When Curtains Fall

As Durbar closes in Jammu for a six-month stint in Srinagar, Tasavur Mushtaq describes the scenes that set in as files started sleeping into the tin trunks for a 300-km journey

Durbar-MoveAll of a sudden, the long queues outside the civil secretariat simply evaporate. By April 28, not many visitors are around in the otherwise crowded concrete monster housing J&K’s medulla of the governance. Cops find time to rest under the shadows of trees in the manicured lawns as rising mercury convert outdoors into hell. The canteen is low on supplies as it expects no visitors in next six months.

Inside offices are bustling with activity. Corridors that are usually crowded with visitors are stiffed with steel trunks, cardboard cartons, jute bags and boxes of all sizes. Rooms are being emptied as everything from paper pins to telephone instruments are being safely kept in the trunks.

The seat of governance that saw three governments in last three months is about to become a ghost town, for the next half of the year. Old timers say the building is a sight to see in summers – deserted, desolate, and bubbling with monkeys and occasional movement of sentry’s.

By now, movement of files has ceased and destiny of many a things, projects, men and women stands closed down in steel boxes. In the next few months of scorching heat, when the people in the region would require some sort of help, the highest seat of governance would operate from the cool Kashmir. Last time when Rajiv Gandhi suggested reversing the order, it broke hell lose.

The process of closure is cumbersome yet organized like a structured and deliberate migration. It is like packing the whole government. But people dealing with this for many years have expertise in managing this 19th century affair so meticulously in the 21st century’s IT age.

The countdown starts when the order is issued by the government specifying the dates. Offices working five days a week closes on Friday and those with six days close on Saturday. Group of officials from each department moves in advance to receive the “government”.

SRTC, the state transporter manages the movement of men and material. Near the gate of assembly secretariat, SRTC has opened a booking counter. Naazirs (cashier) of each department manage the show for their respective departments. A naazir receives the numbered trunks, bags and other items and hires labourers to load the material in trucks. Each item has an address – the department and the official to whom it pertains. The leftover is only the furniture; rest everything from table tops, clocks, dustbins to chair towels is part of this migration.

The real pain is in the Estates Department that works overtime to manage accommodations in Srinagar. The priority starts with ministers, legislators and bureaucrats. These days’ Director Estates is invisible as he prefers working late hours or from some undisclosed location. He is the most harried person.

Friday, April 29, the scene in colonies housing employees is same as that of offices. Employees, living without their families for two months now, are busy packing their belongings. The flooring is spread out on the terraces to sundry. The utensils, refrigerators, washing machines and other gadgets are being repacked. The naphthalene balls are rolling in the wardrobes and trunks. The remaining of spices, rice, vegetables and other eatables are given to needy people waiting outside government quarters. Marginalized people visit these housing belts during these days for many decades now.

As the move allowance – already hiked by the new government – credited in the account, the employees spare time to pay their rent, electricity bills and other dues. The final payment is being made to shopkeepers where from they buy essentials.

Last few days are sort of bidding adieu to the companionship of six months and making promises to meet again later this year. The evenings are spent in last minute shopping, a stroll down the old city, and a walk in posh Gandhi Nagar. With families in Srinagar, the employees relive the memories of bachelorhood. Affordability determines where they will dine out. Last few days are for having food outside. From Raan in KC Plaza to Billu’s Chicken; a glass of fresh lime soda in ladies market to Lassi of Pahalwan, everything is being relished. Not only employees, two senior PDP ministers were seen enjoying barbecue on the roadside near the entrance of Ahata Amar Singh. The duo enjoyed feast with scores of employees living nearby giggling, making comments and capturing the moment on their smart phones.

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