Revisiting My Childhood and its Allied Fancies – Recollections of a Nostalgic Kashmiri

By Sohail Iqbal

Romancing the Snow
The prime mischief with the first snow fall of the season would entail passing over of a small pack to a family member, under a pretext, during the early hours of the morning. The revelation of snow in the pack to the unwary family member obligated him in offering a treat to other family
members, which was rather forced by a yell…

Alae, Alae, Sheene Sharat Khotei…
(Aha, the onus of [snow] bet lies on you…)

Haersae [a dish of slow cooked meat, herbs and spices] was the choicest treat, or if the loser were a keen individual, he would counter bet by providing ‘daed’ the ‘mother cook’, with a cockerel or a hen, which needed special cooking attention. The idea was to reintroduce the bet over the wishbone – a bone overlying the breastbone with double-pronged clavicle articulated with manubrium, carefully preserved, and then air or heat dried. Each contender held one end of the clavicle and a gentle tug ensued – the winner was the one holding the longer end. A sleight of hand in the art of tugging was not unknown to the initiated.

The second mischief with the falling snow lied in our gaze. Eyes towards the gray skies, the crystallized snowflakes in a pure white splendor, effected an illusion of ascend amongst us. The pace of our rise would depend upon the intensity and the volume of the falling snow. Each one of us could rise as much as our gaze would allow, or until we started feeling dizzy. This merriment of a free ride would continue throughout the snowy season.

The third mischief lay in the making of snowman, not Santa Claus, as our children would have us believe, more so themselves. We were not exposed to postcards depicting the Santa harnessing a herd of reindeer over Lapland or Siberia either. All of us would make Sheene Mohinue – the Snow-man. It was a grotesque caricature with a Cinderella make up. The un-burnt, half -burnt remnants of the Kanger (brazier with hot-coals) would come handy.

A pointed cinder illustrated the nose, one too many flakey, the eyes; the mouth and the eyebrows were simply cinder smeared. And then, or a few days along, it was just hacked to smithereens, the dismembered snowman providing enough ammunition for a snow fight- Sheene Jung. And we would continue the fight until fingers turned numb, if not the zest and the soul. The art of fighting has changed considerably. In the current milieu, fingers hardly turn numb, for no zest and soul is seen calling.

The fourth mischief was devouring of the icicles. Our beloved Kashmir boasted of icicles that went melting and never had the heart to wax, yet again. The Western disturbance. At its most best, it seems to avoid us. At its most worst, the West, read America, has polluted the historical environmental movements in the trappings of CFC [Chloral Fluor Carbons]. That is a vast subject, not quite unrelated to the below normal prevalence of snow in Kashmir. However, we better remember that charity begins at home, and quest why there were so many frequent fires in our forests. Forget others. The question remains that why my children contract sore throat after taking an extra scoop of ice-cream and how we remained immune to such a malady, disregarding our indulgence in ten icicles, each a six-inch worthy. Has immunity fallen? I would think otherwise, for our children are much more medically covered than us, we, the bare souls.
As is true of other cultures, our culture too possesses a vast fund of folklore and superstitions related to ancient animism and various spirits haunting the sleeping wintry valley. The tilt of the earth on its axis and our decent northern polarity causes shorter days and longer evenings, not to speak of the nights, during the winter times. Media distraction was virtually absent, except that our mornings were studded with a keen listening to Aghe Saeb, Aghe Bhai, Nan’ne Koor [played by Naema Mahjoor who works with BBC now], Maame and Nazeer Laale [1] through Zoonedab [2] . On a certain weekly evening, we had the pleasure to absorb and get lost on the island, found in serendipity by Machaama [3] , when he warned Zingaare, in histrionics, and a comical stutter…..

Haaye…eee / Zingare….eee./ koth kon chak pakaan…aan./ Mazhar aaweyae…../aate…ee hae
chee jinee bache…eee./

Oh Zingaree, what makes you head that way; be doomed, would you not realise that it is
sprawled with the demon litter!

Waadee Ki Awaaz beamed at 2000 hours. Munshi Jee and ever warm Nikee Aapa provided some challenge to Radio Tralk had of so-called Azad Kashmir. The remaining evening, long and dreary, were spent in pure delight, huddled around the grandmother and, in my case, a step-one, so terms the English language. She belonged to the classical Zazz family of Zaen Kadal [4] , and believe me, they were great quibblers. She actually had no qualms in revealing of her brother, Qader Zaaz’s occasional visit to Taashwan [5] , riding a Full Tonga. It was said that he paid twelve annas for this exclusive jaunt. I often wondered what the tryst must have been worth, given that twelve annas were provided to the carriage only.

Grandmother Zazz had certain selective yarns, which were told and retold.

