After two days of ‘selective’ curfew, Srinagar bubbled back to business. Open schools, functioning offices, bustling markets and roads crowded by transport, the life is back to normal. For a moment, it does not seem that the same spots represented the Shehr-e-Khamosh (the city of silence) for the last few days.
Owing to certain tensions having the potential of spiraling into crisis, curfew was imposed in vast belts of the city falling under nine police stations. Though restrictions were imposed only in “parts of the city,” the capital city was deserted for all these days. The markets were open in non-curfew areas but streets were deserted. Offices had thin attendance and schools were literally locked.
The larger reality is that Srinagar lives in the old town and it is down-town that is ‘the city’. Shifting of part of business and a section of citizenry did not impact the status of Shehr-e-Khas as being the heart and mind of an idea that we historically knew as Shehr-e-Kashmir, the city of Kashmir.
Ideally, if parts of the city were closed for some reason, the other part should have functioned and behaved normally. If the ‘down-town’ was ‘curfewed’, the up-town should have reported the business as usual. But it did not. The reason: the life of Srinagar lives in the old city and in a way up-town is lifeless.
Old city has an exemplary cultural homogeneity, a disturbingly architectural contiguity, and an impressively exclusive life style. Its multi-million population share the problems of basic facilities and better economic opportunities but the larger reality is that it is the powerhouse of Srinagar – by way of investment, human resource, and commitment to sustaining initiatives. It is decisively clear in its defiance and visibly vocal on political front. Though it lacks a proverbial leadership from across the ideological divide of city’s political chessboard, it acts, sometimes by boiling at zero to get counted. Old city is fundamental to the idea of Srinagar.
As the last two days have amply exhibited, if down-town is under lock-and-key, the rest does not matter at all. Life, for obvious reasons, was missing in the uptown. The heterogeneous uptown is insulated from the environment. It is housed in and sub-divided in chunks, pockets and interested slivers like an elite locality, an official’s areas, a posh belt and the elite villagers colony. Unlike old city, the uptown suffers from less stake-holding in the city well being as most of the population is flouting or having dichotomous sympathies.
The fact of the matter is that most of the business and the initiatives that make a society have its keys in the old city. Even if the big shots of business live on the green banks of Dal Lake or the cozy colonies of Rajbagh and Sanat Nagar, they all have their workforce from old city. And in cases where the initiatives and workers are from uptown, the actual consumer lives in the old city.
Old city may require some more attention to get it at par with the facilities that are available in the up-town. In the last few years, there were certain efforts. Certain roads were re-laid and macadamized, some old shrines were demolished and recreated, and a number of community halls were built. It needs a lot more. Though it is absolutely impossible to reverse the flight of capital and initiatives because the consumer is widely disbursed on the periphery of the valley, there is urgent requirement for investing in recreating the charms of Maharaj Bazaar – once the epicenter of trade, or the Zaina Kadal, for example.
There is urgent need of insulating the vital landmarks like Jamia Masjid and other shrines from the congested environments. The construction of roads coming from Pandach and Hazratbal need to speed up. There are various spots that needs a bit of angioplasty and dry-clean but there are no major surgeries required for a place that defines Kashmir.
Old city’s vitality to the idea of Kashmir in general and Srinagar in particular needs to be acknowledged. It deserves a better deal and an efficient engagement that is not always defined by restrictions. If Srinagar is the seat of growth in Kashmir, its heart lies in the old city. Let shock therapy not be an all time option. Engage, improve, development, talk and create stakes in a better tomorrow without attempting to treat history.
(The author of this piece wishes to stay anonymous)