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October 10, 2001
1145 IST

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It's the season of togetherness for Kashmiris

Faisal Ahmed in Srinagar

It's the season of togetherness in Jammu and Kashmir, bomb blasts and intermittent firefights notwithstanding.

In the beleaguered northern state, it's time to tie the knot.

For over a decade now, terrorism has ravaged normal life in this exquisitely beautiful Himalayan state.

But come autumn, the people try and forget the guns and bombs to stage weddings and celebrate with great pomp and revelry.

This year, in the state's summer capital Srinagar, an average of 200-250 weddings are being held every day. Add to this hundreds of others across the state.

One of the most important parts of the festivities is the food.

Specially trained professional chefs, known as Wazas, labour to prepare the lip-smacking traditional Kashmiri cuisine Wazwan.

It is a Herculean task to get a competent Waza these days and they also charge quite a pretty penny. The chef is paid the equivalent of the total cost of meat cooked at the wedding.

A middle-class Kashmiri marriage consumes around 200-250 kg of mutton plus about 150 kg of chicken, which means a chef could earn anything between Rs 25-30,000 per day.

During the wedding season, which starts in autumn and continues into winter, the chefs are busy almost everyday.

From world famous meat preparations like gustaba, rista, rogan josh, tabaq maz, qorma, kabab mirch chetini and aub gosh to modern day delicacies like mushrooms and continental dishes, the food list is endless.

Once the Wazwan begins, a guest cannot get up in between, for that would mean insulting the host. The entire course, which often takes up to two hours to serve, is eaten at a communal gathering.

There is no buffet, so one must eat a bit of everything.

"Simply sitting through a Wazwan is no mean achievement. I am amazed at a Kashmiri's capacity to serve and eat such high calorie meals, which are cooked in ghee and butter," said Delhi-based publisher David Devadas, who recently attended the marriage of a Kashmiri friend.

Singing and dancing, often forgotten in the strife, are slowly staging a comeback in Kashmir through marriage parties.

While the banquet is in progress, a group of local singers perform popular local songs to the accompaniment of traditional instruments like rabab, sarangi (harmonium) and an earthen pitcher.

And in the far background, guns often rattle, a reminder of the times, but for the guests it is a night without end for who knows what the morrow may bring.

Indo-Asian News Service

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