Killing Time

With communications blocked, the entire population is having a lot of time but not knowing what to do with it. Umar Mukhtar meets the young and elderly to understand how they kill their time

Ishfaq works for Jammu and Kashmir’s taxman. His routine is typical of a government official – early breakfast, quick movement to office and return home by evening. He spears weekends for relaxation, plays cricket, chills out with his peers. Since August 5, his routine is seriously obstructed.

Fearing a violent response to the rollback of autonomy and stripping of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, authorities imposed a communication blackout. Phones, internet, public transport is as good as dead, more than three fortnights later.

The change in routine is a crisis for everybody. With businesses suffering enormous losses and closure of educational institutions creating a new benchmark in knowledge deficit, the real big question for the young generation is: how to kill time? The communication clampdown has actually made the situation worse for the new generation because it was hugely dependent on the internet, even for education.  So, what they do to the time?

In uptown Srinagar, a shopkeeper who has been downloading entertainment, mostly movies, as part of his personal collection is reportedly selling a movie for Rs 50. An eye witness said that the mobile accessory seller is routinely having a long line, every day.

Another provision store owner said he has 350 GBs of films. “When my clients make purchase, I offer them my bank, if they require,” the retailer said on the condition of anonymity. “I do not charge anything but a few show interest and come with their pen-drives.”

“I had around 70 movies in my laptop; I watched them all in these days. Now I have nothing to watch,” said Tawheed, a college student. “As far as my studies are concerned, I mostly rely on the internet. So there is nothing to study.”

Though the communication gag has rendered the smart mobile phones nothing more than toy gadgets, people are still glued to them. Users keep their phones with them even when they travel. Now these gadgets are used as timepieces, mini-film screens and playing games. For most of the day, the young men are busy sharing stuff, mostly films, serials and games. Even the jargon for asking such stuff has been introduced; Cheyaakhen(if you have something).

Watching movies and TV series is what most of the young ones kill their time in. The famous Turkish series Ertugul is the most preferred tele-serial that youth are watching these days. No exaggeration, this series is a craze for the new generation. Globally, it has already 30 million views on the internet.

“This is a treat,” admitted one keen watcher, now watching the third season. “It is a never ending story that one relates with, culturally and historically.” The four seasons of the serial, based on the situation and the wars before the creation of the Ottoman caliphate, runs into hundreds of hours of world class cinema.

People watch it in groups and then discuss its cinematography, history content and the characters. “I believe we can now pursue our career as the film critiques,” said Tawheed in a satirical tone.

People who are not movie watching are busy in the games. In volatile areas of the Srinagar city where venturing out of the homes is no less than the endangering lives, the indoor games are back. Carom that was very popular in 1990’s unending, is back in charm.

A sports good seller said the demand is so high that he sold almost 300 caroms in last one month and the demand is still high. A random visit to any area of the valley, one can find people playing carom in the lanes and by lanes, on shop fronts and others surround them. Surrounding every board is a group, which is actually waiting for its turn. These gaming sessions are huge interactive sessions where the young men exchange information and analysis.  Some of the chromic PUBG players have also found solace in the carom.

The other indoor game which mostly the old people prefer to play is cards. Unlike carom, these are played in shades within the confines of the homes. People play cards while sipping tea, watching TV and discussing politics.

Unlike Srinagar, there are instances in the periphery where the young play outdoor games, mostly cricket and volleyball.  Some cricket enthusiasts managed selling local tourney and making good money out of the frustration of the young population.

A good section of the population is busy in fishing. They pick up the fishing equipment and leave for the lakes and the rivers. This trend is same in the city and the periphery. “I have a passenger bus and it is parked inside the land of my Mohalla since that Monday (August 5),” a bus driver from Nowshehra in Srinagar said. “I kill my day fishing in the lake and invariably I get a few kiligrans almost daily.” Commuters travelling on the Anantnag – Srinagar stretch of the highway see crowds on the ditch, between the highway and the railway track. It was basically irrigation Khul but now is a sort of water body. These crowds are actually busy fishing the whole day.

Girls kill their time by visiting friends in the neighbourhood and do the chit chats for long, read books and watch movies. Qurat a college student said that she checks whether her brother has bought anything new or not. “The idleness has even made me a good cook.”

“Prior to this gag, I used to surf internet for the news, now I visit the streets to listen to what is happening in other parts of the valley,”  saidMudasirNisar, 26, a resident of Chanapora (Srinagar). The street news is sometimes true, sometimes fabricated or even baseless. “We call this street news as Dapaan TV.” Mudasir was working for a private company and since August 5, he has no place to do now. He does not know if he is still on the rolls.

Elders have their own preoccupations. With the communication gag, they trek distances to reach out to the relatives. They are the key carriers of the distribution of the ‘word of mouth’ – news, rumours and the gossip. It is this section of the population that is enormously news hungry. They shift between the TV and the Radio and ensure the newspaper reaches home and is read and discussed. This population spends a lot of time in and around the mosques where post-prayer interactions are the real political exercise.

Besides, this population in various localities across Kashmir is the force behind community schooling and the charity at the local level. Most of the Srinagar city localities have started raising small donations to help the sections not economically well off.

But the crisis has its costs. As the businesses are collapsing and the earnings are depleting fast, the psychological issues have started showing physical manifestations. A doctor in the district hospital Pulwama said that in last one month there is a considerable spike in the mental trauma cases, mostly in the young. The doctor shared an anecdote where he treated a patient who was not keeping well because he could not talk to her fiancé for all these days.

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