I was born in winter in Kashmir. My village sat at the edge of a southern mountain range. Paddy fields, green in early summer, golden by autumn, surrounded the cluster of mud and brick houses.
In winter, snow slid slowly from our conical tin roof and fell on our lawn with a thud. My younger brother and I made snowmen. The footprints we left on our lawn would blur slowly, like pleasant memories, and when our mother was busy with some household chore and our grandfather was away, we would rush to the roof, break off the icicles, and mix them with milk and sugar to make ice cream. We would slide down the slope of the hill overlooking our neighborhood or play cricket on the frozen waters of a pond nearby. Sometimes my grandfather would scold us on his way home from work. As a schoolmaster, he was dreaded as if he were a military or a paramilitary man—not only by his own grandchildren but by every child in the village, and at his familiar bark the cricket players would scatter and disappear.
On those cold afternoons, Grandfather sat with most men of our neighborhood on the shop fronts. They warmed themselves with portable firepots called kangri, gossiping or discussing how that year’s snowfall would affect the mustard crop in spring; though my grandfather had a job in a government school, like most other villagers he depended on agriculture to supplement his income. After the muezzin gave the call for afternoon prayers, the men left the shop fronts, fed the cattle at home, and gathered in the mosque. Almost everyone prayed at the mosque in winter—it was a warm place.
My family’s house was by the roadside. We would stare out at the tourist buses passing by. Multicolored, the buses carried people from faraway places like Delhi and Calcutta and also many angrez, the word for “English” and our only word for Westerners. I would later learn how to tell exactly where they came from. They were interesting; some had very long hair and some shaved their heads. Some rode big motorbikes and at times were half naked. I once asked a neighbor who worked in a hotel, “Why do the angrez travel and we do not?” “Because they are angrez and we are not,” he said. But I worked it out. They had to travel to see Kashmir; we lived here and did not need to travel. We waved at them; they waved back.
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