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Indus Research Foundation uiopasdfghjklzxcvbnmqwertyuiopasd fghjklzxcvbnmqwertyuiopasdfghjklzx cvbnmqwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnmq Dispatch From a Srinagar Hotel wertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnmqwertyui Adding life to the city of dreams opasdfghjklzxcvbnmqwertyuiopasdfg hjklzxcvbnmqwertyuiopasdfghjklzxc vbnmqwertyuiopasdfIn 12/22/2011

IRF Current Affairs series

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IRF-Press Current Affairs Series

Dispatch from a Srinagar Hotel Can we add some life into life of the city of dreams?

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ZAFAR CHOUDHARY

n Srinagar’s one of the reportedly only three hotels with central heating system life is warm enough to think good about life. Clad in heavy down coats, some in exquisite pherans, woollen headgears and stylish scarves, as friends and guests join me over coffee, I find Srinagar sub-zero experience hardly any different than what I enjoyed in almost similar or a bit a better temperature in London last month. On my desk is ‘Srinagar, My City My Dreamland’ latest book of one of my favourite columnists Zahid G Mohammad. But I am afraid of reading it. The book might undo my fantasies about Srinagar as I feel in this cosy hotel room. Sorry Paradise!

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ut then I know what Srinagar today is and what Srinagar has been reduced to. I have a shameful confession to make, honestly. In my over decade long career in journalism, I never covered Srinagar in winters. Coming from 25-minutes away Jammu, I have been to Srinagar many winters but always to feel the best of it –the snow clad Gulmarg, most enchanting experience. Visits in past two weeks have been a different experience. I have recollections of the mornings, days and evenings. In fact there is no morning in Srinagar. Things start coming to life by around 10 and the government offices (whatever of them is left here in winters) show some activity by around 11. Those who deliver milk, newspapers or drive people out to other destinations seem lifeless till that time. By afternoon, if it is sunny, one feels like strolling around Lal Chowk or down Residency Road. This time less Kashmiris are seen here around these ‘ever busy’ city centres than one finds around Shaheedi Chowk, Talab Khatikan or Residency Road


of Jammu. Evenings are a nightmare. By 5PM Srinagar appears as a ghost town. Friends decline to accept any dinner invitations. And they don’t invite either. With such a tight day where morning is around midday and midday marks, literally, end of the day. The evenings are surely depressing and the nights truly nightmarish. “Is it life...were Kashmiris always like that”, asks a friend who heard of Valley all his life and saw first time ever. I request a Kashmiri friend to share his perspective. He tells all those stories of oppression and repression. But nothing convincing on why Srinagar looks like a prison where almost everyone looks like a tired and terminally depressed prisoner. No, Kashmiris were never always like this. Kashmir has always been a centre of art, literature and culture. Winter evenings in Kashmir used to be as lively as those of cities with rich cultural heritage. Perhaps, decade long of intensive conflict has rendered Kashmiris so unsure of everything that they are not left with any courage to add ‘life’ into life. In winters, there is absolutely no reflection of social life, at all, in Srinagar. There are no facilities which support the social life. There are no opportunities offering intersections for interactions. With the onset of harsh winter, the government, in the royal Maharaja style, leaves for relatively warmer and socially much equipped city of Jammu, now ambitiously called upcoming Bombay of north India. The departure of government is followed by exodus of thousands of affluent Kashmiri families to Jammu and Delhi for the best of next four months. The couches in the upmarket coffee shops and the swanky restaurants hauntingly stare at the walls in the evenings. Srinagar is certainly not a place to visit in winters unless it snows in. But then what to do with those who have the non-negotiable burden of keeping Srinagar alive, whether it freezes below zero, rains, snows or is bombarded? Around a dozen and half poets, singers and delegates from Pakistan who were recently in Jammu to participate in a grand Indo-Pak poetic event, requested the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, at a dinner hosted by him, to arrange their visit to Srinagar. Some of the poets, emissaries of Indo-Pak bonhomie, urged the Chief Minister to help them avail, what they said, a lifetime opportunity before them –a visit to Srinagar. We know, bringing a Pakistani to Srinagar, who is on a purpose specific Visa to Jammu, invokes Delhi’s North Block at once. But the Chief Minister politely gave them another reason to ward off the hassle of flying high profile celebrities to Srinagar. “This is no time to visit Kashmir. Valley is for summers or when it is snowed”. Rightly said! This is much stronger and genuinely valid reason than imagining how Home Ministry might have reacted to request of poets. Good that they didn’t visit Srinagar. But is Srinagar for dump every winter?

The Dirty City


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ome two years ago a nationwide ‘dirt and filth’ survey of 420 Indian cities put Srinagar at rank 418 –meaning third dirtiest most city in the country. Chandigarh was placed at number one, the cleanest city. No lessons seem to have been learnt by anyone –the Urban Development Department, the civil agencies, the political class and even the city residents. If a similar survey is conducted today, the surveyors would run out of the parameters to place Srinagar in a befitting category. Srinagar’s problem is in our attitude. Our decision making system and the people as well are not willing to come out of the conflict psychology. Why don’t we try to understand that the fear of gun that existed ten years ago is no more around? Why don’t we come out of ghettos and get to do something social. But there is a question, valid though, the Kashmiris have to ask. Even they break the thick shield of fear around them, where are the places to go in harsh summers. This is where the government –in Jammu and also in Delhi –need to partner with them in offering them the facilities and the physical and emotional security to feel the city of their dreams every moment and not only in summers. Author can be mailed at zafarchoudhary@gmail.com

Dispatch from a Srinagar Hotel  

winter in Srinagar