Living My Kashmir in Perth

The day was very busy and a little stressful, thanks to clients, who expect reports to be submitted yesterday, and the current construction works on a number of prestigious mining projects, located in northern Western Australia, of both national and international importance.

I started for home about 10 minutes ago. After driving through a heavy evening traffic, through a number of traffic lights, I reached Kwinana Freeway. After adjusting my posture to a more alert position, I start driving relatively freely. Voluntarily, I switch off my engineer’s brain, for the next 15 minutes at least, and turn up the volume of my car radio. The default radio station in my car, for the last two years or so, is Capital Community Radio FM 101.7, which generally plays golden oldies from 1950 to 1990s. Prior to that, for more than a decade, while driving I listened to FM 97.7 Classics, which soothes my nerves with its full range of western classical music – from the Baroque period (early 17th century till mid-18th Century) to Contemporary and the Post-modern era.

The beats of the song on the radio send me instantly back to my early teenage years. The song was no. 1 on the charts on this day years before I was born. I drift mentally. With a setting sun over Swan River to my right, I suddenly miss the Boulevard and Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir. I miss my home, 12,000 km from my current home, which gave me birth. Suddenly, I realise the radio is playing one of my most favourite songs when I was a student of engineering at REC, Srinagar. I sharply turn up the volume – a reminiscent of my college days when I would listen to loud music. The beats make me ecstatic. I love heavy bass and the beats that synchronize with my heart beats. My both palms start tapping on the steering wheel, as my head rocks back and forth with the rhythm. I am living a teenager again, with my car running at about 100 km/hour speed.

I miss Tao Cafe, my favourite cafe, on the bund along Residency Road, located near the GPO. In summer, I would love to sit in its outdoor setting, in soothingly cool shade of old, gigantic Chinar trees. Those days, at Tao café, I preferred to eat Chinese vegetarian snacks – particularly, Dragon (a large noodle and vegetable-filled spring-roll) and delicious paneer-pakoras. Javaid sahib, a perfect gentlemen from my alma mater (REC, Srinagar), owns the café. An extremely polite young boy, Riyaz, worked there those days as a waiter. I don’t recall ever asking Riyaz taking my orders; he knew what I would eat. He would bring the best of the day to my table, with a gentle smile. In 2013, when I visited the café after 24 years, my heart cried on learning Riyaz had drowned in the River Jhelum, at Baramulla, just a couple of years earlier. I also learnt Javaid sahib had just returned to Srinagar, like me, after spending 22 years in exile in the US.

A few seconds later, I drift into Jee Enn Bakery on Maulana Azad Road, from where I would buy my favourite pineapple mini-cakes (pastries), cream rolls and vegetable patties. The famous Ahadoos Bakery was the oldest bakery in Srinagar. Another new bakery, Jan Bakery, had also become a competitor of Ahadoos during my time.

Thinking about bakeries, we used to have local bakeries – called Kandür – in every mohalla – both Pandit and Muslim bakers – who used to bake different types of breads – in deep wood-fired ovens (called tandoors) at different times of the day, for special occasions – such as Girda, chhot and lavasa would be baked for the morning tea; whereas kulchas, taelvor and kutlam would be baked for the afternoon and evening teas. Although, bagels (with sesame seeds) may look and taste like the Kashmiri taelvor and Lebanese lavash bread may taste similar to the Kashmiri lavasa, it is not the same; Kashmiri bakery is uniquely Kashmiri.

Waking up back in the present time, the radio presenter is now playing Australian singer, Olivia Newton John’s hit of 70s, which was regularly being played in the weekly ‘Request’ programme on Radio Kashmir, at 1.00 pm on Sundays. Normally, on week days, Radio Kashmir played western music (magrabi moosaki) at 4.00 pm and Yuvavani would have a 30-minute western music programme around 8.30 pm. Those days, songs by The Guess Who (These Eyes), Cliff Richard (Evergreen Tree, Carrie, Bachelor Boy), Bee Gees (How Deep is Your Love, To Love somebody, Staying Alive), ABBA (Money Money Money, Fernando, Mamia Mia, Chiquiltita, Dancing Queen, Super Trouper, Voulez-Vous, Waterloo, I have a Dream), Boney M (Fever, Steppenwolf, Rasputin, Ma Baker, Daddy Cool, Brown Girl in a Ring, Rivers of Babylon, Sunny, No Woman No Cry, Belfast, Night-flight to Venus), Englebert Humperdinck (Release Me, Quando Quando Quando, The Last Waltz), Neil Diamond (Sweet Caroline, Song Sung Blue, Forever in Blue Jeans, Heartlight, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore), Paul McCartney of Wings (Silly Love Songs, Live in Song, Letting Go, Live and Let Die), John Lennon of Beatles (Imagine), John Denver (Take me Home Country Roads, Annie’s Song, Calypso, You Fill up my senses, Fly Away, Grandma’s Feather Bed), Carpenters (There is a kind of HushYesterday Once More, Please Mister Postman, Calling Occupants Of An Inter-Planetary Ship, Sweet Sweet Smile, Top of the World),  Olivia Newton John (Jolene), Eagles (Hotel California, One of these Nights, Love Will Keep Us Alive, Desperado, Help Me Through The Night), Paul Anka (Put Your head on My Shoulders, Papa, Bring the Wine My Lady, Having My Baby, She is a Lady),  Donna Summer (Hot Stuff, I Feel Love, On the Radio, Love to love You Baby, Sunset people), George Michael of Wham (Careless Whispers, Wake me up before you Go-Go),  Daryl Hall & John Oates (Man-eater) and by various other singers were regularly played on local radio stations in Kashmir.

