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Smoked fish, dried vegetables charm Kashmiris in winter

The temporary blockade on the Srinagar-Jammu highway due to snowfall has come as a blessing for traders selling smoked fish and dried vegetables -- a centuries-old tradition that Kashmiris are reliving in Srinagar these days.

For time immemorial, Kashmiris have stored dried tomatoes, brinjals, pumpkins, turnips and even fish to be used during the harsh winter months. However, with the availability of fresh vegetables round the year because of transport connectivity with the northern plains through the Jammu-Srinagar highway, locals had almost
forgotten this tradition.


Man selling smoked fish and dried vegetables (Pic: Raashid Bhatt)

But three days of highway blockade have rekindled the practice as scores of locals have been seen buying dried vegetables, dried and smoked fish from traders who are doing roaring business in Srinagar these days.

"Traditions are always rooted in wisdom and experience. I vividly remember my mother would store dried vegetables and even dried fish during the summer months to be used in winter. As our lifestyles changed over the years, these practices were relegated to story books," Bashir Ahmad War, a retired veterinarian, told IANS.

"I have been telling my children the advantages of this tradition. But they would often laugh at the practice of drying vegetables or smoking fish to be preserved for the winter months. Now suddenly, my son and daughters have started asking for dried vegetables and smoked fish. I bought some to be cooked today," he said.

Abdul Samad, 69, a resident of Ganderbal district, agrees.

"Elders here say the use of dried fish during winter would prevent colds. Dried fish fried with lots of hot chillies prevent colds during winter," he said.

With their merchandise spread on the pavements on gunny bags, sellers of dried fish are doing brisk business in the city these days.

"I have been doing this trade during the winter months for many years. It is a tradition I have inherited from my father. Catching fish in the summer months and drying them to be sold in the winters has been a part-time vocation for me," said Abdul Salam, 52, who sells dried fish in Maharaja Bazaar of the city.

Some traders carry dried vegetables on carts, hawking their merchandise.

And for those who might think that the use of dried vegetables could be harmful to health, Nazir Ahmad, 43, a local contractor, says, "My father and mother and perhaps their parents as well have been eating dried vegetables, smoked and dried fish since their childhood. With god's grace, they are in the best of health. I see no harm in keeping the tradition alive."

Winter, feel some, is perhaps the best time to remind Kashmiris that whatever the benefits of modern living, traditions must be kept alive.

"These traditions give a uniqueness to our culture. If they are lost, it would be a great tragedy for all of us," says Muzaffar Ahmad, a college principal from Srinagar.

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