and some fall asleep with the mild heat hoping for electricity to come back and disturb this precious moment.
Mouj will recite the Holy Quran, softly. I wish I had understood what it meant. I am not sure if she understood it herself. The Pheran is long enough for me to sit and cover my legs as well. I place the Kanger between my legs and absorb the heat into my soul. Heavenly it is. I can’t remember a single day like this back in Sri Lanka, where the blare of the TV didn’t fill in the living room, and candles melting itself away to give light. It was like everybody brought their share of pain and sorrow of the day and shed it across the Kashmiri carpet on the floor.