I have spent almost half of my life in Jammu right from the very birth, the reason being the durbar move. My late father who served in various capacities in the state government had to move in winter to Jammu. The recollection of the most of the events of those early days has gone blank with my fading memory but there are certain incidents of love and bonhomie which I vividly recall. I am sharing these with my friends in Jammu!
During our stay in Jammu in winter one important pastime was the numerous colourful Festivals and Fairs. Those days all the festivals were celebrated with great enthusiasm and gusto by the local population. There are many festivals connected with some religious events such as Dussehra, the celebration of event of Ram’s victory over Ravan and destruction of Lanka; Dewali, the return of Ram to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, and so on. But these festivals are celebrated by Hindus everywhere. However, Jammu had some local festivals. The festival I remember the most is Lohri, which is celebrated to mark the end of winter in Jammu. It used to be a very colourful and lively festival. People of different localities would prepare very decorative and colourful round bill boards called Chajjas. These would be prepared very quietly without letting others know as on the day of Lohri there was a competition for the best Chajja. On that day these bill boards would be taken out in processions with people dancing round these with beating of drums. They would move from place to place to exhibit the individual bill boards to get peoples’ appreciation. In the evening a bonfire was made and people would dance round it. This was to signal the departure of winter. On this festival we would also get to eat some sweets and dried rice. The festival seems to have lost the fervour with which it used to be celebrated earlier. I have not seen any processions with Chajjas for a long time. May be these do not pass through the main civil lines areas? Modernisation has its disadvantages too. Heritage is one of the first casualties in all societies!
The other important festival I remember was Basant Panchmi, which marked the beginning of spring. On this occasion the most exciting thing I remember is the kite flying. The boys in almost all localities in the city would be on top their houses flying kites. The thrilling part of the exercise was the crossing of threads of the kites in the air known as “Paycha”. The threads used had finely ground glass pasted all along. This thread is known as “Maanja”. Whenever two kite players would get their flying threads entangled it would create a lot of excitement. Everybody would be watching how skilfully the players would manoeuvre their kites and finally the thread of one of the kites would get cut. A shout “Bo Kata” would go up from all the watchers on top of their houses called “Kothas” and many boys would start running over the roofs and lanes below to follow the flying loose kite! It was a prize catch to get it. Not many kites are seen in the skies of Jammu these days!
Holi too was celebrated with gusto. Coloured water and even dry powder colours would be sprinkled over every body. People in batches would be moving from lane to lane to catch people unawares and then colour them up. We would prefer to stay indoors on the day. However, sometimes our friends would visit us and play some sort of a token Holi without spoiling our clothes. An interesting episode about the Holi in Jammu, which I remember was playing of pranks on passersby just before the festival by some young naughty lads. Boys would put some coins in the middle of a road or a lane. These would be glued strongly to the surface. As soon as a passerby would bend down to lift the coin, his cap would be lifted up by a hook attached to a thread hanging from above. All the boys watching round that person would make a lot of fun of the victim. It was a harmless but a very funny prank and people would not mind it!
Among the fairs, the Mela Bahu was the most popular. It too was very colourful and a large crowd would be there in and around the famous Fort which is a distinct landmark of Jammu. There would be all sorts of entertainment and edibles for the kids and all. There used to be many temporary slides and turning boards. For eating one could have local ice-creams, kulfi, malai-baraf, cane-sugar juice, gole-gapay, aaloo cholay, kachaloo, and jalaibi etc. There would be balloons, cotton candy, and of course the entertainers like monkey walla and snake charmers. It was a treat and a good excursion for the kids. A similar festival was organised on the Baisakhi which was the real start of the summer. However, on this occasion one would also see lots of Bangra, the traditional Punjabi dance. In fact, this was the main item for this festival which is also celebrated all over Punjab and Haryana.
There must have been many other festivals and fairs celebrated all over Jammu on different occasions but the one described above were the ones which I nostalgically remember and miss in this cosmopolitan city of shopping malls, multiplexes, and flyovers. Another pastime which I miss was the Sunday trip to the gardens along the Canal. It was a wonderful spot for picnic and we would walk to the end of the garden where the canal would steeply fall into a well type of opening for the small power house there. Other day I got a shock when I visited the canal. It is completely dry full of hundreds of multi-coloured polythene bags. The power house is gone and it is now the office of Chief Engineer, Power Development! Once a shimmering water channel has become a garbage canal. It is really a pathetic site. Its banks too have become filthy with lot of garbage stuck on the sides. Sometimes one wonders why the so called development has to take such a heavy toll of the environment, the culture, and the centuries old traditions. Probably that is the price of modernisation!