Sitting long hours, after Zohar namaz, during winter vacations on cozy hamam of the masjid in our Mohalla was one of best recess from studies for my mates and me. I don’t know if the idea of hamam was introduced in Kashmir by the Turks in the eleventh century or the Moghuls popularized it in the sixteenth century. But, during our childhood, except the Jamia Masjid and some Khanaqahs, there was rarely a masjid that did not have a hamam. Some centuries-old masjids; great works of stone masonry used to be cozier than the newly built. Some older Masjid, where known for some Dervishes and Sufis, who had offered the whole night prayers in them. That, one of the greatest native sixteenth-century saint, Hazrat Sultan-ul-Arifeen Sheikh Hamza Makdoom, lovingly called by all children Makdoom Sahib had said many prayers during winters in one of stony masonry masjid’s in a neighboring Mohalla, was a part of the popular narrative. My mates and me, out of deep love for the saint out of devotion couple of times said prayers in this small but warm masjid.
Many elders of the Mohalla, some of them friends of my grandfather, after Peshin (Zohar) namaz till Degar (Asr) namaz during winters stayed back on the masjid hamams, to enjoy the warmth. Some stayed from Shom (Maghrib) to Khuftan (Isha’a). Sitting around them and listening to their tittle-tattle was entertaining. Their many a conversation, connecting us to our immediate past, were rewarding. Some of the elders were chroniclers personified; they narrated the eyewitness happenings with David Attenborough’s ease. One, of them a knife grinder by profession, had mastered the art of conjuring fanciful stories, and through his storytelling, he not only kept us spellbound but also made us believe the unbelievable — many of his weird tales like the one:
‘that during the Second World War a German plane had hovered over their house and dropped a massive whale into their compound. To cut it into pieces they had hired wood choppers from Khanayar. And the same was distributed among the neighbors’. Every child awe-struck, sitting on the hammam heard his unbelievable stories with rapt attention as if true. Six decades after, I remember most of his fantastic stories.
Some elders, who had been part of the protests against Jawaharlal Nehru’s river procession enjoying the warmth of finely chiseled limestone hammam often turned nostalgic. Out of bravado, one elder Mama Saib a tailor by profession often said that at Maharaj Gunj he pelted loads of stones at Nehru ’s river procession; water level of the Jhelum was up by at least one inch. On the hamam, there would be hardly an elder who had not a story to tell about pelting stones on the cavalcade of boats, pulling down an arcade or tearing apart a flag while the Congress leaders procession passed through the Jhelum – from the sixth bridge to fourth bridge. There were elders, who heard the towering South Asian Muslim leader, M.A. Jinnah speaking to the cheering crowd of a hundred thousand Muslims late at night in the Muslim Park, Nowhatta, (converted into the shanty market a decade and a half back) just a few hundred meters from the small masjid of our Mohalla. I remember, a coppersmith Abdul Rehman in his early fifties during our childhood, often boasting of having carried Jinnah Sahib and Fatima Jinnah on his shoulder to the Mirwaiz Manzil. ‘No sooner, Quaid-i-Azam and Fatima Jinnah’s car reached near the Jamia Masjid on the Western Side’ he would often say, ‘it was lifted on shoulders by the enthusiastic supporters and for more than a furlong to the Mirwaiz Manzil- and he was one amongst them.’
Our Mohalla was known mainly as a supporter of the Muslim Conference. Many in the Mohalla had very bitter memories when after 1948, they were subjected to discrimination and given green form (ration card). For monthly ration of salt and food grains, the National Conference had devised forms of three colors, red for ardent supporters, yellow for sympathizers and green for supporters of the Muslim Conference. Speaking badly about Molvi Syed, they would often say, it was the brainchild of Molvi Syed-in the allotment green card holders were the last priority.
Hamams, in our childhood, was a grand storytelling platform.
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist