Kashmir: Play losing its grounds

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Kashmir Wire

Srinagar

There is no playground in Srinagar, summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, worth its name for sportspersons and the grounds that are boasted of, are not spacious enough for kids to play so they prefer indoor games. Having no recreational facilities many of them have become drug addicts.

Against this backdrop, where you have paucity of playgrounds, half a century back Kashmir had a number of playgrounds where sports lovers would sweat themselves out.

A view from Rustumgari, Takht-e-Sulaiman, towards Polo Ground

Talking to Kashmir Wire many youngsters expressed their dismay at lack of playgrounds in the city. Even the recent government initiatives of converting a host of playgrounds in the old city into stadiums hasn’t generated any excitement among youth for the lack of infrastructure there. Those who have seen Srinagar from close quarters in the past share the despondency of sportsmen, who recall some 50 years back, there were a number of playgrounds and players would play football, cricket and many other games. A senior citizen Jan Mohammad feels distressed at this change, “Those were the days population was considerably thinner we used to have open environs, there were small playgrounds in every mohalla for children and grownups.

”Satirist and social worker Zareef Ahmad Zareef laments, “It seems yore, when most youngsters in old city would play football at Eidgah , when I was growing up ‘khar maidan’ in Batamalo which is also called ‘chandmari’ ground was also a hub of sports activities, besides what we today see as Jehangir Chowk, where we have a state high court complex today was also a sprawling ground. ”These playgrounds are witness to a politically vibrant Kashmir. In 1978 when Late Mirza Afzal Beigh was deposed of Deputy Chief ministership by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and expelled from National Conference he called a mass contact programme in “golebagh” ground.

Just a stone’s throw away from Golebagh ground was another ground where we have civil Secretariat now.

Zareef Ahmad Zareef

Post 1947 Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah developed this ground as women’s park and named it Brigadier Usman Park. Brig.Usman was killed while fighting tribals from Pakistan. This name though was not that popular but this park would buzz around with women ,among whom Begum Akbar Jehan, Begum Jalaludin, Miss Mehmooda, Begum Zafar Ali ,women from the Dhars, the Wazirs would recreate here for hours. But people had their inhibitions visiting this park for it had an elite aura to it.

Hazuri Bagh whose main attraction nowadays is Dr Sir Mohammad Iqbal Park was also widely spread, where youngsters played football. Many football tournaments were organized at this venue, besides political rallies too were a regular feature. It is the same venue where Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had a date with Kashmiris ,his historical speech before 1947 made this place a focal point.

After Ghulam Mohammad Shah toppled the Farooq Abdullah government on July 2, 1984 the then Prime Minister of India Indira Ghandi addressed people at Hazuri Bagh, the same speech which saw National Conference workers on rampage. Before turbulent times hit Kashmir in 1989 Hazuri Bagh saw dussehra celebrations where the effigies of Ravana, Megnath and Kumbkaran were burnt. Zareef Ahmad Zareef recalls apart from Polo Ground boys played cricket and football at S.P.College ground and Amar singh club. Zareef goes down the memoray lane,

“The densely populated areas of the old city like Habba Kadal too had a playground which was popularly called gadoodbagh. Children from the adjoining areas would gather in this ground and live their passion here.”

Near Babademb M.P.School ground too was a centre of playing activities.

Zareef feels nostalgic about Malli Khah where he would himself play at sarfwari. He remembers even Late Mirwaiz Molvi Mohammad Farooq too played his football and cricket here.

”At Nowhatta where we have a buzzing market these days adjacent to Jamia Masjid there was an orchard where a host of kids would play all day. During those time three teams of football were popular Eidgah sports, transport and police. Eidgah sports versus Transport would bring crowd to its feet but the football team of J&K Police was booed.

S.P College playground has always been a hub of sports activities where various tournaments were organized from time to time though Amar Singh Club has always been synonymous with cricket. Again you could never keep politics away from those grounds

On 26th March 1977 Congress withdrew support from the Sheikh Abdullah Government and the Governor rule was imposed. Subsequently assembly elections were held, not before congress had been beaten badly in the parliamentary elections, there was a countrywide Janta Party wave and National Conference too had joined the fray. It was during this time that illness kept Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah away from political activities and his supporters were deep in grief. To pacify his supporters a message of Sheikh was read out from polo ground, that day not a soul could move.

And when in 1977 National Conference got a resounding victory in the assembly elections, Sheikh thanked his voters again from Polo ground. When Sheikh Abdullah passed away on September 8, 1982, his supporters had his last glimpse here at his funeral. Rayees Ahmad a sportsman is very cynical about the playing activities getting any flip here.He says Amarsingh Club has become inaccessible for the locals, Eidgah’s condition is pathetic.

Another sports lover seconds his opinion only TRC and Polground are left for youngsters to have some semblance of playing. Although government has constructed Gani Memoiral stadium in the old city but it lacks basic sports infrastructure. Even at Rainawari a small patch of land has been turned into stadium that too sans facilities.

There are people who claim Kashmir has more to offer in the national discourse besides the vexed issue but the Pervez Rasools, the Wadoos, the Ashfaqs, the Mudasirs have achieved it without playgrounds and stadiums of any repute.Those grounds which became the edifice of politics in Jammu and Kashmir have vanished in thin air,now enough politics may be played on sports but the playing arenas for sports are missing, with it the adrenaline rush of sportspersons.

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