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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Heat-wheats and Kashmiris

The last thing I expected to write about today!

    It’s cold here today. Clear, not THAT windy, but a day right in the Armidale winter mode for the shortest day of the year. I have taken to hijacking the heat-wheat, once the province only of les femmes when they need its comfort most, and am using it for mine.

    It’s one of those triptych type heat-wheats and wonderfully cheering. I can place it on my lap and put my right hand under it while typing with my left (the one that works), together with warming unmentionable parts of my body. Or I can lay it across my Ugg Boots and keep my feet warm. (No, spell-checker, not Egg Boots!) My circulation has slowed to a crawl, it seems. I need an auxiliary pump plumbed into my system, I think, powered by AA batteries.

    I might be on to something here. I’m going to be very peeved if someone comes up with one after reading this and makes a fortune!

    But I don’t have such a pump, so the heat-wheat lies across the top of my legs. You know what I mean, don’t you? You can make them out of raw wheat grain or rice sewed into little bags, and heat them in the microwave oven or a regular stove. I imagine if you had a cake stand you could also heat them above a slow combustion fire like ours. (I put that last bit in there for my microwave hating readers - you know who you are....)

    It reminds me a bit of the very funny description in the eighteenth century novel, Tristram Shandy, where the hot chestnut drops into the unbuttoned fly of Phutatorius, a learned gentleman sitting at his dinner table. But things with the heat-wheat don’t get as serious as they do with him and the chestnut; just to the pleasantly warm stage. Let me move on.

    I think then of the Kashmiris we saw when up there in the Himalayas in mid-winter, while staying on a houseboat in Dal Lake, Srinagar. That was in the days thirty years ago when it was possible to go to Kashmir fairly freely. I couldn’t work out at first why every single woman in the streets of Srinagar appeared to be pregnant. Then I noticed that it wasn’t just the women; the men did as well. They all seemed to have their hands inside their coats, constantly fiddling with something around their navels. It was a bit odd.

    I won’t keep you guessing what it was about if you don’t already know, because if you don’t know, then you won’t guess. Every Kashmiri had their own personal central heating under that coat – or phiran as the coat was called. Inside the cloak, each person carried a little clay pot in which charcoal was burning, and they were turning these coals over constantly inside the phiran with a stick or mini-tongs. The loose coat allowed the warmth to circulate quite well around the torso.

    They made the invisible turning of the coals into an art form, all done by feel. The only problem was that if the person tripped or was knocked over, then serious burns could result, as it’s not that easy to clear the decks, so to speak, if such a scattering of burning charcoal happens. The phiran is not designed to be ripped off in a flash on a Srinagar mid-winter day.

    Still, it accounted for what I took to be great politeness towards each other while passing in the street. They were first and foremost saving themselves from second and third degree burns if a collision should occur. It could happen - and all too frequently did. Maybe on that account alone the pot of coals could be a great deterrent to violence!

    OK, now back to writing the story I started out to write.  Hell it’s cold! Where’s my phiran? No, on second thoughts, I’m abandoning you all completely and going to the lounge, where the beautiful fire is. You can amuse yourselves! Toodlepip.

1 comment:

  1. For anyone interested in Kashmir (not so much the once-heavenly-beauty)but how it is today, a book called 'Curfewed Night' by journalist Basharat Peer is beautifully written account of growing up there, and its history, both past and recent. You were so lucky to go there then, Denis! The places you have seen always remain within you, don't they.


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