“Woken up with the slightest of hint, we jumped out of our warm beds excitedly and got ready without much fuss. Ammi packed food in a four tiered brass tiffin carrier, placed plates, spoons, a stove, Samovar and other needful in a cane basket, and by 8:00 AM we were heading for the Hazratbal end of the Dal Lake. The mission was to take a shikara( a boat) and have a daylong picnic in Nishat Bagh.”
This is how I remember we began the Baisakhi day, April 13th, each year without fail.
This ritual was as religiously followed as the morning Namaz on every Eid Ul Fitr.
The shikara took us in half an hour to the other side, right in front of the gates of Nishat Bagh, built by Moghuls at the bank of Dal Lake.
The picnic began the moment we stepped into a shikara, vying to sit at the side, so that we would be able to splash our hands in the water, or to watch the flora and fauna beneath the surface- the weeds, fishes, tadpoles, or to catch lilies, lotuses as the shikara waded through thick of green round leaves floating on the surface.
Life was extremely simple yet beautiful.
It feels weird now, but our parents never fussed over capturing these precious moments in camera, very often. I remember the bulky camera ceremoniously coming out of Papa’s closet mostly on our Birthdays. Video camera was a far cry, and I wonder if it really existed then.
Imagine all the Dads did not have the cell phones , to keep them connected to the world they had left behind on a daylong picnic, or to discuss the latest models of smart phones or palm tops. They still had a treasure of knowledge to discuss on books, poetry or politics. I remember Papa sparing no occasion to sing his all time favourite Kajri “Kaise khelan jayyo savan”.
And Moms? What to talk of channels, or soaps, there wasn’t a TV station in Kashmir until 1975. But yes, I remember Ammi often talk of Meena Kumari, and the film Pakeezah she and Papa had gone to see as a late night show, leaving us kids asleep with a house nanny. They talked about their knitting projects and shared recipes of how to make jams, or chutneys of the apples, plums or strawberries that grew in each of our backyards.
Providing a completely home-made lunch was one of their prime purposes in life, even on a picnic day. They would light the stoves; they brought along, to serve a hot lunch. Since we stayed there till the dusk, even pakoras were fried right at the spot, and served along with the evening tea, poured out steaming hot from the Samovar.
I wonder if I had known till then, what disposable plates or cutlery was? The melamine plates would come out of the cane basket. There were no soda pops to go with the food on picnics. Once the lunch was done, the women folk would walk up to the spring or the fountain at the top end of the spot, to rinse the utensils before packing up. There was barely any stuff to litter, except perhaps the biodegradable bones, skins and seeds from eatables consumed.
For us kids, there were no rides, no vendors selling balloons, no ice cream vans standing by to make us have a valid reason to cry and spoil the fun for our merrying ( Pardon my English!) parents.
Running up and down the length of the Bagh, balancing at the edges of flower beds, high jumping over the bushes, rolling in the grass slopes for a race, were our austere yet brilliant ideas of a day out. We referred to them not ‘flowers’ but by their names as pansies, nargis, dog flowers, dahlias, nasturtiums, asters, roses etc. I remember Papa taking pride that we were more knowledgeable about the nomenclature than him.
Picking dandelions and blowing them on friend’s faces or pressing open the jaws of dog flowers and whoww whowwing at each other was our idea of fun. The meanest we got was when we hit each other with the hard seeds of acorn.
Chasing butterflies to catch them by bare hands, only release them later was perhaps the height of our useful play.
In summary, picnics on any occaision, and a tryst with nature on each picnic was a way of life in Kashmir. Baisakhi was just one.
One couldn’t have asked for a better childhood.
As remarks a friend, who too lived in Kashmir: “I have a hole in my heart as big as the size of Kashmir.”
As I tweeted about memories of Baisakhi picnic, a friend who still resides in Jammu replied: “ Memories, memories, a lot has changed now but Kashmir is still there – shattered & tattered.”