The windows of Hammam [6] were hermetically sealed with newfound plastic sheets. Mister frosty
air, without, was barred to meet with the missus warm air, within. This celibate hour stepped into
many days, actually a few months. The missus air within was heady, what if musty. Air freshening was provided through folklore, punctuated by sorcery, occult, animistic or metaphysical themes. Huddled like lambs around the great lady, the story session would begin with great
gusto however, some of us were seen snoring half way through.

There were the spirits, sprites our own versions of the supernatural world! The Jins [genie], Pari [Fairy], Pasek-daar [brownie of Scottish highlands], Bram-bram-choke [will of the wisp or Friar’s lantern], Whoph [kind of a bogey-man], Rantus [troll of the Norse mythology or Ogre of England], and Dayn [sort of a witch of Europe]. I would like to introduce stories of some of those spirits as well.


Shhhh…..Aele masheed [7] is possessed, was the national belief. A believer, on his way to the mosque and, while ambulating Eid Gah sights a Jins with exceptionally long arms. Shaken, he sprints towards the mosque, and finds his way to one of the many ablution closets, constructed in a row, each separated with the other by a lintel height wall.
While relieving him mutters:

‘Surely that was the same Jin about whom everyone speaks.’

A query comes from the farthest closet, ‘Dear friend, what Jin?’

The frightened one narrates the story. Relieving over, tries finding the pitcher to wash and mutters again:

‘Why do the people have to steal the pitcher?’
‘Oh, I am sorry, I had picked it from there,’ comes the reply from the other person.

‘All right, when you are done, please hand it back to me.’

And still reflecting on the Jin incident, he senses a tap on the shoulder. Other than the pitcher, a hand and part of the arm nothing else is visible, except the words from the farthest closet – ‘HERE’.

The person faints.


The story may not be an accurate analogy to the title, but not very far, either. As said, Aele masheed was also betted over, only Ladbrokes were absent. One friend bets unto the other that it might be well-nigh impossible to strike a nail into the floor without a serious retribution – divine, satanic, or even occultist.

The adventurous friend trains the nail very well into the floor. When trying to get up, feels a compulsive tug from behind, which wouldn’t let him go. The established psyche takes over, and he believes that he is doomed, and voluntarily surrenders himself to death. The postmortem by the friends reveal that in the ever panicking situation, he had in effect, driven the nail all right,
but through a part of his Pheran [8] .

What hand is to glove, so is the Pheran to the Kanger, exclusive to each other, yet warmly
inclusive, when together.

I am reminded of Kanger, brazier to Europeans, especially Italians, Spanish and part French.

kaem sanna kondelay nyeye mainee kanger
kyah kare chass tsaalaan

kapay yihihaem kopaey kadehaas
kyah kare chass tsaalaan

translation: which wretched of a woman has pilfered my kanger
what can be done, but be patient

if sighted, i would wrench her hair out
what can be done, but be patient

I have known that there was a so-called intellectual movement, somewhere during the middle to earlier part of the last century, which sermonized that the introduction of Pheran and Kanger , were actually a ploy by the Mughals to subdue the fierce Kashmiri. Humbug, I say. Many self-prescribed politicians, intellectuals, writers, would not actually know whether Kamraz[9] lies north or south of Shaher-e-Khaas[10].

We Kashmiris see conspiracy in a waving blade of grass, windy conditions notwithstanding.However, no blame to us there, historical oppression need owe responsibility to an extent.


My grand moaj (mother) believed that most of the area south of Hazoori Bagh was possessed. It had become amply difficult for them to provide food to a tuberculosis ridden relative admitted in a sanatorium [Old Hasptaal] in Wazeer Bagh. A huge figure, emanating a phosphorescent light was often sighted somewhere beyond Hazoori Bagh, flitting from place to place.
Since Gogje Bagh lied beyond Old Hasptaal, Bram Bram Chowk [BBC] often crossed the mind when returning home late evenings.

My mother, who is sitting next to me, as I write, testifies the fact. The patient inthe hospital happened to be my natural grandmother, and the person who has reportedly encountered the BBC many times was Khaleq Maam (uncle) , my great maternal uncle. Mother further adds that Khaleq Maam often returned late from the Hasptaal as spirit mislead him through vast avenues of Chinar’s that sprawled over most of the area beyond Hazoori Bagh.
Circa 1930, I would believe, deduced from the fact that my mother was first orphaned
at the age of seven.


Moaj (Mother) would also reveal about the depredations of Poothe Koker. A hen with a brood of chicken waylaying people, and ensnare them to unknown destinations, where she would transform into a human form and entice the mislead captive into satiating her base motives.

