Chilblains, ducks tickle Kashmir’s memories of ‘Chillai Kalan’ (Lead)

December 21st, 2010 - 10:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Dec 21 (IANS) As the 40-day harsh period of winter known as ‘Chillai Kalan’ began in the Kashmir Valley Tuesday, people were gearing up to brave the chill with grandmother’s recipes tinged with nostalgia.The minimum temperature in Srinagar Tuesday dropped to minus 6.2 degrees Celsius - lowest so far this season, as the locals shielded themselves in thick tweed ‘Pherans’, mufflers, and woollens.

“The minimum temperature fell to minus 17 degrees in Leh town and to minus 11.6 in Kargil town of Ladakh region Tuesday. In the tourist hill station of Pahalgam, it was minus 7 and in Gulmarg it was minus 5.5 degrees Celsius,” said Mubeen Ahmad Malik, scientific assistant at the local weather office.

Malik also said the present weather system is likely to continue for two to three days more and the temperatures could fall further.

“I remember my grandmother would prepare ‘Shebdeg’ for the family on the first day of ‘Chillai Kalan’. It was a family ritual we children would eagerly look forward to. The serving of the ‘Shebdeg’ was an event,” said 68-year-old Haji Muhammad Sidiq who lives in north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district.

“A fat duck would be cooked with turnips and spices in an earthen vessel over simmering fire during the night intervening Dec 20-21. The family would gather around the grandmother when she would open the vessel to fill the entire kitchen with the aroma,” Sidiq added.

High calorie diets naturally top the family menus in winters as people need extra calories to fight the cold.

“Special dishes would be cooked during the Chillai Kalan and this would be followed by the arrival of the story teller,” said Ghulam Hassan Rather, 68, who lives in the old city Saraf Kadal area of Srinagar.

“Kashmir had a strong tradition of story telling and some people specialised in the art of telling stories filled with moral messages. The triumph of good over evil, the success of simplicity over cunning and craft, were usually the themes of those stories told during winters.

“All the children and even elders in the village would assemble in one big room and listen to the storyteller who would narrate tales of the bygone eras under an oil-lamp as there was no electricity in the valley in those days,” Rather said.

Memories of chilblains, which the locals would invariably suffer during the frosty season, are still fresh here.

“Chilblains was a common affliction and I remember my hands and feet would become blood red because of this affliction,” said Sajad Ahmad, 52, a local businessman in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district.

“Children would catch chilblains probably because they moved bare-footed in frost. We hardly come across such cases now,” Ahmad said.

The memories of chilblains still haunt parents here these days as their children are attending schools during the winter months.

“I make sure that my son Irfan is well clad and protected to face the sub-zero morning chill when he leaves for the school. I have suffered chilblains in my childhood,” said Ghulam Rasool Wani, 47, a government employee in Srinagar.

All schools have been ordered to remain open during the winter months for 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th classes to make up for the loss suffered by the students because of the over four-month long unrest here during which educational institutions remained shut in the valley

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