House No: #2:
A smitten father of a 4 1/2 year old favorite daughter, Papa was unusually touched when I had asked, “Papa hum gate waaley ghar mein kyun nahin rehtey.” (Papa, why don’t we live in a house with a gate?). He was an emotionally intelligent man otherwise.
Coincidentally one of his friends, who we remember as Naseem Ansari was going abroad for few years, and he had built a very tastefully designed bungalow in Model Town E-Block in Delhi. That house was located near a small lake in Model Town, and hence is referred to as, ‘Jheel wala makaan’ in our household. Naseem Ansari was looking for some good tenants who would value the house and keep it well. When Papa asked him he readily agreed to rent out to him. .
Within weeks we were in that gate-wala ghar in E-Block Model Town Delhi. As barely a 4 and a half year old in 1969, I remember how proud I was of being a resident of a stylish house. I am sure my parents were happy too, if not excited like me. And perhaps, my baby brothers were too small to even understand the change. But they clearly had a lot of open space inside home and in the lawn in front to run around.
Papa hosted a big party for his close friends and colleagues in this house. A few of his friends I remember were Yogesh Uncle, Balraj Puri Uncle, Khaliq Anjum uncle, Aslam Pervaiz Uncle and Mohinder Saini uncle.
It is probably this house that has impacted my sense of what a house should be-aesthetically pleasing to all five senses.
Papa’s younger sister, Farhat Phupijan would often come, with her little kids, to spend a day with us. Her oldest son, Arif Bhai (Guddu Bhai), myself and my twin brothers all shared the same date of birth: 18th November. I remember having a fancy birthday party for all 4 of us in this house.
One day, someone from Jama Masjid came with a box of sweets, saying that, Farhat Apa has given birth to another son.
Papa narrated this story gazillion times to all he knew, until he lived: “When it was announced about a boy is born to Farhat, Ilmana was quick to ask, “Ek hain ya do hain”? (‘Are they one or two?)’
Papa would continue, “Only Ilmana had the legitimate right to ask that question, based on her personal experience.”
Hahaha of course, I had seen my Mom give birth to two boys a few years ago. 😀
Just about 6 months in that house, Papa dropped Ammi and us kids at the railway station, for us to visit Ammi’s parents in Jaipur. When we returned after 2 weeks, I noticed stacks of cardboard boxes in the drawing room. I don’t remember much after that.
But Papa later narrated that when he told us, “We are moving.” Ilmana was shocked and began to cry, “No I don’t want to leave this house. It is so nice.”
By then probably the excitement of gate was gone, but the pride of living in such a ‘nice’ house had grown over me, I guess. I did not even care to know where were we shifting to?
Papa and Ammi tried to explain, “Beta we are going to Kashmir.”
I am sure I had no clue what Kashmir was, and why was there so much excitement in both of them about that move.
Ammi Papa got busy in packing and one day a truck came at that very gate and took away all our boxes, and again that gate-wala house was empty.
We barely lived less than an year in this house.
House No #3:
So in a few weeks, in early 1970, here we were, in a house in Srinagar, Kashmir. I remember it was dark when we arrived. The chowkidar had shown around the place to Ammi Papa, and all I remember is that we were sleeping on mattresses. I don’t remember being excited about the place at that very moment. It was a mundane room with nothing spectacular to be excited about. In fact the windows were old, and the walls were unclean. Nothing close to that pristine Jheel-wala-gate-wala house in Delhi. I was, likely, still grieving the leaving that Delhi house in my tiny heart.
We woke up in the morning and Papa and Ammi told us, “Come let’s go down”.
Papa recalled later, “Ilmana, you asked, ‘down?’ Is there a shop there?” thinking probably we were again living in some 1st floor portion of a house like on Jain Sweets.
We went down, and then went outside in the lawn. I was wonderstruck. This was a dream I had never even dreamt of. Such a big house with such a palatial open garden around it. The house was a big double storeyed bungalow, with bedrooms upstairs, and a gorgeous teak-wood staircase leading down to the drawing hall, dining area and the kitchen.
The house seemed old, unkempt but had a vintage look. I bet, until then, I had not known that houses could be multi storeyed too.
The Verandah outside the drawing room and all other rooms had windows looking out towards the Zabarwan mountain range(They are a short range of mountains between Pir panjaal and the Great Himalayas). There was an outhouse for the guests, semi-detached from the house with only a covered walkway connecting it to the main house. On the far end of a gorgeous lawn was the garage and two servant quarters facing across the main gate.
