Lal Chowk–A Tale of Two Cities

The silt gathered by inundated structures—residential and business houses—and surroundings give the impression of an age-old locality abandoned by its residents hundreds of years ago, writes journalist Rashid Ahmad

Walking through Lal Chowk is never the same as it had been a fortnight ago. It is, in virtual terms, a tale of two cities—a city full of life and hope which had everything before it, and a city of despair and darkness which has nothing before it. The floods that swept over Srinagar—the nerve centre of politics and commerce of the state—presents the spectacle of a tragedy, not witnessed ever in more than hundred years of Kashmir’s turbulent history. There are no signs of life even after two weeks of the flood. The deathly silence prevailing in the city makes it hard to believe that there had ever been life beneath the watery landscape. The shops are still shut and peoples’ movement almost negligible. Most of the residents and businessmen who had fled to safer places to escape the floods are yet to return their homes and work places. The Lal Chowk, which symbolizes the face of Kashmir—right through its road to Regal Chowk and beyond is still under three feet deep water.

With drooping heads and sullen faces some odd residents and shop owners here and there were seen smashing their way through thick mounds of mud and waist-deep water floundering and stumbling between whiles to reach out their belongings. The silt gathered by inundated structures—residential and business houses—and surroundings give the impression of an age-old locality abandoned by its residents hundreds of years ago. Broken roads, collapsed or cracked buildings, muddied streets and deserted houses are tell-tale witness to the havoc the floods have spread. From the crowded bustees of Maisumma, Basant Bagh, Koker Bazar, Abi Guzre to the residential and business houses of rich and wealthy lords of Jawahar Nagar, Raj Bagh, Wazir Bagh, Residency Road, Regal Chowk, M A Road, Nowpora, Munawarabad, Karan Nagar and beyond the waves of unwholesome floods have roamed through like evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. Property worth rupees tens of thousands of crores has been reduced to garbage.

The scene outside a shop at Abi Guzre lane was heart wrenching. A ready-made garments shop owner, who had made it to reach out to his business outlet, was seen throwing the waste his merchandize had turned into on the roadside. Not a single item in the shop had remained unaffected. A ready-made clothe owner in the same vicinity said that he suffered a loss of Rs 3crore. All the businessmen operating in the flood-hit area have the same story to tell. Around half a dozen other persons were seen sitting outside a foot-wear house in a huddle on Residency Road as if to console and condole one another. Their grim faces and gloomy looks indexed their thoughts and feelings. One might speculate and put the loss suffered in the floods into billions and trillions but in real terms, it is unimaginable.

The ever-bustling Pratap Park Press enclave is, in real sense, a ghost place. The deafening silence in and around the otherwise a boisterous locality dreads one to heart. Flood has overwhelmed the press quarters up to second storeys, drowning all the household belongings, furniture and office materials of media persons. The press fraternity has lost one of its souls—photographer Shafat Siddique while several others who had been trapped inside their offices and quarters had to be evacuated by rescue teams after days of inundation.

The markets places and residential localities that got devastated in the floods had been raised in years of struggle and effort. It would take even more time to recover and regain as the affected people would have to start a fresh from sub-zero positions. But the silver lining beneath all this is that people of Kashmir are well versed with the art of survival. Their hope and faith will make them to rise again. They have survived such calamities in the past, and they will rise again.

(These observations of journalist were copied from his fb page.)

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