lunches for birds as Kashmir's wetlands freeze
With water bodies frozen due to sub-zero temperatures, thousands
of migratory birds in Kashmir Valley are fighting for food and
space in reserves here. So they are being treated to free lunches
and dinners - of paddy!
Srinagar: "Snow is all
right, but, my dear, where are the icicles?" asked a bewildered Samad Sheikh, 75, who lives in a hamlet here in north Kashmir.
Winter has been harsh this season, but the old man has an uncanny
feeling that all might not be well with the valley's environment.
"When it was snowing one night, I was frightened to hear thunder,
something that had not happened in my life so far," said Sheikh
whose village has recently seen the temperatures dip to as low as
minus 6.6 degrees Celsius.
"The second thing that startled me is the fact that a warm sun
shone over the valley immediately after the heavy snowfall melting
almost 90 percent of the snow on the ground.
"This would never happen in our childhood. A snowfall during the 'Chila
Kalan' (the 40-day-long harshest period of winter between Dec 21
and Jan 31) would ensure that the landscape remained covered with
a thick blanket of snow till the end of March. That does not
happen now," he said.
What he also misses are the icicles which symbolised the Kashmir
winters of his childhood.
"I have seen icicles as long as six feet hanging from the roofs of
homes in our village. The icicles were symbolic of the winter
months," he recalled.
"Children would be warned not to walk close to the roofs to avoid
accidents. If someone ever got struck by a falling icicle, the
accident would be near fatal as they had long sharp edges which
could cut through flesh like knife through butter," he recalled.
Another thing he sorely misses is the institution of the
storyteller, once an integral part of valley life.
"The storyteller would regularly come to our home in the evening.
All the village children would assemble in a room as the
storyteller started his narrative of princes and fairies and the
wooden horse that would fly carrying the prince charming to the
far off land where he fought the demon to retrieve his lady love.
"Hot 'kehwa' with saffron to keep the story teller and the
listeners awake during the long winter nights was a ritual I still
remember vividly," Sheikh said, ruing the end of the charming
"Now we have television sets which flash stories and news from the
skies into our homes, but, believe me, the intimacy and the thrill
of the story teller cannot be matched even by some of the
brightest colours we see on the television screens," he said.
Nostalgia apart, many local scientists believe that global
phenomena have had an adverse effect on summer and winter patterns
Muhammad Ismail, a well-known local geologist, agrees with
Sheikh's observations, but has a scientific explanation for it.
"More than anything else, it is the pacific decadal oscillations
that affect the weather patterns. These oscillations are cyclic,
spread over 25 to 35 years. The temperature variations are also
related to solar flexes.
"From mid-1940s to mid-1970s, despite the rise in economic
activities the world over, we experienced colder periods as
temperatures globally continued to decrease. From mid-1970s to
2005 the temperatures rose again.
"Because of the pacific decadal oscillations, we are again going
towards a temperature downslide globally," Ismail said.
He also attributed the present harsh winters to the 'La Nina
factor' which results in decreased temperatures - thereby harsher
winters - in contrast to the 'El Nino factor', which causes warmer
"These two factors also contribute to changing weather patterns,
but their cycle ranges from 6 to 18 months only," said the
Scientific explanations notwithstanding, despite a heavy snowfall
and sub-zero temperatures, elders like Sheikh feel the magic and
thrill of winters is a story of the past in the valley.
"The winters are no longer what they used to be in our childhood,"
Sheikh told his grandchildren, who gave him a blank look, perhaps
doubting their grandpa's sanity.
(F. Ahmed can be contacted at email@example.com)