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.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Samad Sheikh's Lament

An old timer confronts winter with a feeling of loss

Kashmir's Grandpas Miss Winter's Icicles, Storytellers

Srinagar: 'Snow is all right, but, my dear, where are the icicles?' asked a bewildered Samad Sheikh, 75, who lives in a hamlet here in north Kashmir. Winter has been harsh this season, but the old man has an uncanny feeling that all might not be well with the valley's environment.

'When it was snowing one night, I was frightened to hear thunder, something that had not happened in my life so far,' said Sheikh whose village has recently seen the temperatures dip to as low as minus 6.6 degrees Celsius.

'The second thing that startled me is the fact that a warm sun shone over the valley immediately after the heavy snowfall melting almost 90 percent of the snow on the ground.

'This would never happen in our childhood. A snowfall during the 'Chila Kalan' (the 40-day-long harshest period of winter between Dec 21 and Jan 31) would ensure that the landscape remained covered with a thick blanket of snow till the end of March. That does not happen now,' he said.

What he also misses are the icicles which symbolised the Kashmir winters of his childhood.

'I have seen icicles as long as six feet hanging from the roofs of homes in our village. The icicles were symbolic of the winter months,' he recalled.

'Children would be warned not to walk close to the roofs to avoid accidents. If someone ever got struck by a falling icicle, the accident would be near fatal as they had long sharp edges which could cut through flesh like knife through butter,' he recalled.

Another thing he sorely misses is the institution of the storyteller, once an integral part of valley life.

'The storyteller would regularly come to our home in the evening. All the village children would assemble in a room as the storyteller started his narrative of princes and fairies and the wooden horse that would fly carrying the prince charming to the far off land where he fought the demon to retrieve his lady love.

'Hot 'kehwa' with saffron to keep the story teller and the listeners awake during the long winter nights was a ritual I still remember vividly,' Sheikh said, ruing the end of the charming tradition.

'Now we have television sets which flash stories and news from the skies into our homes, but, believe me, the intimacy and the thrill of the story teller cannot be matched even by some of the brightest colours we see on the television screens,' he said.

Nostalgia apart, many local scientists believe that global phenomena have had an adverse effect on summer and winter patterns here.

Muhammad Ismail, a well-known local geologist, agrees with Sheikh's observations, but has a scientific explanation for it.

'More than anything else, it is the pacific decadal oscillations that affect the weather patterns. These oscillations are cyclic, spread over 25 to 35 years. The temperature variations are also related to solar flexes.

'From mid-1940s to mid-1970s, despite the rise in economic activities the world over, we experienced colder periods as temperatures globally continued to decrease. From mid-1970s to 2005 the temperatures rose again.

'Because of the pacific decadal oscillations, we are again going towards a temperature downslide globally,' Ismail said.

He also attributed the present harsh winters to the 'La Nina factor' which results in decreased temperatures - thereby harsher winters - in contrast to the 'El Nino factor', which causes warmer winters.

'These two factors also contribute to changing weather patterns, but their cycle ranges from 6 to 18 months only,' said the scientist.

Scientific explanations notwithstanding, despite a heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures, elders like Sheikh feel the magic and thrill of winters is a story of the past in the valley.

'The winters are no longer what they used to be in our childhood,' Sheikh told his grandchildren, who gave him a blank look, perhaps doubting their grandpa's sanity.


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