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, August 19, 2010

The Sad Condition of Polo Ground Park

Yusuf notes the dilapidated condition of the Polo Ground Park in Srinagar and pleads for restoration of this historic park

(Mr. Mohammad Yusuf, 57, was born in the Dalgate area of Srinagar. He attended Government Schools in Drugjan, Sonawar, and Batwara, all in Srinagar, and completed his college studies at the Sri Partap College, Srinagar. Following his graduation, he briefly attended the University of Kashmir, and in 1980, joined the Physical Education Department of the University of Kashmir. Mr. Yusuf teaches aquatics and adventure sports (swimming, mountaineering, snow and water skiing, rafting, parasailing, skating, kayaking, canoeing, etc.) and has won many local sports trophies. He has led many exploration expeditions in Kashmir, and is the Treasurer of the Winter Sports Association of Jammu and Kashmir, General Secretary of J&K Aero Sports Association and the J&K Ski & Mountaineering Association, Secretary of Srinagar Winter Sports Association, and Vice President of the J&K Yoga Association. In his leisure time, Mr. Yusuf engages in social work, gardening and writing.)

A Garden That is not Blooming for Long

During Dogra Raj in Jammu and Kashmir State the Polo Ground was considered the most popular play-field in the vicinity of Srinagar, in which horse polo matches were regularly conducted with great pomp and show by the royal family. The ground was so dear to them that they themselves were monitoring its up-gradation. It is said that in the absence of sophisticated mechanized lawn movers and brush cutters etc. Maharaja Hari Singh had fed a flock of special breed of sheep which were engaged to graze the grass at zero level with their tiny teeth to give it a fine carpet like touch. It was also making the ground more graceful and playable. Simultaneously the droppings of the flock were very useful for the thick growth of turf which was working as natural manure.

After independence this royal ground was used for hosting different cultural and social activities like Jashan-i-Kashmir etc. It was actually stretching from Gor-dav Kadal (Race Course Bridge), present Maulana Abulkalam Bridge, to Polo View Street. But today the ground is divided into three sections. Eastern section is left for hosting different industrial exhibitions and low profile sporting events. Similarly the western section is earmarked for major football tournaments and trainings. After Bakhshi Stadium this ground is considered the second best football field in Kashmir valley. The efforts of J&K Football Association bore the fruits when the Indian Football Federation cleared it for holding national events like Santosh Trophy.

Recognizing the field fit for Santosh Trophy was a great tribute to Maharajas who were avid football and polo enthusiasts. Pertinently the Maharaja has given nick names like Ponz (monkey) and Tarzan etc to many veteran footballers for their extra ordinary skills. Late Haji Habib Ullah Dev was a great Football Goal-Keeper of that period and for his acrobatics and high jumping he was nick named as Habib Ponz (Habib-the monkey) by the Maharaja. Similarly, Dr. K.A Tarzan’s uncle was also an ace football player and he was nick named at Tarzan. This title was later adopted by the entire family.

While, the central section of the ground was exclusively developed as Public Park by Agriculture Department. In the recent past this well maintained park was attracting scores of tourists from its locale like Dalgate, Sonawar, Rajbagh, Lal Chowk and Barbarshah etc.

Different varieties of rare flowers, shrubs, creepers/climbers and flowering ornamental and avenue tress were gracefully planted here. The charming weeping willows, Umbrella trees, conifers and variety of roses were adding grandeur to it. The nicely trimmed evergreens in different shapes and sizes were looking magnificent. Some dwarf fruit trees also existed here. The tall mighty Chinars are still walling the park from its all sides. During hot summers many people used tosit and sleep under their cool shade for hours together. What a peace and tranquility one was experiencing when seated amidst these mighty trees here, looking at wild nature and forgetting one’s self. But alas! This historic Garden is in shambles today. It has lost its pristine glory. Like Dal Lake this park is also breathing its last.

I remember the Agriculture Department had prepared a fine nursery in a corner of this garden where different varieties of common and hybrid flowers and flowering bulbs including Cannas, Dahlia, Football Lilly, Gladiolus, Lillium, Gerbera, Tulip and Amaryllis etc were sown in narrow and long beds. During its bloom the nursery was giving a carpet like look in different colors when one could catch the sight of this garden from nearby Shankracharya hill top. In my childhood I usually used to climb the hillock and enjoy the view of this fascinating, scintillating, enchanting, mesmerizing and enthralling garden.

No doubt the Floriculture Department has raised the level of the garden after long wait but at many places the water still remains stagnant. Earlier due to raising level of roads and play-fields on all its sides the drainage system was completely blocked and the stagnant rain water damaged the trees, even many have died. Today the unwanted grass is grown to knee height. Surprisingly not a single flower bed is properly maintained here which gives bad aesthetic sense.

It is shocking that though the Office of Floriculture Officer, Srinagar is situated in this very garden and the Directorate Office is just a few meters away on the opposite side yet they do not initiate any action to preserve this heritage garden. There is a proverb “Near the Church farther from God”, which thisDepartment is observing in letter and spirit. To our dismay they hardly bother to look around their environs and arrange leveling of the garden, fill the ditches, remove tall grass and plant quality turf, lay foot paths, cure sick trees, safeguard other rare live trees and shrubs and ensure its preservation. Astonishingly the Department seems more concerned about much hyped Tulip Garden, the flowers of which are not lost for long. Visiting Tulip Garden is strictly forbidden for a poor Kashmiri who cannot afford 50 bucks to buy an entry ticket. The department should spend the bucks, they are earning from Tulip Garden, on other associated parks and gardens.

The department perhaps does not even have sufficient manpower and machinery to maintain the garden. There is a requirement of at least 50 gardeners while as just ten are deployed to this vast extended garden. They also need modern machines like small rollers, light and heavy mechanized lawn movers, tillers and brush cutters etc.

It depicts that the Floriculture Department is not serious to maintain its assets. If so, the Tourism Department (Kashmir) has a role to play. They must come forward and initiate its comprehensive facelift, up-gradation, and beautification and restore its original environs like they are brilliantly maintaining the Nigeen Resorts and Zabarvan Park etc. Credit goes to Director Tourism, Mr. Farooq Shah and his nature loving Tourist Officer, Mr. Javed Iqbal Khan for converting barren land near Nehru Park, Ashai Bagh, Nigeen Club and Nand Pora (near Leprosy Hospital) into majestic and prideful gardens. Mr. Javed has great passion for flowers and is monitoring the Nigeen Boat Club lawns himself.

Like Tulip Festival the Tourism Department must organize Flower and Rose Shows in Polo Ground Garden which would certainly attract a sizeable number of visitors to the Park. Since the park is situated in the tourist hub of summer capital the restoration of its pristine glory is badly felt. This garden catches first sight of a tourist so we cannot afford to ignore it. The people in Srinagar are now becoming more health and environment conscious. They love going such parks and gardens often.

Surprisingly the Chief Minister of J&K and his Cabinet colleague happen to pass through this garden daily but perhaps they too have no interest in nature watching. They do not gaze environs while roaming around in the city centre. Urgent steps are required to be taken to preserve this heritage garden. Making Srinagar a green city doesn’t mean that the Floriculture Department allows the unwanted grass to grow shoulder height behind which scores of dogs take shelter and create menace. Due to dampness of grass different kinds of blood sucking insects are also found here. The authority concerned must therefore pass effective guidelines for conservation and protection of plant wealth. Member Legislative Assembly, Amira Kadal, Srinagar constituency must also look into the matter and take up the matter with the concerned authorities and ensure its beautification.

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