My mother, yet again, corroborates the fact. She has supposedly encountered Poothe Koker and her brood, many times over, during her evening strolls along the Gulmarg Circuit Road, when my grandfather was posted in ulmarg as postmaster. To my question, of what actually happened during her chance rendezvous with Poothe Koker, she responds that the PK, after a pitched cackle, would vanish.


I have a great belief that this supernatural creature is an ethnic Kashmiri, and I have strong reasons to substantiate the fact. While glossing through Grierson’s [may his soul rest in peace, for this white man has one done a yeoman service to our language] dictionary of Kashmiri language, there is a whole host of Kashmiri words associated with Yech.

[ Yech- one of the Parganas/ fiscal divisions of Kashmir ; Yechgam – a small village in the present Budgam district; Yech’shotey – a hyena; Yecha – the pitch darkness of the night of the dark half of the winter month of Poh (December -January), believed to be particularly haunted by Yeches; Yech’khev – a man , especially a boy who is deformed by having a limb or other member of the body missing, bitten off and eaten by one of those Yeches; Yech’phal – a crop or the like bearing a great harvest, even though a very small amount of seed has been sown; Yech’phus – the cap of Yech, and according to tradition this is the kind of cap that in ancient times was worn by Yechs. It is believed that if anyone can find
a Yech’s cap and put it under a millstone, the Yech becomes his servant; Yech’baend’gatsun – to be fastened under a millstone and hence to become utterly dependent or to lose one’s independence; Yech’phyaar – one, especially a boy, who is
very ugly, but at the same time, sharp and intelligent; Yech’poot – a human child who is very ugly ; Yech’thap – a blow from a Yech, or an attack of epilepsy or the like believed to be due to such demoniac possession; Yech’khaar – vile, very bad, dissolute and depraved; Yech’khaar’karun – to disgrace another, by abusing him publicly and proclaiming his vices or defects; Yech’karun – to disable; Yechin- the female fairy an wife of Yech; Yech’sodush – the fourteenth lunar day of the light half of the month of Mag( January-February) on which the worship is performed and offerings are made to Yechin; Bod’ yech – a wisdom demon believed to have possessed persons in former times , and to have turned their intellects upside down, or to have inspired them -also with reference to a wise person lapsing into forgetfulness, or of a fool unexpectedly doing something intelligent ; Gsae’yech – a demon who haunts places where ordure is deposited, metaphorically an ugly man of terrifying appearance.]

The above was to elucidate that such a vast fund of words and maxims would not have been possible in our vernacular, if the beliefs and legends relating to Yech bore a foreign origin.

The definition of Yech in the dictionary reads: a kind of demi-god attendant on Kubera, the god of riches, and employed in guarding his treasures, etc. A kind of a fairy or Kobold. Vigne describes Yech nearly close to Satyr of heathen mythology.
I conducted a fairly reasonable comparative study, and Yech neither fits into the bill of Kobold or the Satyr, if compared with the first hand information of Watregam.

Watergam was another favourite abode when yarns would be revealed.

The hush of the snow-scape, with rooks and jack-daws huddled along the ridge of the shingled barn; shoulder to shoulder to abscond cold on their flanks; with silent snow mottled on their bodies; they looked like dalmatians metamorphosed; and the stillness of their silhouette against the backdrop of the grayer skies was a perspective from the paradise, not yet lost.

The inside of their house had a mixed fragrance; of winey apples , seed rice, dried turnips, ancient wood, rustiness of huge padlocks, hay-straw and dried clay, their grandmothers attar, and need I say a whisper of putridness, for the great landlord , the kind soul that he was, had so very thoughtfully considered of having the relieving facilities within.

Yech was the main theme in the story time session. The description provided by our dear Phoopha and aunt Gonde, matches with the one provided under Yech’shotey – a hyena. People who have claimed to have seen Yech, have described it as a quadruped, with a body size ranging between that of a cat and a dog, frequenting barns during snow-times, sporting a [treasured] cap, and emitting sharp yelps, two-and-a-half, to be precise: WHOOP..WHOOP…who!

Can we now conclude that Yech is ethnically Kashmiri? Indeed, our valley had a fair share of spirits, only J.K Rowlings’ went missing.

To be concluded.
Sohail Iqbal is a Kashmiri writer based in UAE.

[1] Characters from a famous morning drama with a wide listenership
[2] Name of the famous morning show
[3] A character from a famous Radio play
[4] A famous town in the old city
[5] An infamous part of the city known for brothels and such like
[6] A special room heated by a wood-burning furnace under the stone floor.
[7] A famous Masjid, incidentally featured in this issue under Heritage Special [Editor]
[8] A long woolen robe worn in winter
[9] Old city divisions
[10] Old City

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