It was a sunny day when I was wearing a Pharan and sitting on Sameer’s veranda in his ancestral Kashmiri home in Mazhom. The workers of the shawl workshop had already arrived, despise of the killing cold of the starting winter. I too was shivering and protested to move out of my warm blanket, when Sameer’s mom suggested me to go and absorb the sun. It first sounded like a joke for me, as a person coming from a warm country like Sri Lanka, where the sunlight is quite sharp and direct. But to my surprise, the Kashmiri sun light was mild and friendly.
While she busied herself in drying the red chillies over a mat in the garden, I snuggled in a blanket watching the early-morning-formed ice melting with the sun rays. The neighbours were also out on their verandas drying their carpets or feeding the cows. A man could have been sitting outside cleaning the Kaangdis ( Traditional Kashmiri firepots) , readying them for the upcoming chill. A young girl would have been stitching a worn out Pharan, maybe embroidering it with a new floral pattern.
Just as then, the latch of the gate creaked and a woman of her 40’s maybe, walked in to the garden. She wore a dark green Pharan and a head scarf of bright pink matching with the border design of her dress. Ring earrings hung from her ears. She had a fancy gold ring with green and red stones embossed to it. She came to Sameer’s mom who hugged her thrice and greeted with Salaams. Their gestures in conversations made me realized that it is about me. I was told that the lady who walked in is a neighbour and her son is to go to Delhi for further studies. She came towards me and sat across. She did not speak Hindi nor Urdu. She was from “that” generation which only spoke Kashmiri. My own Kashmiri was not good enough back then to have pleased her. I only knew how to count. But I could understand what someone would tell me.
She looked at me and smiled. She asked me when I will be going back to Delhi. I managed to say “Akh December” (one). She was extremely happy to have understood 1st of December. Not only that, she gave one clap and laughed with joy at my very slight Kashmiri. We shared a lot through the smiles and expressions. I was wrapping my arms around myself at which she kept saying “Toor cha?” I later found out it was for cold.
The 20 minutes we sat together of course included tea and biscuits with jam in the middle, and a hard doughnut which is known as Kulcha. She observed me struggling with Kulcha, and demonstrated how to eat it with ease. My every move was a joy filled laughter and I assume it made her fall for me more.
The two women were talking aloud mostly about village issues I guessed. I could only gape at their gestures and imagine what it was about. Words like, Siri Lanka, Bangalore and Sameer’s dost cleared to me that it was also about me. Having heard how far Sri Lanka is from Kashmir, her exclamations and surprise escalated further to know that I had come all the way by myself.
It was time for her to head back to her house, and she invited me to tag along with her. When I politely promised for some other time, she pulled out her fancy golden ring and put it on my finger. It was obviously quite big on me (I had thinner fingers) but it was a precious souvenir for me. I really wished I could wear it. Even tying a thread to make the ring hole smaller would not have worked. I denied to accept it, but she insisted that I did. Finally she kissed me on the forehead and left. I also managed to take some selfies with her before that! (I trained her enough until she could not stop taking photos)
There had been many such humans whom I have come across since my first trip to Kashmir. Speaking Urdu can be a definite advantage, but yet they are such people who accept with whole heart a guest, and make them feel home. They never hesitate to invite, always force to eat more, and offer to take you around at get your shopping done at absolutely low prices. So what is stopping you now?