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.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Kashmiri Entrepreneur at the top of his Profession

Ali Mohammad Shows resilience that is rapidly vanishing in a state where increasing number of migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are exercising free enterprise while native Kashmiris seek government jobs and fruits of corruption

Selling Masala at ‘battlefield’ Lal Chowk

M. Hyderi (Greater Kashmir)

Gunshots and explosions rent the air. But Masala Wala, Ali Muhammad Akhoon remains unmoved as he rolls his Dal delicacy on Lawasa, a local bread. As for his customers, they too don’t miss to get spicy Chutney spread on the roll.

This is the scene at Lal Chowk, just a few hundred yards away from where fierce encounter is going on at the other side of the Ghanta Ghar. Smoke is seen billowing out from the encounter site amid intermittent gunshots and explosions. Akhoon and his customers watch the fight, live.

Scores of people eager to get a live glimpse of the encounter rush to Lal Chowk even though vehicular traffic movement has been restricted. Such avid watchers get more closer to the encounter site. The only barrier between them and the line of fire is the Ghanta Ghar where police has laid concertina wires.

The moment the crowd swells to around a thousand, cops swing to action and disperse them. As the cops chase away the crowd, many shout pro-Islam and pro-freedom slogans. But then they regroup and this cycle continues.

As for the Masala Wala, he avoids the melee moving a few steps back.

“But then I can’t avoid to remain away from my potential clients, the crowd,” says Akhoon while sitting with his basket near junction connecting Lal Chowk with Abi Guzar.

“This is an advantageous position where I have a chance to make sales and escape.”

Akhoon, a resident of Shalimar has been selling Masala at Lal Chowk for the past nearly a decade earning around rupees 150, a day.

But today’s incident could mean no business.

“I couldn’t go home empty handed as I have to feed my family,” says the Masala Wala who father’s young kids, and a wife.

“I am the only bread earner for my family so I have to make earnings even if it means risking my life,” he adds while serving a Masala roll. But then he recalls that in the beginning years of turmoil firing meant that people would stay away from the site for days together.

“If there would be a firing at Lal Chowk, one would avoid coming here for around a week.”

Meanwhile, there’s another spell of sloganeering and spectators being chased away only to regroup.

“Hey walk calmly or you will spoil my Masala,” he cautions them.

Meanwhile, prominent activist and poet Zarief Ahmed Zarief arrives on the Residency Road.

Looking at the crowd, Zarief turns nostalgic of a 1965 episode during India-Pakistan war when warplanes flew over Kashmir and he was an employee with Radio Kashmir, Srinagar.

“We were sitting in the office when suddenly someone on hearing the sounds of warplanes said ‘Pakistan’s Cyber jets have arrived’. We at once rushed out and climbed Jhelum bund to see the planes bombing,” he recalls.

“Except a few Kashmiri Muslims everyone including troops would take shelter in underground bunkers but we wouldn’t mind to move in the opposite direction to see the Cyber jets.”

A few yards ahead of Zarief, the Masala Wala was doing business. And his clients came fast. “On routine days I finish my basket by around 4:30 but today I have exhausted the stock an hour earlier,” he says while leaving the site amid intermittent gunshots and explosions.

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