Mushtaq Hurra

Winter and the Grass Rug – Patej

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Icy winds, long dark nights, short foggy days, snow clad mountains, icicles hanging like bayonets, white cover of snow giving milky look to every surface, cessation of greenery from mother earth, men pushing down thick layers of snow from thatched roofs of their kacha( raw ) houses, clucking of chicken in old mud coops, curries of sun-dried vegetables and  warmth of Kangdi – were some quintessential features of a harsh yet bewitching season called winter. Dozens of my sweet remembrances are etched to the enticingly frigid season. The season used to acquaint us with some uncanny things and customs.

Though winter and snow are not confined to our valley only, but some typical things, hobbies and professions were native to our vale exclusively. Kangdi, Khraaw( Wooden clog ), Pulhoare ( Shoes made of paddy-grass ) and a few indigenously made handicrafts, were alien to the world except our dale. Paddy-grass-mat weaving is one of them. I vividly remember a jolly looking paddy-grass-mat weaver; who used to croon while inserting strands of soaked fine paddy-grass straws, into the warps of grass rope, tied around a circular disc called Kar. The scenes though no more strike my eyes anywhere in our neighborhood and surroundings, but, every year, the season of ice and snow, scratches the canvas of my reminiscences, and drive me nostalgic. Dozens of my childhood memories freshen and become evident before my eyes.

Patej (Paddy-grass-mat) weaving was an indispensable art of our homes till yesterday, but, the rug has vanished into the thin air; and our newer generation hardly knows anything about it. I distinctly remember those sweet old days when my father would make preliminary preparations for weaving a Patej. First snow of the season was thought to be the ideal time to begin the work on a paddy-grass-mat, but, the hack-work would begin even a few days earlier. Unlike today, there was no precise mechanism of weather forecasting available then. But, it used to snow on time. I don’t remember my elders complaining about erratic snowfall any winter, because we had less human intervention then in our ecological system. Anyways, Patej weaving was traditionally done in winters only.

Bright and very fine paddy grass was chosen for the purpose. My father had an expert’s eye to select the suitable grass from our big rectangular paddy grass bale. The chosen grass was soaked for a few hours to soften. The squishy grass was then woven into a fine long rope. It would take my father a few days to complete the process of rope weaving. And the fine rope weaving was never every body’s cup of tea.

The rope was fixed around the disc shaped Kar. Circumference of the circular Kar would determine the breadth of the grass rug. So, every household had Kars of different circumstances available in their houses. Unlike modern rugs, no loom was required to weave the local paddy-grass-mat called Patej. Every day, after feeding oxen and cows, my father would sit on a soft pillow to begin the work of weaving. Attic of house was the best place for the purpose, but many used to carry out the job in their bedrooms or even in kitchens. My father would prefer his bedroom for the purpose.

Patej weaving would test ones patience and endurance, because it required continuous hours daily, to complete the rug in a specific time. Two to three hours daily would take a weaver twenty to twenty-five days to complete a single mat. After the completion of sixty to seventy percent work on the rug, a cylindrical marvel of grass was almost ready to be furnished. It was one of the finest sources of entrainment for me and my siblings. A broad pipe-like wonder of grass, was the sole source of amusement for us. With thick snow and frigid temperatures outside, we used to play hide and seek in the spongy cylinder of grass. My mother and my grandmother would often reprimand us for this adventure. My father would expedite the work on the grass rug during the last part of it. Finally, the sharpest knife or sickle available in our home, was used to cut the pipe-like grass woven rug. The sides of the mat were later knotted with a fine and comparatively thinner rope. A tapestry needle or a bigger wooden needle was used to splice the sides of the mat.

Adept artistry and nimble-fingured hands were the prerequisites of a good grass mat weaver. My father possessed all the necessary skills and experience. Now, the rugs have completely disappeared, but my father’s proficient mastery over the art resides fresh on the canvas of my memories. My father would not only exhibit the magic of his adroit hands, but would take us to the fantasy world while fixing the grass straws in the twisted pairs of ropes. Besides being a talented weaver, my father was unparalleled in the art of story-telling. I still remember many horrendous folktales and legendary characters whom we used to admire a lot.

Simmering Kehwa with homemade rotis was served to him and us all. Pudding with paltry amount of ghee, was served on rare occasions. I remember that pudding day was no lesser than an Eid to me and my siblings. And all the children of our home would swarm around my father. Multiple reasons would induce us to crowd around him. Watching him displaying his crafty talent of fingers, humming Kashmiri folksongs and narrating interesting stories, and the presence of hot Kehwa around, would tempt us to sit beside him. We had saccharine and strong bonding with our parents. Such parent-offspring bonding is gone, now. A wide breach between important relationships, has become apparently wider. We probably don’t spend quality time with our children, now. Our parents were equally conscious about our education. We weren’t allowed to sit idle for longer times. Wasting time was thought to be a crime in our family. We were at times bashed or even canned for wasting time. The Patej weaving had paramount significance in our culture and heritage, but, alas! We have failed to preserve the beautiful tradition of our ancestors.

Author is a Teacher and a Columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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