Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Leaving a Disastrous Legacy

Mehboob wonders, "Does anyone care?"


Mehboob Iqbal

“Unn poshi teli Yaeli van poshi” It is in the retrospect of this adage by Sheikh-Ul-Alam (R.A) that we as a Kashmiri nation are going down the mystery lane when it comes to conservationist aptitude amongst the local populace. Lately, Save Dal has been so popular a fad, that in the haze of self-styled NGO’S, intelligentsia, environmentalists or preservationists, the concern and vision of genuine players on other important conservationist issues has become moribund. Their views are placed on the back burner, while others with almost no vision have managed to hijack the agenda by successfully grabbing the centre-stage.

Ironically, adding to all this, academia comprising of schools, college or even university conduct regular seminars on the conservation of Dal in order to showcase their moral and social responsibilities, but in the process forget and fail to realize their responsibility as the torchbearers to teach the future generations about the importance of our culture and heritage in its totality in the form of the old city (Shehr-E-Khas), the banks of the river jehlum (Bund), the walled city (Kalai-Undar), the lakes and waterways, the forests, the market places, old monuments, heritage buildings, the cuisine, the artifacts, the museums, the gardens , the dresses and so forth and so on.

All this apathy on part of these institutions, which form the cornerstone of any society tantamount to nothing but the unfortunate herd like mentality that has been cultivated in the hearts and minds of the people over the years. Be it witnessing anybody’s rising from the ashes or for that matter any other thing, people in Kashmir tend to toe similar lines as of others and take the same route as a mantra for success. There are so many hidden agendas and interests amongst the vast segments of the local populace that doing things, which can make a difference to the society as a whole is a passé.

It is in the midst of all this that I recently happened to interact with some high dignitaries and connoisseurs from the coliseum city of Rome, who had come to Kashmir as tourists. On reaching Srinagar, first thing they wanted to see was the old city and not the usual Mughal Garden round or a shikara ride. On seeing certain patches of the old city, they were so impressed and excited that they thought of it as being one of the most beautiful cities they had been to but at the same time were aghast to see the dilapidated conditions of the houses with brick and cement taking over the traditional architecture of the city. Witnessing the old city turning into a concrete jungle disappointed them so much that they pleaded with me to do something about it as a Kashmiri, lest future generations curse us for what we have done. Although having been blessed with an opportunity of traveling far and wide and interacting with connoisseurs worldwide, which enhanced my preservationist and conservationist consciousness, I was so much moved by the concern these Italian dignitaries showed and shared with me that I decided to write on the issue as the least I could do.

It is an established fact that for the past one century, the social fiber of the western societies has been quite matured, responsible and visionary compared to eastern societies, when it comes to safeguarding and protecting heritage and culture. Kashmir being a Muslim dominated valley of saints and a tourist destination should have been treading the path of west on this issue, but alas! The conservationist sense in this valley of ours is almost minimal.

My first hand witness account of western aptitude for conservation was in the Greek capital city of Athens just before the Olympics. As the work on Metro was going on, they spent huge amounts to hire world class consultants on their way discovering underground heritage, some of which was put on the display at the metro stations. This entire amount was not spent on the already existing monuments or artifacts but the new ones they were expecting to discover lest they destroy them while the work was on. Compared to this our Kalai, which is one of the longest surviving city wall in world is in ruins. It has been subject to lot of encroachments over the years. Old city being equally important has lost its sheen; the grace of the old city being one of its own kinds has become a distant dream from yesteryears. Further, the cement and concrete is taking over the traditional wood and brick cladding. The old houses as the heavenly abodes on the banks of river Jhelum are left unattended by the owners and are in a dilapidated form. River Jehlum has become so dirty that strolling on Bund seems to be like once upon a time story. All this is so disheartening, that one feels it is the high time for us to wake up and face the ground realities. It is now or never kind of a situation, we need to act and act fast.

To start with, there are two things that need to be taken care of and revived on priority basis. One would be the Old City (Shehr-e-khas). This includes the inner lanes and by-lanes of the old city, which apart from comprising old houses, includes some old market places like Maharaj Gunj, Zaina Kadal etc. Old city also comprises of some heritage constructions on the banks of river Jhelum covering all the seven bridges the city used to be based on. It is worth mentioning that being blessed with the distinction of having an old city based on seven bridges is a wonder in itself, which we all should feel proud of. The revival of the old constructions, market places and the beautification of the banks of river Jhelum would be an ideal thing to do. Though the government has already taken up the beautification process, we still have a long way to go. The revival of the Bund along with the club house would help a great deal in reconverting the area into being as the most prominent promenade of the city. The very same beautified river banks of jehlum especially The Bund would also be an ideal location to host tourists in the hotels and hutments converted out of old houses and empty land patches. Further, one can even look into the possibility of restarting the Doonga cruises, which would put us in a different league on the world tourism map. At many places I know that tradition and modernity has to go side by side, we have to take clue from modern architectural marvels like in London, where one side of the Thames hosts houses of parliament and the big Ben on the other side is a giant Ferris wheel (London eye) which is constructed in such a way that it compliments and not contradicts the skyline of London. Finally, apart from tourism purposes; Jehlum has been and can still be for us what Thames has been for London, Seine for Paris and Rhine for Germany.

Kalai Undar (Walled City) is the other important place that really needs to be taken care of along with its 30 identified monuments built in different reigns. There is so much to be taken care of that it can prove its potential of being a modular walled city of its kind anywhere in the world. The Kalai dewar or the wall itself is in such shambles that one feels ashamed of talking about any revival. With regards to this, the best thing to do would be to take the Nagar Nagar Park endeavor further, which besides other things includes the Kathi Darwaza, Bachi Darwaza, Waris Khans Cheh, Dara shikohs mosque, the qila, Badam Vari and so forth and so on. It would be wise to note that the list is never ending and insufficient, but the issues highlighted above are the least I could think of, with any further additions as a welcome step.

Nonetheless, all the aforementioned depends on how visionary the leadership of a particular nation and how sincere its bureaucracy is. Of course the biggest onus is on the people how appreciative they are to encourage the leadership to continue with such endeavors. All this doesn’t go on to prove or say that anything is more important than other things, but it is an overarching reality that certain things have been occupying the minds of the people so much that in the process we are losing something on many fronts and are turned into mute spectators. The most unfortunate thing is that nothing concrete has been happening on the conservation front. It is still not too late for us as a society to act, especially through the annals of print media, where greater Kashmir plays a big brothers role, as it has been doing vis-à-vis various social initiatives.

Finally, as one further ponders about the future, I hope and pray that this article invokes a thought provoking response and not let the expression be as usual “Who cares”?

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