Srinagar: Traditional recipes - with chicken and turnips - and folk tales weave a blanket of warmth over Jammu and Kashmir during the cold winter days .
'Rooster and turnip cooked over a simmering fire a whole night in an earthen vessel tickles the taste-buds with its rich aroma,'says Muhammad Sidiq, a resident of Srinagar.
This special dish of 'shab deg', which was an integral part of the supper ritual at his ancestral home, is still a mouth-watering memory for him.
'My grandmother would engage the entire family to dress the turnips and fowl. You had to be careful not to remove the bird's skin. Then a new earthen pot was arranged for. The actual cooking would start only in the evening.
'Over a firewood hearth, the vessel would be sealed shut with dough and kept to simmer over a low fire the whole night. The matriarch of the family alone had the privilege of opening the pot and serving the dish,' Sidiq adds.
'All of us would eagerly wait for the big treat. It not only provided the extra calories one needed to brave the winter cold but also renewed family bonds. It was more of a social custom in which the grandma served as a pivot around which the entire family revolved,' he recalls.
This is not the only traditional recipe the locals are now trying to revive. The nostalgia is for bringing back to life a cohesive social past that was essential to the joint family system.
Smoked fish and dried vegetables like pumpkins, brinjals and tomatoes that had been painstakingly preserved for the lean winter months formed the compulsory stock to ward off shortages.
And to cap the culinary adventures, people gathered in small groups in each locality to listen to fairy tales of demons and golden-haired princesses.
'I still persuade my children and grandchildren to listen to 'Gul Raze' - a Kashmiri epic written by Maqbool Shah Kralwari. Despite their IT education, they are able to appreciate the extraordinary genius of a writer so masterful,' says Habibullah, who lives in Chunduna village of Srinagar district and has seen 60 summers.
'It is about love, intrigue, loneliness and separation, but the underlying message is that of truth's triumph over evil. It was because of such heritage that the people remained essentially noble in their dealings.'
And how does the younger generation react to Habibullah's reminiscences?
Says his son Showkat: 'When father sits wrapped in his warm blanket, telling the tales he had heard from his grandfather, even his face is transformed. His wrinkles suddenly vanish and his voice becomes young. Those are the times I feel very close to him.'
Rues a sociologist here: 'The storytelling sessions are all about family values. Winter provided the time to renew and repair social bonds. With the breaking up of joint families and the beginning of the nuclear family system, such pleasures are naturally becoming outdated.'
Interestingly, wherever the joint family system still exists in Kashmir, access to Internet or cable television has not made story telling unfashionable.
'Every society must learn to coexist with its traditional value system. If we give up our heritage and old value systems to change with the times, it would be a great loss. We must somehow try to have the old gel with the new,' the sociologist adds.
With youth evincing keen interest in learning about their past, the Kashmiri heritage seems in safe hands as of now.
'There is a cultural rebound of sorts. Kashmiris who live in the US and Europe approach me for CDs of regional music. They also show keen interest in their culture and heritage,' says Ravi Bhan, who runs a music studio here.
Winter also reminds Kashmiris of famous poet Mir Ghulam Rasool Nazki's words: 'Wanda, sheena, hamama, kunga, Harisha te toot nun chiyi dama Ali Sheikha, Hassan Sofiya, Shameema, Rasul Mirun te Mehjoorun kalama.'
(Oh times, whither that winter of snow, warmth, saffron, Harisha and a hot cup of salt tea? Whither that voice of Ali Sheikh, Hassan Sofi and Shameema? Whither that song of Rasul Mir and Mehjoor?)