The house was located on the University of Kashmir campus, right across Hazratbal shrine, which was a walking distance for us.
A few weeks later the truck arrived, bringing all our furniture and belongings from Delhi. Before that Papa had got the entire house whitewashed and Ammi had done the deep cleaning with the help of other workers. So it looked clean and presentable now.
Papa was a man of very fine taste. He had bought a beautiful Italian teak sofa set from some diplomat who was leaving, in his bachelor days, and really cherished that set. The sofa finally was all set in a huge drawing room but room still looked empty. Ammi was a great craftsperson and had embroidered cushions and table covers for her wedding trousseau, which were used to embellish the sofa set and the drawing room. Slowly the house was filled with other pieces of furniture and stuff, and we settle down. This is the drawing room where many of Papa’s university and other friends including Jagganath Azad Uncle had long, late night sittings, political debates, arguments and poetry sessions.
We stayed in this house and in Kashmir for almost 10 years.
The huge lawn in the front and the side were always lush green and blooming with flowers of all sorts, including morning glory, hollyhocks, pansies, dog flowers, daffodils, dahlias, tulips, roses etc. In the kitchen garden Ammi grew tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, beans, okra, brinjal, strawberries and more.
Papa’s favorite place was the verandah and the front lawn- in summer and in winter. This is where he had his tea and read the newspaper early in the morning, and Ammi Papa had their evening tea, religiously.
This house saw most of our relatives, from Delhi, Jaipur and across the world eagerly visit us, to see Kashmir and many international guests including Professors from Universities including Harvard, who visited Kashmir were hosted in this house. One of the visitors from Austria, while sitting in the lawn and having tea with Ammi Papa had remarked, “Do you know Prof Quraishi, Kashmir is more beautiful than Switzerland and Austria put together.”
The outhouse, the guest house, saw many guests stay there. Two most significant were: Safder Hashmi Bhai and Manzoor Fazili Uncle. Both of them have had an immense influence in our lives as kids. Manzoor Fazili Uncle was initially Papa’s PhD student who lived in a village called Bandipore and taught in a nearby Sopore College. Papa found him a brilliant scholar and advised him to accept the post of a lecturer in the department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, where Papa was a Professor and Head of the Department. So Fazili Uncle shifted to Srinagar, and Papa invited him to stay in our guest house until he found a house.
Similarly Safder Bhai was appointed as a lecturer in English in Kashmir University. He was related to Papa, so while coming from Delhi, he took his contact details. One day Papa arrived with him at home and told Ammi, “Begum, Safder will stay with us in the guest house.” Until we stayed in Kashmir, Safder bhai lived with us. My brothers spent hours in his room and Safder bhai taught them acting and dance.
Ammi and us kids would be gone all day, to her college and our schools respectively, which were far away in the main Srinagar city. Ammi was teaching in the Govt. Girls College on Residency Road, Srinagar and we kids were studying in Mallinson Girls School and Tyndale Biscoe Boy’s School respectively. Both schools were located in the same scenic campus.
Since Papa walked to his department close by he would return for lunch in the afternoon. One day as he opened the house, he saw all the rooms were ransacked. Then this young boy barely in his early 20s emerged out of a room saying, “Mayn chor nahin huun.” ( I am not a thief).
Papa replied, “Tou kya yahan namaz parhne aaye ho?” ( Have you come here to pray Namaz?).
He was caught and handed over to the police. He was a small time thief who was just fascinated by fancy things like perfumes, watches and good clothes. Police later reported to Papa that all he had taken was “your cologne and poured over himself.” Papa told the police to set him free.
Kashmir was a small community then, and most people knew us or each other. Once we had gone to the nearby Hazratbal market with Ammi to buy some vegetables and fruits. In one of the shops, a young boy was sitting and his face went red as he saw us. While Ammi was busy haggling with the fruit seller, he brought 3 boxes of apple juice for us kids and then vanished. When Ammi turned and asked us, “Who gave you these juices?” we had no clue and gave her a blank stare. Then a nearby shop keeper told Ammi, “Woh chor tha?” ( That was the theif.). Ammi was confused. He clarified, “He was the same boy, who had come to your house to steal.” ( He had a name, which I am unable to recall).
The house was part of the Kashmir University Campus residence to the teaching staff, near Hazratbal. There were identical houses in a row where professors and Librarians lived. The houses were built on an apple orchard and outside our houses in the vast open land were hundreds of apple trees. We literally grew up playing, singing and dancing around the trees (not very different from the Bollywood hero heroines), and of course climbing those trees and picking green apples, taking a bite and throwing the rest. We played around all day, from dawn till dusk, with no fear or insecurity ever crossing our parents’ minds.
