by Arshid Malik
Pre-90s Kashmir was an altogether different place. I have very fond memories of that era. The first shock I received, as the era ended, was the shutting down of our school which was run by Kashmiri Pandits. I was left school-less. That was exactly the time I decided to live my life reclusively and secretly in the pre-90s Kashmir. It was a well though decision and the point of impact that would keep the poet inside me alive. Yes, I used to write poetry. People said it was beautiful and I had decide to keep that beauty alive.
I spent my free time loitering on the Residency Road and that mostly forms the chunk of my pre-90s Kashmir, besides my locality which was so lively and rude at the same time. I have fond memories of Residency Road. My first chunk of memory resides in the majestic Regal Cinema where I have watched a multiple number of blockbuster movies. Regal used to feature Hollywood movies mostly unlike other cinema halls in Kashmir and that is why it was my favourite. I used to go there with my elder cousins. Fond memories.
My next chunk of memories is engraved in the Shakti Sweets shop where I along with my friends and acquaintances used to savour the Punjabi, Chinese and South Indian delicacies like Chole Bhaturey, “Masala Dosa”, “Chowmien” besides the plethora of other sweets. A very incidence in my life is attached to Shakti Sweets. My aunt used to reside in Nishat. I would love going there on weekends. I would fret about going home on Sunday evening and enjoy over a promise of making it back home Monday morning. On Monday my eldest cousin would wake me up early and we would board a bus to Lal Chowk. On the way, I would pray to God that the bus should be late and we should never reach my home in time so that I could skip school. Most of the times my prayers bore fruit and we would run late. My cousin would take me to Shakti Sweets and we would have “Chole Bahturey” there and then run home, obviously too late for school. Very fond memories.
The brilliance of my chunk of memories associated with Residency Road was the Kashmir Book Shop. I used to love that place. I would venture inside and breathe in the smell of the cleanly stacked books in the shop. It was an altogether different world and the shopkeeper was always very helpful and friendly. It is a sad fact that Kashmir Book Shop closed down after witnessing a decline in business and thereafter the surge of violence in the Valley. The owner of the shop was a Sikh who had lost his two sons to tragic accidents and that broke him if memory serves me right. Graceful memories. I recall there was a smaller bookshop called Hind Bookshop on the opposite side of the road which I would visit rarely because of the smaller collection of books there.
The scattered chunks of smaller but very intimate memories about the Residency Road was the architecture. There was the Pestonjee building which I would stare at for what seemed like ages. There used to be the statute of a horse outside the building, probably made of plaster of paris. It always stood astutely as if proud of its grace and poise. A monolith of stone, granite and glass has replaced it. How sad and horrific. Then there was the beautiful Grindlay’s Bank, symbolically majestic, covered in creepers. Following the Bank were some graceful cafes and the General Post Office. Adjacent to the post office was the Sher-Kashmir Park and the only graceful part about it was that it was home to a small, make-shift library which I was never allowed to enter for reasons unknown to me. Some people used to say that it was basically a government office. Shudder. To the left were the majestic greens of the Polo Ground where I would roll and roll, absorbing the heavenly moisture of the green grass.
Things have changed tremendously but I figure I can live in my memories for as long as I want.