Of Tumbrels and Barges

The wooden cart with two men in the front like bulls in a bullock cart

ZGM
Srinagar, Publish Date: Nov 17 2018 11:16PM | Updated Date: Nov 17 2018 11:16PM
Of Tumbrels and  BargesRepresentational Pic

The stories at night by our grandmother had a magical charm. The creamy clay daubed walls, with the greenish tincture, and a small electric pendant lamp hanging from a twisted silken wire looking like braids of damsels gave a mystical ambiance to the kitchen of our house. The story of Rostam and Sohrab, during power shutdowns under the dim light of an earthen lamp on chaangtar, small shelf in the corner of the room took us on an odyssey to the medieval times. The grandmother like a master storyteller festooned every story with choicest verses from folksongs. Through her art of storytelling, comparable to Dickens she exalted stories of the have-nots like that of a mendicant girl married in a royal family but her habit of begging for loaves of bread refusing to die even in the king’s palace of plenty.  At the end of the storytelling session, she upraised her hands in supplications to the Almighty.  Many of her Duas, prayers in line with the ethos of our land far above the filial affection were for entire humanity. Some of the supplications that she made in chaste Kashmiri decades after still resonate in my mind. These included: ‘Kuli-Kayanatikean Gulan Saun Sawnaunan Gulan taie rauch (May Allah protect blooming buds (children) of the world including our blooming buds).   Then she prayed specifically for us, her grandchildren; ‘ Khuda Bouzein Thouie Karew Aligarh pass’  (May you go for higher education to Aligarh University) and another prayer that she often made for us ‘Thauie Khuda Sozun Khasan Gour Wasean Nav’ (May Allah bestow you with a horse to ride on a boat to travel in). As little children sitting around her, we hardly understood that this Dua connoted a place of prestige, position, and authority in the government. But we always took it in the literal sense and laughed at her ignorance about changing times.  

Though horses in our childhood, even horse-driven chariots had ceased to be means of transport for the officers, and jeeps had replaced these, but for people in the older generation, the animal continued to be a symbol of authority and oppression. Many elders lived with horrifying memories of the Maharaja’s cavalry laced with spears galloping their horses through huge crowds’ of the protestors and crushing many children under the hooves of their horses. Some of the tales of oppression had entered into our folklore during our childhood. I remember, five to six hardy men, with bones of their cheeks distinctly visible sweating even during winters pushing their tumbrel loaded to capacity singing songs of sufferings of the yore while going up a steep road. Those, days the main means of transporting building material and all other stocks were men driven carts. The wooden cart with two men in the front like bulls in a bullock cart, with cushiony cotton belts tied to their chests, pulled the carts, and three to four men at the back pushed them on the metalled and muddy roads. In their songs besides eulogizing the messenger of God for his benevolence, they invoked different saints of the land for ending the tyranny. So powerful was the melody of these songs that many of us, my mates and I followed them, joined their chorus and sang in cadence with them; ‘Mastano Lijoo Mouj Astano Khaalie Posh.’ 

Those days, there were just a few load carriers in the city.  Everything for construction works; massive stones from quarries, bricks from kilns, logs of wood, red sand and lime for masonry work arrived into the city in massive barges. The big barges remained anchored at various ghats on river Jhelum, and the smaller ones made it into the interior of the town through the six-hundred-year-old Mar Canal (now filled up). In our childhood, when it had deliberately suffered poor maintenances because of political vendetta, the canal continued to be the jugular vein for the main commercial center, on the banks of river Jhelum and the Mar Canal. From the barges, the construction material was carried to different parts of the city in raidas man driven carts. 

These barges, till the sixties, were no less than cargo ships for people of Kashmir.  

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