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In Pursuit of Morels: A Childhood Adventure

In Pursuit of Morels: A Childhood Adventure
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By: Peer Mohammad Amir Qureshi

While I was resting under a stack of quilts after feeling ill a few days earlier, I overheard a group of children joyfully spreading the story that a local, named Tehleel had discovered several morels.

As the echoes of children’s joy filled the air, I looked out the window and noticed them flocking to Tehleel. He was swamped with questions about his discovery of morels, including where he found them, whose orchard they came from, and how many he found.

Morels are renowned mushrooms with a characteristic honeycomb-like structure that are often the first to appear in spring. This early look enhances their charm and mystique. Tehleel laughed heartily and responded, “May Laeb’ Emmkangnich Razaq Chachn’I Baaghi’ Manzi—”I discovered these morels in Razzaq’s orchard, where blessings abound.”

The kids, buzzing with delight, eagerly followed Tehleel, disappearing from view like bees to flowers. I experienced a variety of feelings at once. Razzaq was simply the curator of the orchard, as the people of Srinagar owned them all. Nonetheless, Razzaq Chachi’s name remained on the orchard, despite the fact that those children had most likely never seen him because he had died more than ten years earlier.

I reflected on my childhood and remembered past those orchards on my way to school. As the vernal equinox announces its presence, nature’s hibernating creatures emerge from their somnolent state, seizing the opportunity bestowed upon them to unfold their lush magnificence in a symphony of radiant bloom.

When gardens bloom with a variety of bright flowers, the flowering peach trees add a charm to the picture. Back then, students went to school without proper clothes, ties, or ID cards. Their shoes glistened not from polish, but with mustard oil. On my walk home, as we passed apple and peach orchards, we would discuss wonderful discoveries. The discovery of anything new, such as guchi morels, circulated quickly throughout the hamlet.

The children would race home, change their clothing, and return in search of morels (kangich). Children flocked into every orchard, and if one child discovered a morel, the others all assumed there were more nearby, just waiting to be discovered. At that point, they would form a circle and scour the area, pushing the grass aside as they went, singing “Joori’e Joo’er Nati Ninno Er'” (either give me your pair or take your companion away).In April, all children, including me, thought that morels developed and erupted from the soil during these storms because of the consistently chilly temperatures, frequent showers, thunderstorms, and lighting.

One of the numerous tales that used to circulate among us kids was that putting kajal on our eyes upon waking in the morning would make us look more effectively and help us locate more morels.

Driven by our common wonder and curiosity, we were all deep in conversation over which orchard had the greatest abundance of morel mushrooms. Our mothers would painstakingly sew the morels together like garlands using a needle and thread, which each of us would bring home. After that, these garlands would be put up to dry, bringing the earthy scent of the preserved mushrooms into our houses as they were prepared for sale

As April came to a conclusion, it was revealed that the number of morels had decreased, and children began to compare how many they had collected. The once numerous and huge morels had dried up and shrunk in size, much to the dismay of the children. They were concerned that they would not generate enough money because what had earlier appeared to be large garlands of morels had shrunk. Every child became increasingly eager to sell their morels for a decent price, hoping to make the most of their harvest before the opportunity vanished entirely.

On Sundays, every child excitedly awaited the coming of the morel trader, who would ride his bicycle or walk with a bag draped over his shoulder. He cycle held a little measuring scale in his hands and had pockets full of money. Everyone wanted to sell their morels right in front of them, as every child carried trust concerns, thinking that their parents or merchant would scam them and not give them the precise amount they deserved.

Because our mothers would not always divulge the exact amount of money they received when selling the morels, the children felt obligated to sell their harvest directly to the morel merchant in order to ensure they received the full and fair value for their hard work.

While this generation’s children are frequently immersed in mobile and virtual gaming, there is a distinct fascination to activities like searching for morels and selling them.It provides a distinct type of contact with nature, as well as a sense of accomplishment from the physical results of their work.

I hope that the children of this generation will be able to enjoy the joys of exploring orchards and participating in activities such as morel hunting, like we did when we were younger. It’s a tradition worth keeping and passing on to future generations.

(The writer is a columnist based in Ganderbal Kashmir)

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