Within a furlong, inside the campus, was the botanical garden of the Department of Botany. For the department it was their research lab, but for all the kids in the campus, it was a place to play hide and seek, and in summer vacations, collect leaves and flowers, with their names, to make a herbarium as holidays home work from the school. This helped us learn the names of so many plants and flowers, which normally we wouldn’t have known.
Kashmir has extremely cold winters with temperatures going down to -10* C. But the houses are not centrally heated like in the West. Hence most houses in Kashmir are made of wood which keeps them warm. But the bungalows in the University Campus were made of stones and concrete. My parents spent 10 winters at least in Kashmir Valley as a young couple and with three toddlers and then preteens for a decade. Winters were particularly tough for Ammi, doing the house chores. I remember Ammi complaining about washing and cooking with chilly water from the kitchen taps, as there were no geysers. She had to heat water on the stove when it got too cold.
Both Papa and Ammi worked together to bathe us with stove-heated water in a chilled bathroom and put us to sleep every night in the bukhari heated room.
I also remember how my parents piled up wood and saw dust in the garage( as there was no car in it) in the outhouse, for the fuel required in the bukhari. One bukhari was used the entire winter in one room at home, and all of 5 of us huddled in that room living, eating, playing and sleeping, day and night. Even the guests visiting us were made to sit there. Any trip outside for groceries and even for packing the bukhari drum with sawdust in the garage, Ammi Papa wore the woolen #Pheran and a carried a #Kangri inside it to keep them warm.
Winters for us kids were fun though. No domestics responsibilities, no school even and plenty of excuse to play outside in the snow, and then come back inside in the comfort of a heated room.
Papa loved winters too. But Ammi did not. Papa loved to have strolls while snowing, late at night, in full moon or in the pitch dark moonless night, in his full gear of a long tweed overcoat, muffler and a Persian lamb cap( which is a banned item now).
Ammi loved summers. After her College, house chores, she would find time to chat and give instructions to the gardeners and grass cutters. Almost all the time, the grasscutters were local Kashmiri herdswomen who came to cut grass to collect them for their cattle. Ammi convinced the old lady who came to our house, to send her daughter to college where she taught. After she graduated, this girl was counseled to join Papa’s department to do MA in Political Science. By the time we left, she had become a lecturer in one of the degree colleges in Kashmir. Once she was confirmed a lecturer, and engaged to be married, she walked barefoot with her mother from her home to Hazratbal Shrine and also visited our home the same time with tabarruk.
Our own lawn had a cherry, an apricot and almond trees. And they bloomed in early spring and by the time it was summer, bore fruits, and before we could pluck them once ripe, half of them were pecked by the birds.
Ammi had planted a desi gulab creeper, which grew really big. After it was full bloom, she would pluck the rose petals, wash them, put them, in a glass jar with sugar. The bottles were kept in the direct sun all summer, until they matured into delicious gulqand.
Papa was a pan eater. So we had an elaborate pandaan that was originally Phupi Amma’s. And guests were served, at the end of every feast with pan and home made gulqand.
Our home was well known in Srinagar for this pandaan and this gulqand that Ammi prepared every year. So much so that one fine evening when Papa Ammi were sitting in the Verandah, a car with Indian flag stopped at the gate. The Governor of Kashmir, Bhagwan Sahay, a North Indian, came out of his car, and walked in saying, “Prof Quraishi, mujhe ek pan chahiye, apke ghar ka. Mayn ne uska bahut charcha suna hai.” ( Prof Qureshi, I want a pan from your home. I have heard a lot about it). Ammi prepared a few pans, and brought in a tray. He took them and returned back to his car, in barely 5-10minutes. This became a big news in the University campus, and I remember for years people asked Papa, “Governor Sb waqai apke ghar pan khane aaye the?” ( Did the Governor actually visit your home for pan?).
BTW, Phupi Amma passed away in the first year we moved to Kashmir and the pandaan came to Papa as inheritance. Now this pandaan is with me.
