All heroes don’t wear capes. Some of them wear track pants, sweaters and carry a thin and long wooden stick.
Mission? Walnut harvesting.
The sleepy village of Harwan is usually quiet with lush green fields flanked by brooks and the sound of chirping birds. However, from the end of September to the first week of October, you can hear the rustle of leaves and the sound of fresh walnuts hitting the ground.
Some of these heroes climb upon rooftops of nearby houses, while others undertake an arduous journey of climbing the trees and poking the cluster of fruits until the green walnuts fall off the branches.
Walnuts, known as 'Akhrot' in Hindi and 'Doon' in Kashmiri, are mostly cultivated in hilly areas. A majority of India’s indigenous stock comes from Kashmir’s hilly terrains where the harvest season lasts only a few weeks.
As our heroes beat the tree branches into submission, you can see green spheres raining down on the tarpaulin mat spread on the ground. All walnuts are covered by a green shell that is cracked open manually with a thick wooden stick or a knife.
This reveals the crinkly brown spheres we associate walnuts with.
Once the walnuts are separated from their green shells, they are packed in sacks or crates and taken to a nearby river to be washed.
An efficient group of women is in charge of drying the walnuts. One of them shares, “After being cleaned thoroughly, they are spread over several sheets of tarpaulin to be sun-dried for almost a week.” The walnuts are ruffled frequently to ensure that they dry from all sides. Once they are dried evenly, these walnuts are stacked in multiple crates, ready to be sold.
Walnuts are an integral part of every Kashmiri household. From Kehwa and Sheer Chai to Pulao and Mujj Chatin (Radish chutney), they are used in a wide range of Kashmiri dishes. They are also rich in antioxidants, aid weight loss, and prevent inflammation. And while we list out its health benefits, how can we ignore the age-old belief that walnuts boost memory? After all, everyone remembers their mothers and grandmothers holding out a piece of walnut and saying, “You see how it’s shape resembles a brain? If you eat this, your brain will also become strong and you’ll remember everything you’ve studied for your exams!”
As the day draws to a close, our walnut plucking heroes descend from trees and rooftops. They sit with the pile of walnuts that have just shed their green skin and crack them open with ease.
After a day of toil, it is time for them to enjoy the fruits of their labour, quite literally!
SCRIPTED BY PRAKRITI BHAT.