Building up a catastrophe

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Arshid Malik
Last year, a friend of mine asked me to visit a piece of land he had purchased in Srinagar city. We settled for a Sunday and borrowed a motorcycle to check out the spot. Even though the piece of land was in proper Srinagar city, it swanked a very un-city-like surrounding; it faced a wet land. Motley birds flew in and out of the foliage while black and brown and cream white ducks dashed for safety on the slightest unwarranted movement. The croaking and chirping sounds with brief interludes of undisturbed silence and sometimes the mysterious tweedling of obscure birds lifted my soul and spirit. The wet land was so full of life. When my friend rolled out the building plan of the house, I was awestruck, noticing how well he had planned the house, with almost every room enjoying the picturesque view of the wet land, especially the verandah. With the misty air of the wet land piercing my nostrils and the orchestra of voices ringing in my ears, we left. Secretly, deep in my heart I was envious of my friend’s newly acquired possession.
This friend of mine was posted in Delhi with a job assignment and we did not get to meet ever since. Last Monday, while the city slipped into deep slumber I received a phone call; it was my friend. He was back in Valley and informed me that construction work had commenced for the building of his new house. We slipped out to the spot to check the construction work in progress. The earth shook under my feet when I saw the brand new spectacle facing my friend’s plot of land. There was no wet land. It had been filled up to build more houses by the city development authority. I knew what was coming – a bout of depression. Whenever I am depressed I often fall prey to other ailments, well maybe because our immune system weakens if we are depressed. I was laid down with bronchitis and stayed in bed for one whole week.
Slowly and gradually, I figure, the Valley is turning into just another concrete jungle. The rate at which we are roping in arable land into the sphere of our civilized escapades, within a couple of decades, what we call a “vast stretch of land” will be folklore.
The population of the Valley is exploding and we need to conjure up more and more space to build shelters and thereby every virgin stretch of land will be “victimized”. But do we realize the manner in which we are spreading out is far too horizontal than we can afford. We need to go vertical now, which is to mean that we should start constructing buildings which have multiple apartments with common shared facilities, like a parking lot, a garden, a playground and stuff. On the contrary, we build houses that contradict our needs. For instance, a family of four will build a house that has, say, 16 rooms. How is that justified when the very concept of joint, big families is somewhat out of mode? And then the houses are concrete fortresses. Do we really need these concrete fortresses? I think we would be better off with smaller, wooden, one or two-storyed houses that blend into the natural surroundings, if we have to have one exclusively of our own.
The risks we are running by using every inch of land at our disposal for construction are posing an existential threat to us as a population. Besides destroying the agri-based status and making ourselves completely dependent we are tearing down the ecosystems as well.

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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