Bahaar aav, bulbuloav janay bahar aav/Ranga-a-rang gul tchi phalmeath/Noav bahar aav (Spring has come, o’ bulbul, flowers of varied colours are in full bloom, new spring is here), wrote Ghulam Ahmad, better known as Mahjoor, Kashmir’s national poet, born in 1885. More than a century after that paean, spring continues to inspire poets and laymen alike in Kashmir, its riot of colours and balmy breeze soothing and enlivening a conflict-torn people.
“Spring brings all kinds of singing birds to the trees of my garden. They perch at peace on the branches of my lawn, and I also find solace. It turns everyone happy in the Valley,” says renowned poet and satire writer Zarif Ahmad Zarif, 66, adding: “The season turns my ‘beak’ green too. I go silent. Eyes are pleasurably moist with the morning breeze and the colours the spring brings along.” Zarif has started visiting the almond garden behind the Hari Parbat fort in downtown Srinagar. The trees are in blossom—their white and purple flowers heralding the end of grey, gloomy winter.
Traditional spring festivals died long ago in Kashmir. “The Sheikh (Mohammed) Abdullah-Indira Gandhi accord in 1975 brought an end to celebrations of (the) spring festival at Badamvaer (almond garden) at the heart of Srinagar, spread over hundreds of acres of land,” says Naeem Akhtar, 60, spokesman of the People’s Democratic Party, who worked closely with Abdullah as a government servant at the time.
The reason Abdullah stopped the festivals was his rivalry with Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad, who went on to become the prime minister of Kashmir when Abdullah was toppled in 1953. Muhammad used to galvanize support by organizing grand musical festivals at the garden.
“I remember thousands of people carrying samovar (a copper kettle with a base for coal storage for heating tea), sheets and water nuts gathering at Badamvaer,” recalls poet Abdur Rehman Rahi, 85, a Padma Shri and Jnanpith awardee.
The 1989 armed uprising further choked the few public spaces in the Valley. The National Conference government rehabilitated displaced Dal Lake dwellers on dozens of acres of the garden, shrinking it to a fraction of its size. Badamvaer was later restored by the J&K Bank and reopened to the public by then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in 2008.
“I miss those days when spring was a festival. Birds like woodpeckers and koels rarely visit my garden. I spotted one a few days back and the whole family rushed to see it,” says Rahi. That sighting moved him to write a couplet: Yuhaes ti aev, ra’tchikhande korith yeathi voaf’raar, aesi zatayov tchu kul, aesi ma yae’man kaeth sanaan (That bird came again to my garden, only to flutter wings for a while, I think we have cut that tree, about which we never ponder).
While almond blossoms announce the start of spring in the Valley, it is the yellow flowers of narcissus, acres of mustard fields in full golden bloom and the shedding of white, yellow and purple tulip petals that mark the beginning of summer.
For Rahi, spring symbolizes the “sound of prosperity as it melts away the sadness of winter for people and brings peace”. Psychiatrists see science behind the flow of poetry. “Winter allows less light and little colour to enter the eyes, and reach the seat of moods inside the brain. Spring brings bright light, colours and lifts people’s mood. For artists, it’s the time to vent their feelings,” says Arshad Hussain of the Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital, housed next to Badamvaer, the city’s biggest and best loved almond garden.
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