Changing colours of chinar heralds winter in Kashmir
13 November 2006
Indo-Asian News Service
Srinagar: In Kashmir, the changing colours of the chinar leaves announce the arrival of winter and the bitter cold just around the corner.The chinar leaves change from green to crimson to golden yellow before they begin to fall. With night temperatures now hovering around three degrees Celsius, people here are preparing for the coming winter.Gull Sheikh, 72, knows that the falling leaves are beckoning him to prepare charcoal for the 'kangri' (traditional earthen fire- pot woven in willow wicker).Sheikh, who lives in a small boat in the Chinar Bagh area of Srinagar city, has collected a huge heap of these leaves. His grandson, 11, watches as Sheikh sets fire to the leaves.'I am training my grandson to collect the leaves and make charcoal so that when I am gone he doesn't shiver with cold. One has to put out the fire at the right time so that the leaves turn to charcoal without burning down completely and changing into ash,' Sheikh said.For the majority of the locals living in this 1.2 million-strong summer capital city of the Himalayan state, 'kangri' and 'pheran' (loose tweed garment) are still the best bet against the cold as power supply continues to be erratic. 'The electricity department has announced a 10-hour curtailment programme that is only likely to get worse as the winter wears on. LPG cylinders can be used for heating purposes only by the affluent. So charcoal for the kangri is an average person's best bet against the cold,' said Muzaffar, a college professor.The electricity department has its own reasons for cutting power.'The state buys power for Rs.17 billion and sells it for just Rs.4 billion, thereby incurring an annual loss. This happens because of technical losses during transmission and commercial losses that in layman's terminology mean pilferage at various levels,' said Khwaja Nisar Hussain, chief engineer in the electricity department.He also said that the department was supplying uninterrupted power to areas where meters were installed.In a majority of the residential and commercial areas of the city, the meter installation campaign of the department was opposed by the locals.'Power doesn't come free. If you use it, you must pay for it. That is the basic principle we have been trying to explain to our consumers,' Hussain added.The city used to be supplied with firewood during winter months by the local forest department till 1979. But with an alarming loss of wood because of deforestation and timber smuggling, the practice had to be discontinued.Despite the claims of 'khushal Kashmir' (prosperous Kashmir) by Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kashmiris are still dependent on the humble, age-old charcoal kangri to keep body and soul together during the chilly season.That's why Gull Sheikh says his grandson must learn the art of warming himself in affordable ways. It is more than just beating the cold; it is the art of self- preservation.