In addition to the local radio stations, I would also tune to Delhi B radio station, as well as Radio Moscow for listening to western classic music. To stay in touch with the latest western popular music, I would also tune to Voice of America (VOA), Radio Sri Lanka and Radio Australia on short-wave bands.

Watching western movies was a passion – at Broadway, Regal and Palladium cinema halls. On average, watching a western movie once every fortnight at a cinema hall was an essential part of my routine. I remember watching many war movies and great thrillers, starring Client Eastward, Charles Bronson, Anthony Quinn, Charleston Heston, Robert Redford, Harrison Ford and (Sir) Roger Moore (in all those bond movies of my time).

Coming back into the present, I am now slowing down to about 80 km/hour speed to exit the freeway at Canning Bridge, which is a 100-year old heritage timber bridge over Canning River. Home is just about 3 km away now. As I am crossing the bridge, I miss Amira Kadal Bridge over River Jhelum and an HMV music shop, which was located near the approach embankment of Budshah Bridge, opposite Hotel Jahangir. I used to buy vinyl LPs and cassettes at that shop. Radio Light, at Residency Road, was another music shop that I would frequently visit to buy vinyl records; it was not far from Erina, the famous ice cream parlour. That reminds me of Dimples, another famous ice cream parlour, opposite Shakti sweets and Hollywood hotel & bakery. Yaar café, one of my favourites, which also played good western music, was located in the vicinity of Dimples.

Most of my clothes and footwear would come from shops on Residency Road. In remember Master Arts. I recall those shopkeepers reposed so much trust in their regular customers that, on many occasions when I entered the shop to looks at the latest stuff, I would end up buying things without making any payment on that day; payment would be made the next day or so. The benevolent and trusting shopkeepers would get things packed and insist I take them with me. Our neighbours – at downtown Alikadal and then at Rawalpora – were very warm and friendly people. I remember hearing those Muslim women from our neighboured from Alikadal excitedly giving me warm motherly hugs on my wedding and blessings: Balay ya lagay Billo jiya, rata chhape lagay (let me sacrifice my life on you, Billo Ji). One of them – from Rangroos – was such a big rock to my mother in her rainy days.

Drifting back to the present, I turn left  to The Esplanade and drive along a scenic Canning River. I feel hungry; home is not very far. I remember Rekha, my wife, had cooked sabz haakh (green saag in Hindustani, kailan in Chinese) and vozül, vozül oluv-nadür (potatoes and lotus, with hot red chili powder, without onions or tomatoes) for the dinner. I feel hungrier at the thought of dinner. Mother Kashmir would provide us with at least a dozen types of green hakh over the year, even during winter months. In addition, we had many other varieties of green leafy vegetables, which are considered delicacies by Kashmiris the world over. We also had koshür-palak (English spinach).

Perth grows most vegetables that we would consume in Kashmir. Perth also grows nuts, fruits and berries – peaches, plums, apricots, almonds, walnuts, apples, strawberries etc. Perth – one of the most beautiful and liveable cities in the world – may give us everything, but we don’t have Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Gulmarg here. We don’t have those beautiful Mughal Gardens.

I have lived in a scenically very beautiful, naturally very rich and modern Kashmir, where life was much easier, simpler and pretty straightforward. Kashmir made me modern and informed – a nature-loving, educated, civilised and globally cultured person. One thing that Kashmir did not make me is a mechanised robot. I have never liked a fast-paced city life within concrete jungles. Concrete jungles don’t mean development to me; preservation of Nature and natural environment reflects human development. Then, unfortunately, 1987 happened, when I was at Roorkee, doing my postgraduate studies. Fast forward to 1989 … and life changed forever.

Drifting back to the present, I am at home, ready to start my dinner – buťťa (white rice), sabz hakh, vozül oluv-nadür and zamut dodh (plain yoghurt). I miss my late mother, Rani, and my Mother Kashmir.

… Bill K Koul (in Perth, feeling nostalgic, on 02 Feb 2020)

2 thoughts on “Living My Kashmir in Perth

  1. I can relate to all you have written. Similar experiences and similar emotions connected with these experiences.
    Life has moved on but a part of it has stayed put in Kashmir for all of us. Thanks dear Bill Kaul for keeping these memories alive…

  2. Another thought that comes to mind.
    One thing that Kashmir shares with all other places is that once a person moves out he/she becomes increasingly irrelevant. I noticed that even in the eighties when I would travel to Kashmir from Delhi where I was working. Ahdoos looses some of its charm when you are not there with your buddies …..

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