The Fragrance of Nostalgia: Santosh Bakaya

Santosh Bakaya

My mother oft talked of the time when groggy-eyed daughters-in-law
 of joint families in Kashmir, 
 plodded towards the kitchen in a somnambulistic trance, 

anxiously glancing at the grandfather clock ticking away on the wall.
Hope they were not late in getting up? Would they be admonished?
But the menfolk were nice, and so were the mothers-in-law. 
Not one harsh word, even if they were late in serving kehwa.
 Quiet flowed the Jhelum, the sunrays not yet reflected on its surface. 

Smothering many a yawn, on cold dawns, they lit the fire,
 to serve the joint family - aunts, uncles, cousins- the first beverage of the day. 

Under the ministrations of their cold fingertips,

the samovar* spread the aroma of saffron, cardamom,
 cinnamon, and crushed almonds into every nook and crevice

 of that triple-story house on the bank of River Jhelum.
One daughter-in-law carried the Kehwa-filled samovar,
another in tow, with a basket of napkins and bagels.


 Kehwa was now served to every member of the house in brass cups,
 along with bagels and napkins to hold the hot khosas*.
 As they put the glass to their lips, every sip of the gold-colored liquid
warmed their cold insides. 

Every member served, it was now the turn of the daughters-in-law
to have that morning cup of invigorating kehwa
Huddled and hunched around the fireplace, they now savoured every drop,
exchanging inanities, hopping from one topic to the next.
 There was no way time would stop for them. 
 Soon, they would be all set to make preparations for lunch.

 On many an evening, the houseboat owner, Mushtaq, [Dad's very good friend] 
would come over for some light-hearted banter and kehwa
Plates clattered as boisterous bonhomie and cheerful chatter
 filled the happy home.
Quiet flowed the Jhelum, striking a perfect balance
  with the boisterous bustle in that house on its banks,
where myriad flowers spread
the heady smell of love and harmony.

"What would you prefer Kehwa, sheer chai*, or Lipton tea?" 
 This was the stock question for every guest.
 The answer would mostly be “kehwa”. 
Yes, that heritage is still alive. 
The golden kehwa continues its hold over many a household. 
Almost every Kashmiri home flaunts the samovar, a relic of the past.
On the mantelpiece or the shelf, near an ornamental lamp,
 the stamp of those happy times cast in every line.
Aromatic memories forever saved 
 in those exquisitely engraved samovars.

Looking misty-eyed at the ornamental samovar,
Granny would often quip," I can almost smell the fragrance
of kehwa wafting from the spout of the samovar
Then she would slowly drift into that long gone world, lost to us.


*Samavor:  A traditional kettle, which has many variations, simple, ornate, or engraved, used for making and serving Kehwa or Sheer chai in Kashmir. It exists in different forms in other parts of the world, also.

*Kehwa: Milkless tea, garnished with cardamom, cinnamon,
 crushed almonds, and saffron, which is the staple beverage in Kashmir,
along with salted tea.      


*Khosas (Brass cups)

*Sheer chai: Pinkish, salted tea


  1. Padmaja Iyengar-Paddy

  2. Padmaja Iyengar-PaddyJuly 7, 2022 at 4:31 AM

    Reading my dear friend Santosh's writes, is always sheer joy for me! As always, you made my day, my friend! Thank you!

  3. Thanks a ton Paddy . Missing you ?

  4. Nostalgia galore. Such vivid description of what was an everyday affair only you can write Santosh Bakaya 👌


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