Even though the Central University of Kashmir would take some more time in finding a permanent address to operate from, its campuses in Ganderbal are encouraging an economic change as people are exploring ways and means to improve their incomes, reports Humaira Nabi
A few kilometres away from noisy and crowded Ganderbal, in the tired old village of Tulmullah, life is a little slow. The earthy smell from a large paddy field tangoed with the musty odour of dumped cow dung along the roadside pervades the air. There is no hurry, few vehicles dart through the roads. However, the village is in process of being revamped after a few departments of the Central University of Kashmir initiated their functioning in the area. Cheap grocery stores set up by residents are a common site now. Street vendors and hawkers have taken over the pavements selling fruits, vegetables and street food.
A two-storied eatery, Mir Baba Hyder, adjacent to the university entrance has become a go-to place for the students and faculty members of the university. Run by two sisters-in-law, Daisy, 29, and Masarat, 25, the eatery has gone famous as Aunty ke chai.
The two young women initiated the eatery in 2018, when Daisy’s husband Nisar Ahmad Bhat, the lone breadwinner was unable to continue his profession of carpentry due to hypertension. Daisy along with Masarat took a loan of Rs 1.5 lakh from a self-help group and constructed a humble café to carry out their expenses.
“Our family went into financial crisis after my husband was advised by a doctor to discontinue carpentry for some time, as he suffered from hypertension,” Daisy said. “My elder daughter was supposed to get admitted to a private school but fate upended our plans. However, I refused to surrender to the circumstances. I always wanted my kids to get educated at a good school. So, I decided to work.”
Determined but apprehensive, Daisy took her sister-in-law into confidence and shared the idea of opening a tea stall near the University. They wanted a small piece of land on which they set up the small eatery. “My husband supported the idea, which boost our morale.”
Inside the eatery, the aroma of freshly fried samosas and chola, tickles the taste buds of bystanders. A radio set hung on the wall reverberates with Punjabi hip-hop. Daisy is pouring and serving tea to the customers, Masarat takes care of dishes while Dasiy’s husband looks after the finances.
“The establishment of the university in our area has helped in the financial improvement of many economically weak families like mine,” Bhat, now gradually coming out of hypertension, said. “Our kids are admitted in private schools. We anticipate a better future for them now, which otherwise was a distant dream.”
Taking a lead from Daisy and Masarat, a couple of women from the surrounding areas have started small-scale businesses to lend a helping hand in earning a living for their families.
Shaheena Akhtar, 40, is a mother of three young children. Her husband is a daily wage worker whose income turned out to be too less to support his family. Two years after the Central University of Kashmir was shifted to Tullmulah, Shaheena with the help of her husband converted a small room of the house facing the roadside into a small provision store. She now, while taking care of her two-year-old daughter, the youngest one, in the shop, sells packed food items to the university students.
“Though I run at a very small scale and the margins are quite meagre but I am content with it as I am standing shoulder to shoulder with my husband to earn for our children,” Shaheena said.
There are many such small stories of struggle, hoping to be successes very soon. They see the campus as a huge intervention in their lives.
Omar Abdullah laid the foundation of the varsity at Tulmullah, Ganderbal in 2009. For more than a decade now, the university has been changing its addresses almost on year on year basis as its permanent campus is still a distant dream. The Central University of Kashmir is currently operating from various rented accommodations across Ganderbal. With no hostel facility provided by the University authorities, students who are admitted to the varsity from across India are left with no choice but to go for off-campus accommodation. This has added yet another small income to the families who could spare some space to house the students.
Taking advantage of the incompetence of the governance, the Ganderbal residents have provided rented accommodations and paying-guest services for the students.
Habibullah Bhat, 65, a retired employee of the Roads and Building Department, Kashmir, has rented out his old house for the students of the Central University of Kashmir. Female students from various districts including Kulgam, Baramulla and Kupwara are currently residing there. While the accommodation helped the students find a safe and secure place, the rent from each tenant has turned out to be quite lucrative for Habibullah.
What makes this income a godsend gift is that the family had moved to a better and bigger house and the old structure was gradually decaying. All of a sudden, this old house found its new inmates and the life revived. Otherwise abandoned, this started making money.
Nazima Farooq, 25, a first-year post-graduate student of Urdu is a resident of Bomai in Sopore. Habibullah has rented out his accommodation to Nazima, for almost a year. Nazima said that female students from distant areas are able to continue their studies only because of the presence of off-campus accommodation facilities made available by the residents.
“I have to pay a fare of Rs 400 to travel from Sopore to Ganderbal on a daily basis if I choose to shuttle between home and the classroom. It would be around Rs 10,000 for commuting alone,” Nazima said, insisting her modest background may ill-afford her education in that case. “I pay a rent of Rs 1500 per month and I am comfortable.”
Property owners across Ganderbal have opened up to the burgeoning paying guest culture. A good chunk of faculty members and students of the Central University belonging to distant areas prefer paying for guest accommodations because it being affordable and viable. With 24×7 internet, water and electricity supply at most PG facilities, the owners charge a fair amount for the services. Apart from generating new incomes, this culture is bringing people from various sub-cultures closer to each other. It helps them understand each other better.
Tahira Bano, 60, married off her youngest daughter, her fourth, in 2020. With no son, Tahira and her husband Peer Sirajudin were left alone in their two-storied home. While Sirajuddin went for work, Tahira would go to her neighbourhood friends to find solace; until a few Central University students visited her, looking for PG accommodation.
Tahira and her husband at once agreed and let out three rooms for them. Now she looks after the PG students as her own children, cooks and takes care of their needs. While the service helped Tahira and her husband get rid of loneliness, it has also them to earn a good amount of money at an age, she never thought of.
“Living in the vicinity of the university has proved to be a blessing for me,” Tahira said. “I get busy cooking and looking after the needs of these students. It is a win-win for us. They get a quality home-stay, while I managed my boredom and loneliness as I get busy working for them.”
The money that she earns each month makes her feel a little younger and ambitious, she admitted with a twinkle in her eyes.
“The couple has made us feel at home since day one. The privacy and homely food that we are offered here is rare,” said Masooda, an MEd student from Anantnag, who stays as a PG at Tahira’s home.