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Kashmir's grandpas miss winter's icicles, storytellers

Monday January 17, 2011 03:05:27 PM, F. Ahmed, IANS

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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 tradition.

"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 here.

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 winters.

"These two factors also contribute to changing weather patterns, but their cycle ranges from 6 to 18 months only," said the scientist.

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







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