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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Saving Dal

Tanvir has a suggestion to slowing Dal's inevitable death based on a personal experience

(Mr. Tanvir Sadiq, 31, was born in Srinagar and attended the Burn Hall School. He completed his Bachelor's degree in Information technology and management from Orissa University. He is the youngest Municipal Corporator of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and was elected from Zadibal Constituency. He has contributed regularly to local newspapers like the Kashmir Times, Kashmir Images, Greater Kashmir, and Kashmir Monitor. He was associated with many programs on Disaster Management of J & K and did a couple of programs on highlighting urban poverty. He is active in State politics and his interests are writing and social work.)

Dal - My Ailing Friend

Jogging on the boulevard is like visiting an old friend, an old friend who is ailing. Every time I look at the gently swaying reflections of lit up houseboats in the rippling waters of the Dal, I get a warm feeling, a feeling that you only get when you return home after a long journey. I like to jog here not only to witness the mesmerizing beauty of Kashmir, but also to breathe in fresh air and experience this treasure while it lasts. It might not be here for long.

Last week, I jogged on the boulevard for the first time since I returned from the US, and that made it even more special. It was an overcast day, and low clouds were scudding across the evening sky. A gentle breeze seemed to welcome me as I stepped out of my car and stepped on the boulevard footpath.

I usually start my run from Dalgate, right where the boulevard road starts. First, I walk briskly to warm up while occasionally being obstructed by other walkers and loiterers--I am not the only Kashmiri who likes to come out at dusk for a stroll here. My brisk walk gradually progressed to almost a trot and I begin to feel my body warming up. I had worn two sweatshirts thinking it would be cooler near the lake--a decision I soon regretted since I began to feel hot very soon. As I started running faster and reached just short of the half-way point to Nehru Park, I heard a familiar hum at a distance and saw a swarm of people gathered on the opposite side of the road. I couldn't make out from that distance what those people were doing; perhaps they were tourists checking into a hotel, I thought to myself at the time. Nor could I hear what was causing the musical hum because the constant noise of car horns was overshadowing every other sound.

As I started to get warmer, small beads of sweat started to trickle down my face. I tried to move a bit faster to keep my momentum going, but there were more people on the street by that time, which was slowing me down. The humming that I had heard was very distinct by then and I noticed that it was from the music playing at a popular restaurant. The crowd of people that I had seen earlier were customers either entering the restaurant or coming out of there. There were also a number of cars parked outside and that was creating a bottleneck for the traffic which was backed up all the way till my eyes could see. I saw people--small kids, women, and men--cross the street, oblivious to the heavy traffic, as they made their way to either side of the road, further slowing down traffic.

As I meandered, dodged, and shoved my way through thick crowds, and even occasionally stepped on to the road to pass an impregnable swarm of people, only to be honked at by an angry motorist so I got out of his way and got back on the footpath, I noticed that boulevard has become too crowded to go for a jog. I finally reached Nehru Park 45 minutes since I had started from Dalgate--it used to take me 15 minutes just three years ago. As I stopped to take a breather just opposite Nehru Park, I remember thinking to myself that the car smoke that I had just breathed in because of the idling cars in the traffic jam outweighed any health benefits of my jog.

It was dark by then and I could see the occasional flash of lightning trace the veins of the sky. I couldn't tell whether a roar accompanied the lightning because the traffic noise at Nehru Park was too overwhelming. I usually run up to Gupkar, just past the TDC restaurant. The stretch of run between Nehru Park and the shrine at Gupkar is the most rewarding for me. The gentle breeze had started to turn into a light wind by then and the small waves it created made Dal lake seem ferocious and graceful at the same time. There were only a few people walking on that stretch of the road then--perhaps people had started making their way home in anticipation of rain. Seeing the footpath deserted, I picked up speed and ran faster. Just at that moment, the wind began to howl and lightning lit up the lake like day; it began to drizzle, and it seemed I was the only one on boulevard at that time.

The other side of the lake seemed like perpetual darkness. The shapes of the magnificent fort, the roof tops, the houseboats and the vast lake, all were visible only when lightning lit up the valley. Right around me, on the lonely stretch of boulevard, finally there was silence, and I could even hear the roar that follows lightning. When I finally reached my destination, the wooden pier just past the shrine, I breathed in the fresh air and smelled the sweet smell that follows when it first rains.

The beauty of it all is impossible to absorb all at once. I wanted to stay on that pier forever and just stare at the awesome beauty of our valley. How peaceful it seemed with no car noise there to silence the sweet sound of gentle waves thrashing against the banks.

At that moment I began to think that if that breathtaking view of Kashmir seemed so overwhelming to me--someone who was born here, and spent all his life in Kashmir--how must it appear to our guests and tourists? Will my children's children be able to stand right at that spot years from now and see what I had just seen, smell what I had just smelled, and feel what I had just felt? I am afraid, the answer is no they will not. A hundred years from now, there will be a hundred times more cars in the valley, and the boulevard will probably have been widened. Traffic jams on the boulevard will perhaps not clear till midnight. Will someone be able to stand on that pier and drown the noise from cars, trucks and whatever is plying on the boulevard hundred years from now? Our fore fathers gifted Kashmir to us in pristine condition, would it not be selfish of us not to pass it along so future generations can have their chance to enjoy it as well? If we don't make hard decisions now, the answer is very obvious that we are indeed selfish.

One logical solution is to close down the boulevard for all vehicular traffic and make it a pedestrian and bicycle only zone. It will be the first of its kind in India: a 15 km long stretch of road exclusively for foot and cycle traffic only. There is already a back road which connects all businesses that are on the main road now, and these back roads and lanes can be widened if necessary. This will be an immediate novelty and definitely draw tourists.

I will not claim there will not be initial hiccups and this will inconvenience hotels and businesses on the boulevard, but they have to understand that in the long run, it will help their business as this will be the most attractive tourist spot in the subcontinent: A 15 km stretch of walking/running/cycling track which is for the enjoyment of all.

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