A snowflake dances down from the dark infinity that the sky has turned into. If you are lucky, your eyes can follow its descent for a few metres before it gives your cheek a cold prick. If it is lucky, it joins the gathering of its sisters and brothers on the ground, which soon turns thick and white like a conspiracy. The last leaves of Harud, the autumn, rushacross morose streets to find a companion. If they run into a few of their kind, even those with a broken body or a fragile spine, they chase one another up and down small whirlwinds of joy. Children have a name for this topological phenomena. They call it shaitaan and try to break it by entering it. An army of kids gathers around grandmothers passing down tales while snow is blocking the entrance of homes. Icicles dangle down rooftops, their Koshur name a shibboleth—shishargaent: ice eagles—warning anybody entering or leaving a house to watch at the doorstep, the eagles might swoop down and claw at their heads and necks, or worse. Pheran hide kãgerèas if they were militants being hidden inside homes. The kãgerè, in turn, hide dreams of a revolution by fire in their bosoms. Crows congregate to discuss the essence of beauty. A nation of mustard seeds sleeps under a blanket of snow.
Wande, winter in Kashmir, is a magical time. It is what gives Kashmir its unique identity and character. In it lies Kashmir’s essence. It is the time when Kashmir replenishes itself. It gifts Kashmir snow. Kashmir’s existence depends on water and the water comes from snow. To an outsider it might look like a shroud, but to us it is a quilt of milk.
Wande is what distinguishes Kashmir from India and Pakistan. The Indic and Gangetic plains, Kashmir’s western and southern neighbours, have a naamnihaad winter but it is not Wande. Everything from Kashmir that has travelled outside knows this to be a fact. But India and Pakistan do not understand this and often confuse their winter with Wande, perhaps because hardly anything from India and Pakistan ever travels to Kashmir during Wande. This has always been the case with outsiders. They have occupied our rattekoal (summer) and made surgical strikes into our soanth (spring) and Harud, but when Wande arrives, they flee with tails firmly between their legs. Kashmir may have been under foreign occupation for more than five hundred years, but nobody has been able to breach Fortress Wande.
Consequently, outsiders do not understand Kashmir.Although, to be fair, this is a much more serious handicap for India than it is for Pakistan; the latter, drinking from the same rivers as Kashmir, are Kashmir’s foster siblings and are rewarded with at least some of its potable secrets. Like Kashmir, Pakistan prays for the health of the Wande, because their life depends on it as much as Kashmir’s does. India could not care less as long as it can frolic in the snow.
For starters, they think that winter is about death. But they do not understand that in Kashmir there is life in death. Shaheed ki jo maut hai who qaum ki hayaat hai. To them, Wande seems to be a season of inaction, and they have made many legends of Kashmir’s laziness. We are merely reflecting on the seasons gone by and imagining future springs. But while we are quietly consuming what we have stockpiled during the rest of the year, we are taking stock,and we do not forget anything. We have sun-dried memories of tomatoes, bottle gourds and aubergines from the summer,and quince apples and walnuts from the autumn. Roasted peas from the spring jingle mnemonic in our pockets. We remember the last detail.
Further, other seasons may dazzle us with a babel of colours and fifty shades of grey, but when Wande reveals the essence of things by rendering everything black and white. The mountains become a part of the uprising of snow in the same collective spirit as the willow trees. During that uprising, the city street resembles the fields in a village and you can tell where one ends and the other begins. Kashmir becomes one. Only rats hiding in their holes curse the revolutionary spirit of Wande.
To honour this great gift of discernment that Wande has bestowed upon us, we have made it a part of our language. Koshur is an inflective language, which means nouns and pronouns often carry the burden of their actions on their back as if it were snow. You can try whatever permutation of syntax you want, and invert the subject and object as much as you want, but a state-sponsored murderer will always be a murderer and a martyr always a martyr.
Zaelman moar shaheed
Zaelman Shaheed moar
Moar zaelman shaheed
Moar shaheed zaelman
Shaheed moar zaelman
Shaheed zaelman moar
However, when spring arrives, we dye ourselves in the million pigments of daily life. Yet we always recognize and recall what lies beneath the cloak of colours, having seen its essence in Wande. To many outsiders, it makes us irritating, nit-picking and idealist buffoons but that is only because they are frustrated that we can be ruled but never fooled.
Even outsiders who begin to understand the true nature of Wande are nonplussed by the fact that Kashmir does not shrink within the black hole of its winter. How does it manage to come out of such a cosy blanket? One can try to explain this by saying that the answer lies in the perfect balance of forces in Wande, the centrifugality of snow and cold, and the consequent shrinking of everything into tiny spaces, and the centripetality of the potential for spring packing so many elements, so much energy, in such small areas entails. But, truth be told, such things cannot be explained. They can only be experienced. When the time is ripe, watch how mustard seeds sprout shy green saplings in frosty fields. Watch how little girls hearing stories that make Kashmir possible turn into storytellers. You will know why Kashmir can never be defeated.
This magazine invokes the name of Wande in the hope that it works like a spell and some of the season’s magic rubs on. This is a space of reflection, intimacy and thaerao. We debate, even violently disagree, launching kãgerè at one another, but we never leave the room, because Wande teaches us to derive warmth from others and, in turn, be a source of warmth for them. Leaving leaves everyone cold.
When it’s time, and the mustard fields sound the war horn, we must be ready with a plan, and an army of stories.