Every dawn and dusk, a non-local Kashmiri walks through the lanes of Downtown, Srinagar to sell Frymes (Fried flour Kebabs), making him the familiar face of the area. Repeating the routine from the last four decades, the man’s dying wish is a telling tale of his truthful Kashmir connection.
Nostalgia floods his sunken eyes whenever people pull over their cars and offer him a lift home from the busy streets of Srinagar. Those smiling young men were once eager kids, craving and crying for the ‘Kabab wale Chacha’. Even as they’ve long moved on with their lives, the man is still roaming around, with a bagful of confectioneries. But unlike earlier days, there’re no eager kids around.
In Downtown’s fabled bazaars, however, the man is a legend, for leaving the sweet taste during bitter times.
Today, Mohammad Younis Ansari has grown old, but not feeble. He still comes out with his goodies and roams through the streets of Habba Kadal, Nawab Bazar, Nawa Kadal, Kerfali Mohalla, Khanyar and Jamia Masjid to sell his bakery products.
Since he sells frymes by walking through the streets, he feels that the routes and maps have imprinted themselves in his muscle memory.
Born and brought up in Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, Ansari has been frequenting the intricate alleyways and streets of the Downtown over the last 40 years now. Living in Nowhatta area, he first came to Kashmir way back in 1980’s to find some work. And since then he has remained the street regular.
The sweet-seller didn’t leave even when the insurgency started during the late 1980s. He instead brought his wife and kids, to live with him in the Valley. His faith on the place came from ‘the goodwill of the people’, he says.
Even as he passed through crests and troughs and experienced sweet and sour days on the streets of Srinagar, he never missed his home.
“There was a time when bullets would fly around and curfew used to be imposed for the whole day,” he recalls, sitting in his rented house at Nowhatta. “The only relaxation would be given for two hours. And during that time, I had to earn my day and buy groceries, lest my family would stay hungry.”
Being the familiar face came handy for him. Since everyone was known to him, “I was never harassed and faced any hostility,” Ansari says.
With his kind demeanor, he has always received love from every person he has dealt with. He became ‘Kabab wale Chacha’ for kids, and the smiling sweet-seller for adults.
But before hitting the streets, Ansari used to get his signature eatables—Cream rolls, Bun, Coconut and Frymes—from a local factory. He still sells them, even as preferences have changed for kids with times.
“There was a time when I used to earn Rs 25 a day and that would be enough for me,” he says. “But now, with different market preferences, things have been tougher.”
To put food on the table of his family, Ansari now leaves home twice—morning and evening—and returns with an average income of Rs 250 per day.
Despite his constant street struggle, he says his love for the place he calls home has remained unchanged. His only desire now is to die in Kashmir, as he never ponders about returning to his native place.
“Whatever I have witnessed, whether I suffered or enjoyed, it is Kashmir that I belong to and I want to bid adieu to this world here,” Ansari says.
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