We were just a walking distance from the Dal Lake at the Hazratbal end. Our next door neighbors were Prof Ale Ahmad Suroor and his wife. Their daughter, who we called Jalil aunty, would come visit her parents every summer with her 4 kids. This is how I became friends with Rakhshanda Jalil and Tabinda Jalil, who were Suroor Sb’s granddaughters. Rakhshanda and I once planned to go fishing early in the morning. I think we set the time at 7 AM. I was woken up by Papa, “Ilmana you had to go fishing with your friend?” I hurriedly woke up and looked outside the window to see Rakhshi waiting under an apple tree with all her fishing gear. I hurried and off we went fishing like pros. Although we found no fish but it was great fun. (Rakhshi remembers more details as she wrote about it sometime of face book). Imagine in those days, Kashmir was so safe, that both of us, barely 10 or 12 yo girls went all by ourselves to the Dal Lake.
Some of our friends lived in the adjacent Regional Engineering College campus called Naseem Bagh. One of the families, of Hashmy Sb were very close family friends. Ammi and Aunty were great pals and they had a Phupijan who taught us Sipara. Their daughters Rana and Seema were my friends. I secretly admired Rana Seema’s wooden lodge far more fascinating than our bungalow. Like our house was located in an apple orchard, Naseem Bagh was a jungle of centuries old Chinar trees, and the houses scattered randomly in between the chinar trees, were made of wood. I found their house more exotic and a fun place to be. It looked like an image straight out of the story of Little Red Riding Hood. It was a warm, cosy home, but had a huge kitchen made of concrete, situated away from the main home, for safety reasons perhaps. The kitchen had a huge fireplace and chimney to keep it warm in winters. The open area outside the house was always full of fallen chinar leaves which were green in summer, and turned yellow, orange, red and brown in the autumn. Going to their place was always a wonderful experience.
In Kashmir, we saw the second Indo-Pak war of 1971. Kashmir being a contentious place, our relatives everywhere were very scared for our being in Kashmir during the war. But it went off uneventful, so far as I remember. Ammi had a colleague in her college, Mrs Kapoor, whose husband had disappeared in 1965 war when she was pregnant with her only child. They never came to know what happened to Major Kapoor, and left no stones unturned to search him in Pakistani prisons. During the 1971 war, her trauma was refreshed, and I remember Ammi spending hours with her to support her. Her daughter Preeti and I went to the same Presentation Convent School in Srinagar for an year, before I was moved to Mallinson School. Incidentally I later met Preeti Kapoor in Delhi, as were studying in Lady Hardinge Medical College together.
Kashmir was our golden period. I often tell my children that we had the best childhood possible, which even we could not give to our own kids.
Restless as Papa was, towards the end of the decade of 70s he felt stagnated as the HOD, and wanted to return back to Delhi. He was missing his hometown and had a deep urge to finally build his own house in Delhi.
So in 1979, we moved back to Delhi. Three people came to see us off at the bus stand ( as the travel from Jammu to Kashmir is by bus)- Fazili Uncle, Safder bhai and that lady ( name withheld) who had risen from a grass cutter’s daughter to become a lecturer. Fazili Uncle had promised that he will send Papa 2 boxes of delicious apples every year, until his death. And he actually did that, even after Papa was no more. The lady lecturer was crying with tears, and telling Ammi you changed my life. I remember she kept waving at us, until our bus exited the Tourist Centre in Srinagar.
This is the Kashmir etched in my memories- heavenly, safe and a happy place to be. Sometime I dread, what if I have to even revisit it today and the whole image that I have of a blissful place will come down crashing.
Safder bhai came back to Delhi a couple of years later, and by now had become a prominent activist, and a playwright. In 1989 he was doing street theatre with his group JANAM during Ghaziabad Municipal elections, when he was attacked by the Congress goons and fatally injured. He passed away in the ICU on 4 Jan 1989.
Fazili Uncle passed away some years after Papa. He was heartbroken to know of Papa’s premature demise.
Since it was neither the time of social media, nor mobile phones, Ammi could not keep in touch with the lady lecturer and I have no idea where is she now.
Many of our University campus kids are with me on social media and we all form a beautiful common bond with memories of Kashmir days.
There is a lot, I could write about our life in Kashmir. I have penned them elsewhere on different themes: Here is one: https://thinkloud65.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/baisakhi-in-kashmir-a-tryst-with-nature/
Those were the days when Papa had only a black and white camera. We have very few pictures of Kashmir, which are perhaps lost somewhere in our house in Delhi. These pictures are below are what I have borrowed or stolen from friends.
A general overview of Kashmir University Campus, overlooking Zabarwan Hills
Our house was an exact replica of this house and lawn stolen from Sameer Khera (who lived 5houses to our left) just to give a vague idea. I wish I had more pictures. This is how these houses originally existed.