Introduction to KashmirForum.org 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.
www.kashmirforum.org

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Srinagar No More

Majid says that in the name of progress, a beautiful city has turned ugly


(Dr. Abdul Miraj Siraj, 63, was born in Srinagar and went to C.M.S. Biscoe Memorial High School. He completed his medical degree from Patna University and his advanced fellowships (FRCS, MRCS, LRCP) from United Kingdom. Dr. Siraj received a degree in Peace Studies from the Bradford University. He worked as a consultant General Surgeon in England and Middle East. He has published three books, which are Kashmir Peace or Desolation (Minerva, London 1997), Towards Peace in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh (Manas, Delhi 2003), and Kashmir Caselaw (Scottapress, UK 2006). All books continue to be in circulation. He now lives mostly in Kashmir, and enjoys reading and writing.)

Who killed Srinagar?

There is only a miniscule said of how beautiful the city of Srinagar was with its exuberance and style, with its environment and the aroma, with its flowers and trees. I pass by an antic now become vestigial from those times and get lost in nostalgia. I am a living witness to the systematic desecration over the years of this pristine oasis of nature. The transformation over the years becomes imperceptible to a growing up Kashmiri resident. You may still clad in long pherans and sit with a view of outside but there is little left of the icicles dripping water, the fruit vendors shouting in cadence praises for their merchandise or the boatmen in rivers and nalas waiting for passengers.

My journey started in Siraj Bazar Zaina Kadal. This was a routine trip to my school in Sheikh Bagh on the private horse carriage or Tonga. While the horse made a rhythmic trotting music on the road I mused in my little mind over the two previous nights we spent living in a boat. The trip was very refreshing. The boat used was like a floating home (Donga) equipped with soft cushions. We set off in this donga at Bohri Kadal Mier Canal. Two nights through the waterways were silent tranquility punctuated with the sounds of the oars rowing the boat and the rustling of shrubs along the shores. We rode through winding canals emulating feelings of an experience described in paradise.

Where have these canals gone? Where are those promises that more canals will be linked to a network of water transport? What happened to the Venetian dream? Who killed Srinagar?

My Tonga shone like a bride with a bellow horn and a decorative whip. The tall horse we named Samda Gur pulling the carriage was my preferred transport to the Sunbeam Talbot at home. The horse making rhythmic music with its feet trotted alongside the Zanana Park. A tall fence shielded the exuberance of the lush green woman only park full of blooming flowers and manicured shrubs. Men were forbidden inside but little boys like me were an exception. Young women thronged the place and some were airborne on the swings. Seen today who could have imagined that a huge concrete monstrous structure like the Secretariat would sit in the middle of this beautiful recreational park like a gravestone burying splendor and glory? Where do women go for a breath of air? Who killed Srinagar?

The tapping sound made by Samda Gur produced an echo from the other side of the Zanana Park and brought into view the huge expanse of the Gole Bagh play ground. This was my heart beat because all my football heroes like Habib Punzo and Gulam Hassan (Inspector) the bare foot footballers made their mark in matches. Many thousands of people came here to watch the game. These pitches have been razed and bricks and mortar structure stands proud as High Court Buildings administering justice without realizing that the building they are sitting in presides over the demise of a national sports ground, now relegated to history. Now our children play in wasteland and township streets. There is nowhere else to go. Where is that space gone? Who killed Srinagar?

Making my journey to school as a nine year old I was full of delight to be looking at the mighty fa├žade of Exhibition gates. This place gave me the excitement that neither the Disney World nor Disney Land in America gave me. Each shop inside was entertainment. One anna would buy me a solo audience of an instant sight and sound symphony with cascading rainfall standing in front of the shop. I clenched my fists hard when a man lit himself in flames 200 feet from ground on a ladder and like a fireball jumped in a small pool of water. I often wondered if I could be this hero. This Disney world in Kashmir is now a row of offices where files and money change hands and shops inside look a dismal bazaar. Where has life in Srinagar gone?

Maharaja Hari Singh may have been an autocrat who was born in Paris but he would never desecrate parks, canals, or Chinar trees in Chinar Bagh and Naseem Bagh or presaging death of Silk industry by ruthless annihilation of mulberry trees or bring litter and filth in the streets in order to feed the stray cows and dogs and make cesspools of bacteria a ubiquitous scene for built-in Mohallas. Even the streets were clean except for occasional dung from the horses now replaced by millions of cars and decrepit lorries on the same roads that existed then. In creating a hell in the beautiful city of Srinagar who brings unplanned traffic chaos in the streets? Who killed Srinagar with fumes and dust produced by raw surface and millions of potholes?

My tall brown horse Samde Gur continuing in a gentle trot stopped and my fairy tale travel ended at Sheikh Bagh School. My senior Cambridge class was full of British children and we made frequent cross country runs to the top of Takhte Suleiman Mountain. We ran on the Bund along river Jhelum that was immaculate with beautiful shop fronts on one side. No traffic on wheels was ever permitted and not a scrap of litter on this beautiful promenade. Today when I find traffic on this great esplanade of Srinagar and Chhola vendors throwing litter, I cannot stop grieving. Why has this asset been turned into a back street of a backward city? Who killed Srinagar?

My school was clubbed with Haddow Memorial school in sports and I captained the Haramukh house in boating. We excelled in boat races, boat sinking and once a year we competed in a race, swimming 14 miles from Gagribal to Nishat and back. Even the girls from our class made the long swim and we all ate biscuits thrown in the water. We were not allowed to come near a boat. The water in the Dal was so clean that we ate from it. Alas ! Where is that lake gone? Who are those mute spectators presiding over the languishing and dying state of the most beautiful part of the world’s inland sea? Who killed Srinagar?

Where are those polo matches played in polo ground, where is that Nedus Hotel, Srinagar Club and Amarsingh Club, all considered the pride of Srinagar. Two hundred years of a coveted asset was the Kashmir Golf Course (KGC). I could never have thought KGC will become a bog with stench from live sewers wafted in from neighboring homes. This golf course is now a den for gamblers and thousands of stray dogs. Why has Srinagar suffered this humiliation? When will it ever be restored and given its life back? I only hope it is soon because every day more damage is done to the environment and the habitat.

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