The Muslim dated September 22, 1997
Author: Syed Shams ud Din
In short, the people of these areas were, in one way or the other, undergoing enormous stress and strains resulting from the incessant taxation vis-à-vis the economic doldrums they were always in. In the rest of the agency, no development whatsoever, was ever underway except a water channel the construction of which would at the most, be undertaken with hundred per cent participation of the public or construction of a track in the same manner.
The arrival of a government official to a village those days would be heralded with the beating of the drums signifying a ‘specific emergency’. It is noteworthy that the musicians here are apt in these specific tunes from times immemorial. These are halved into those of war and peace, etc. This practice seems to be rife here from olden times, where beating of the drum by the village musicians on a specific tune would abruptly call the village folk to gather at once signifying prompt united action. Evpreas undernnual repairing of the village water channel and maintenance of the tracks, such a drum-beating would precede.
The works thus jointly to be undertaken were calle ‘halshari’ - connoting intra-mural undertakings, by the people of Bagrote valley. Induction into civil services those days was something quite inconceivable because of the rampant illiteracy and also due to a scant administrative setup of the agency. The only service that was all along available was to get inducted into the ‘scouts’ - the paramilitary establishment of the areas. These accounts had a bearing on the customs and conditions prevalent only three decades ago when the writer was in his teens and was schooling.
These strange customs and traditions of the ancient times preceding the proselytisation of the people here to Islam remained deeply ingrained despite passage of considerable time necessitating a metamorphosis and despite stiff resistance by the clergy terming them as anti-Islamic activities being mere vestiges of Hinduism. However, these customs have now steadily died down, due obviously to the constant admonitions of the clergy.
In the olden days, there used to be a common sitting place called ‘beyak’. This circular place in the midst of the village houses served also as a centre-place where people would frequently converge especially at the noon when work on fields could be halted. Its feasibility among other things referred to above, would be determined by the immense shaddiness under the ‘chenar’ or walnut trees, preferably the former. A cluster of such trees surrounded this place. There used to be a carefully raised pavement of considerable breadth around this place. The entire village folk save women, could throng around this circular place on every special occasion – be that a festival or any other day of special gathering.
The chief characteristic of this place was ordinarily the gatherings of the elders to resolve disputes of intra or inter village significance. On the other occasions, it used to be the centre place for having a chat on leisure hours when people would be back from the petty agrarian works. The ‘beyaks’ of Taisote and Bilchar in Lower Bagrote attach great significance in the above context while those of Farfoo and Bulchi villages in Upper Bagrote too, were famous. The centuries old historic ‘chenar’ tree skirting the ‘bayak’ at village Sinakir is worth seeing. What had been rife here in Gilgit area included numerous customs.
The harvesting season followed by grinding of wheat in such quantities that could cater to the entire requirements of the whole season at a stretch. However, there used to be an exception for odd quantities to be rarely brought to the mill to cope with any deficiency resulting from under-grinding of the ‘deshaki’ – as the grinding process was named. The grinding of this huge quantity of corn was done at once in a day or two, before the onset of the winter.
This process also necessitated early accomplishment at places lying at high altitudes where the streams would freeze shortly with the advent of winter that could hamper the grinding process. The flour thus ground was being stored in big wooden containers specifically made for the purpose to be called ‘taon’ while at certain places, the corn too, was kept in these unlike other who make these containers of either birch or willow twigs which would be commissioned atop the houses duly plaster, to avoid seepage of rain water.
The festival common to these people was that falling in the middle of November every year when every household would kill specially bred goat, sheep or bullock. This killing was called ‘noos’ while that killed was named ‘nasaloo’. The animal would be bred at least for a couple of months by giving it grain once a day in addition to the fodder ordinarily to be provided. It is noteworthy that giving grain daily here was then called ‘baspoor’.
During the halcyon days, this festivity was celebrated with great fanfare and jubilation befitting the occasion while these days, it meaninglessly survives in the adjoining areas as the fervor seems to have altogether died down.
Urbanisation has taken place in Gilgit town and its immediate outskirts where animals are butchered daily to ensure daily supply of meat hence the people living here have done away with the traditional ‘nasalo’ except a very few still sticking to it nominally. Nominal in the sense that these are now-a-days not solemnized with much aplomb except those in Hunza where the festival ‘ghanooni’ - connoting heralding harvesting season is celebrated with all traditional fervor. Not only this but that ‘Naoroze’ - the advent of the new years too, is being celebrated in the erstwhile gleeful manner.
Another peculiarity pertaining to ‘nasalo’ would be the process of filling of its stomach with spiced meat then a rough intestinal stitching was carried out. This stuff was then put into the big cooking pot called ‘balosh’ and heated. Once boiled along with the head of the animal, the same would be kept hanging in the olden store called ‘dambor’ for quite a long period. It only redounded to the credit of a very few to preserve this stuff until the next ‘noos’ of which the people would boastfully bring out these parts for cooking. Honourable guests would be invited for the meal which was greatly commended as a very delicious meal.
This however, happened in the case of parts of ‘nasalo’ too. The affluent who could manage numerous ‘nasalos’ would be in a position to preserve the same until the next year for similar a feasting. It had long been customary with the people of the entire Northern Areas to keep butter buried on the ground. The process commences with a neat kneading of the butter preceding its being wrapped with birch bark - which is known traditionally for its undecaying ingredients.
Once the burial takes place, the butter is kept years on. It is on record here that the affluent would keep hundreds of kilos of butter buried thus. The longer it remains buried, the more pungently fragrant it becomes.
During the ancient times, the old butter say not less of five years was brought out during ceremonies, marriages and the like. The animals slaughtered for such festivities were simply boiled and boiled for long times and then the pungently fragrant butter was put into it munificently.
The people accustomed to it would always praise such a butter which would cause inflammation to the throat for having been buried for longer periods. The people then were not used to any kind of spicing their meals. It was in vogue to boil vegetables without resorting to the present adulterative methods, and the cooking was quite stupendously wholesome being free of all pernicious effects. Whenever need was felt for oiling the food, a lump of fat extracted especially from the ‘nasalo’ would be mixed with the food being cooked or the vegetable boiled.
There also used to be abundance of indigenous oil extracted from walnut, almond and mostly that of the apricot kernel, which were being used instead of the present variety of cooking oils. The people would always remain contented with whatever they would get from their own farms, or orchards.
It was perhaps, this very simple living and the use of simple diet that the folk would be unimaginably healthy. There were many athletes in the past known for their power of muscle. Nouveau riche and parvenus of the day were non-existent in the earlier times nor were there other diabolical activities of the present era rife in those days. This is perhaps because of the fact that materialism with all its horrific effects, had not yet made inroads into that society. Despite socio-ethnological stratification that was underway, there would hardly be any nuisance as to rip as under the fragile membranes of the society as is well imminent these days. Nor was there any other obnoxious ‘ism’ to create societal rift detrimental to the homogenized whole in existence.