The walnut harvesting season in Kashmir is arriving soon. In Harud, or Autumn, as we know it. And with it, it always brings a deluge of childhood memories.

There were these two huge walnut trees at a neighbour’s farm at my Nana Nani’s place in Srinagar. Only a light fence of iron wires separated our place from theirs. While, my grandparents, my uncles-aunts and cousins lived in the house, the neighbour lived in his home, a few kilometers away. He had employed a caretaker, who, along with his family lived in a hut on the farm. A tiny primary school also functioned in the mornings, on a part of the property. The caretaker and his wife had a bunch of kids with whom my brother, cousins and I had struck friendship over the years. I still remember the names in the correct order — Ilyas’e, Ateeq’e, Nafis’e, Bill’e, Babber & Bilaaf’e. The eldest was a boy, rest all were girls. They were a poor family and I don’t think the children went to school. Or maybe some did, don’t seem to remember that bit. The son probably helped the father in his work.

On our side, we had fruit trees — plums, pears, apples and pomegranates. They had the walnut trees. Although their farm was huge in area, but they mostly grew vegetables. Most of the time, we kids would talk to each other across the fence and share stories. Sometimes, they would come over to play a game or two. During late summer and autumn, when the trees would be laden with fruit, we would begin our own business transactions. A barter system would be devised and both sides would exchange fruits — we would give apples and pears while they would hand over walnuts. Obviously, these deals were behind the back of our respective family elders.

Out of their two walnut trees, one was gigantic in size and must have been easily a century old. It sprawled right next to our house, separated only by a narrow walkway on our side and then the fence. A large part of the tree fell onto our side, with many branches practically resting on the tin roof of our small house. To the sheer annoyance of my Nani. She would always complain about how the tree was damaging the roof and asking them to cut down the branches, which they were reluctant to do. I remember Nani threatening the caretaker and grumbling to herself that she would use some tricks to destroy the tree. No one on either side would do anything. This was an annual tiff between the two sides but life went on as usual year after year.

So, while the barter system worked smoothly, my cousins & I would be greedy for more! During mid-afternoons, when everyone would be enjoying their siesta after a good lunch, we kids would go to a room on the top floor and open the window closest to the tree. While one of the kids would lean out of the window, some of us would hold on to him. He would then catch hold of the branches and give them a good shake, to hear a rain of fresh walnuts falling below on the ground. Sometimes. the fruit would be hanging from the branches far away, so, we would use a long stick and hit the branches hard. This technique worked better. We would then run downstairs to collect the booty. Some walnuts would drop on our side of the fence, and some on theirs — depending on how lucky we were. We even risked crossing over, to grab a few more. While carrying out the entire exercise, we had to be very discreet, making minimal noise, so as not to rouse the attention of the caretaker or his family. At times, he would be around and hear the rustle of the leaves and the sound of the walnuts hitting the ground. He would send out a loud cry — “haya kusu chhuv’e doonye walaan” (hey, who is plucking the walnuts)! We would be horrified and freeze with fear. But, only after we had collected the maximum walnuts, would we make a dash to our hideout! The caretaker would often come chasing after us, shouting & grumbling while we would hurriedly stuff our pockets!

No walnuts now taste better than those. They never would.

A few years back, I became good friends with someone on the social media, who shared the family name with that of the farm owner’s. On inquiring from him, it turned out that it was them who owned the farm. Should I tell him?

Images are from the Internet.

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