Cupfuls of Hope

Last year, 2012, among other tragedies that Kashmir faced one that left an immensely dark scar was the burning of the shrine of Ghous-ul-Azam Dastgeer. The founder of the Qadri silsila of Sufism is highly revered in Kashmir. Thousands of people would turn out on the eleven day annual Urs at  Dastgeer Sahab’s shrine. Khanyar where the shrine was located is a small neighbourhood not very far away from Dal Lake. It has a little market place selling all sorts of traditional copperware, including among other things samovars. During the Urs the market place is sealed off by police barricades allowing no traffic inside so that the whole area can be cleaned and used as a mosque. Prayer mats are spread on the roads and the whole area is divided into two unequal parts for men and women.
 For the Urs people bring in all sorts of offerings to be distributed among the attendees. Charity and generosity are two of the most prized virtues in Islam. So are feeding travellers and distributing food. The annual Urs follows the lunar calendar and Islamic Months and has been, for the past few years, celebrated in early – mid spring when the air is cold and rains frequent. The spirit of the Urs, though, hasn’t dampened. People still turn out, with hearts full of hope and eyes full of teary prayers.
A man in a neat, washed Khan suit emerges from the crowd carrying a large copper samovar. A kid follows him closely with a plastic basket of cups, without saucers. A second kid, slightly larger than the first, carries a jute bag of freshly made Girdah, made on order. The three of them are immediately surrounded by a crowd of men, women and children. As no shops are open they retreat under an awning of a shop near the shrine and prepare to serve tea. The embers are glowing red in the samovar. The man draws a small polythene bag from his pockets from which he takes out a piece of coal and drops it in the samovar. It sparkles and makes a crackling sound. Hot vapours of the tea escape from its spout. He wipes the sweat off his forehead with the towel he was using to hold the samovar’s hot chain.
They are ready to serve. 

The “Kahim chai” as it is called (literally “tea of the Eleventh” – Eleventh being the number associated with Dastgeer Sahab) is generally richer than everyday noon-chai. Prepared with the love and reverence for the saint, the tea is mixed with copious amounts of butter and shavings of coconut. The butter floats on the top of the cup, when poured, as a layer of  fragrant green oil.
People jostle for the cups. Some bring their own cups – they were perhaps anticipating that someone would surely bring tea. A young man from a nearby nader-monj stall brings a small flask to carry a few cups of tea for his cohorts at the stall. He takes a few girdas which the kid suspiciously hands him. Ruckus. Some unruly person pushes the man and pinches him to draw his attention. That scares the kid with cups. He exchanges places with his brother and goes over to give the bread. Within ten minutes most of the tea is gone. The man gently nudges the samovar to stir any settled coconut shavings.
An old woman clucthing a white burqa comes forward. The man pours her a cup of tea. The little kid hands her a girdah with a smile. She pauses as she puts her hands into the pocket of her pheran and brings out a handful of shireen and dates from the shrine “Meyoun Dastgeer karnei raechh” (May my Dastgeer look after you) she says.

Author: Rich Autumns

Blogger from Kashmir. Twitter: @RichAutumns

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