A photo essay by Bilal Bahadur
For most of the day, it was a long hunt to get the caravan of 50 BMWs that was reported to carry Zubin Mehta’s musicians from Srinagar airport to the Taj Vivanta. Moving from one place to another, we could never trace any of the iconic vehicles.
Officials said yes the fleet has come but the number is not so huge. It is only 17, one insider said. The organizers have hired a much bigger fleet from a local transporter who owns foreign vehicles. The organizers were seeking Mercedese Benz but J&K has not many barring a few political and business families.
It was in this frustration that the CRPF and police descended in Lal Chowk and started the same old Isreali style surprise checks. People were stopped and the frisking took place besides body searches.
So massive were the arrangements that nobody was allowed in. A group of foreign reporters was literally begging the security men to permit them into the Shalimar but they were refused permission point blank.
On the main road, security men were busy offering final touches to the security arrangements. There were sniffer dogs, metal detectors and massive deployments. Like robots, everybody was busy in the job assigned to them. They were double-cheking to ensure there are no loopholes left.
There were not many civilians around. Barring reporters nobody was so keen to get in. But there were three local young boys who were apparently interested in getting in. They sought permission, were denied and then they left.
The security men would not leave anything to chance. Even the evergreens flowing down the walls could not be left to untouched and un-scanned.
The funniest thing was when the security men started scanning the signboard of the Shalimar Bagh. The security men took turns to scan – first it was Urdu signboard on one side and then it was the English signboard. The signboards were glowing. They seem to be recently mounted as the process for renovating the garden was happening for many months now.
It was a perfect picture when the sniffer dogs and the metal detectors would get on the barricaded exterior of the main wall of the garden. That manicured lush green stretch would offer the exercise a great backdrop.
Police had deployed police women for frisking of the female authorized people who would get in and out as part of the exercise.
As it was impossible to get anything beyond what was obvious, I finally decided to get into the locality and select a house where from I would have a click of the main garden. As I got into the locality, enough of deployments were there. In fact, there was a security man literally sitting on a wall so that he prevents any kind of peoples’ ingress from that side. Locals said they are in a tight blanket. Somehow I selected a house and went to the top floor and clicked a picture of the garden. The venue was off even from my powerful camera’s range.
It was in the locality that I saw a family undoing what they had done – they had a marriage ceremony and given the security situation, they cancelled it. At the time of the my visit, they had literally collected all the matting and other things which was laid for the guests. It was gloomy atmosphere there. The owner of the house was literally in tears. He showed me the newspaper in which he had announced the cancellation of the marriage. He did not talk much.
“They forced us to cancel the ceremony. They created a situation that devoured our happiness, our peace and our rituals,” a lady cried. “For their music …. my foot.”