Winters are harsh in this country. I don’t know if I can find magic in the winter. I try. Listening to her snow stories, I wished I was born in Gilgit like my grandmother. I was skeptical to believe that her father couldn’t see her for six months after birth. It was the 1920s and roads to and from Srinagar were blocked by excessive snow and winter tantrums. I didn’t know what that meant. Driving on the snowy roads in Michigan now with my poor driving skills and reliable tires makes me see it with new eyes. I am losing the romanticism of winter. My weather app gods never have fun things to report. Day after day it’s brutally cold. My car beeps on cue, informing me that it’s well below zero in centigrades. It assumes I hadn’t figured that out already.
Tradition, food and folklore find strong connections with local geographies and conditions. Most other people living in warmer parts of India don’t make agreements with mountain gods. They also don’t spend hours by the window to lick snow. They organize no festivals to celebrate the end of winter. Dark nights need magical inventions. Because you need something to look up to and prepare for, despite the snow.
Making Magic In the Winter (Michigan or Srinagar)
I made khetchar and roganjosh for the yech this year in Michigan. It’s a concoction of lamb, lentils and rice. We eat it with pickles, radish and lamb curry. This festival bases itself in the folklore and harsh winters of Kashmir valley where I was born. A yech (also known as Yaksha) is a creature (demi-god) living in the Himalayas. Kuber – the Lord of wealth, is the king of yechs. These creatures signed a treaty with the Kashmiris living in the valley a long time ago. Like any normal relationship, this arrangement needs to be renewed each year. Khetchi mavas is celebrated to honor the treaty. Gods are offered meat and rice.
Grandmother often talked about how as kids they had spotted the yech. Anyone who could steal the yech’s golden hat could get all the riches of the world. This and the fact that the yech was over 8 feet tall and strange is enough to get children curious. Before consuming the treat, a plate of food on a bed of leaves or grass is left out for the yech. Once kept out, it is important not to look back. The yech would respect the boundary of the house and maintain peace (hopefully a good winter along with that).
I woke up to Khetchi mavas poshteh from cousins recently. I initially thought Poshteh had Persian roots. But it seems to be originating from the Sanskrit word “Pushyati.” The phrase translates to, “may you flourish on this Khetchi mavas day.” A few people shared messages on Facebook. As usual a smart person on Facebook commented on a photograph. He called out the entire event as superstitious and unintelligible.
I’m not young enough to believe in Santa Claus or an 8 feet tall yech with a golden hat. Keeping carrots out for the reindeers and cookies for Santa doesn’t make anyone stupid. My two and a half year old nephew was convinced that Santa Claus would visit his home and leave him a garbage truck. There’s merit in preserving and creating magic.
A bumblebee can’t fly like an eagle. But it doesn’t need you to burst its bubble. Life is winter enough already.