I have spent almost half of my life in Jammu right from the very birth, the reason being the durbar move. My late father who served in various capacities in the state government had to move in winter to Jammu. The recollection of the most of the events of those early days has gone blank with my fading memory but there are certain incidents of love and bonhomie which I vividly recall. I am sharing these with my friends in Jammu!
Friends, past and present
In the previous article I had described some of our family friends and their kin with whom we have decades old bonds which have withstood all the upheavals. However, apart from these, during my stay in Jammu in the formative years and in later times while on duty as part of the Durbar move, I have had many personal friends. I have very faint recollection of my childhood friends from Jammu. I remember a Sardar Ji who used to be my classmate in Hari Singh High School. His father owned a sweet shop on Residency Road. I lost touch with him after passing the Middle Board Exams. I passed my Matriculation and Intermediate exams from Srinagar. There were also some Pandit friends studying with me in Jammu of whom I have very faint idea. However, I developed friendship with Jammu residents during my stay in the Regional Engineering College in Srinagar. I was in the first batch of the college which had a large number of students from different parts of Jammu. These included Raj Kumar Abrol, Narinder Kohli, Jagdish Raj, Brij Mohan Gandotra, Madan Dogra, Mohammad Ali Malik, Aashiq Hussain Poonchi, Harbajan Singh Rana, Sapolia, and many others. Some of these continued to be in touch with me after I assumed the charge of the Director and subsequently the Director General Tourism. Raj Kumar Abrol was the best student in REC. He was roll number 1 and I was roll number 2 in the first batch. Both of us were merit scholarship holders all the five years of our stay in the College. He subsequently obtained a doctorate in electronic engineering and became the Director for the Centre for Electronic Design and Technology of Government of India. He truly was a hard working and brilliant student. In the College every body would be waiting for Raj Kumar to finish his assignment and then all others would copy it! As Director of CEDT he helped me in the preparation and launching of the J & K Tourism website. Most of my other friends from Jammu retired as Chief Engineers in their respective fields. Some went abroad and excelled there too. Most of the first batch trainees of REC were very successful engineers.
During my tenure in the Tourism Department I came across a number of officers from Jammu. In addition, I personally came to know a large number of people from the Tourism Industry both in Jammu and Katra. Among the Tourism Officers the first one was N D Misra who used to be Deputay Director Central when I joined the Department in 1973. He was a very upright, intelligent, and hard working officer. In fact, he taught me all the rules and procedures of administration. The other officer was Navin Kohli who was Deputy Director of Jammu Tourism for a long time. He too was very upright, duty conscious, and very sociable. Another brilliant officer was R S Jamwal who retired some years back. He served in Katra for a long time. Among the younger lot who were my colleagues are Surjit Singh Bhalla who served as Director Tourism, Jammu, and Farid Hussain Kashmiri of Kishtwar who retired as Deputy Director Tourism, Jammu. Both were known to me right from early seventies when they were undergoing Skiing training in Gulmarg. Another person from Jammu who was with them in Gulmarg was K K Sharma who served in Youth Affairs Department. All these officers were upright and hard working. Among the presently serving ones there are two whom I must mention. One is S M Sahni, the present Director Tourism. He has had varied postings in Tourism Sector during last 20 years or so. He has served both in the field and administration. He is an excellent event organiser and a brilliant host and a guide. His long tenure has made him a Tourism Professional. The other is Ajay Khajuria presently Deputy Commissioner, Udhampur. He too is a Tourism Professional having served in the Department for a long time including its Director before the present posting. He has an additional exposure of having done some advanced studies in Tourism in U.K. I have groomed Ajay right from the day he joined the Department as a Tourist Officer. He is quite smart, widely travelled, knowledgeable and upright. He is doing quite well in his district and being young is bound to go far ahead. In the Travel business the many other acquaintances include Kuldeep Wahi (Jewels), V K Garg and Anand (Asia Hotel), Harish Gosain and Amrik Singh both travel agents. Then there is Captain Gaur who jumped from Travel business into politics and lost the election. I have been interacting with these friends even after retirement. I have also been interacting with the Tourism stalwarts in Katra which I used to visit often during my tenure in the Department.
Among the present politicians my earliest friend has been Kanwar Bhim Singh. I first met him in 1964 when he had the guts to come to Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir Park to burn the effigy of Sheikh Abdullah. He was those days a very active student leader. Sheikh Sahib had been released from prison after 11 years incarceration and had received a tumultuous welcome. Bhim Singh stood against Sheikh Sahib’s demand for plebiscite and to demonstrate their anger Bhim Singh accompanied by a number of students from Jammu came to Srinagar. There was a clash and dozens of students including Bhim Singh were put in Jail. Subsequently I met him a number of times. He even took me to his home in Ramnagar. He is a born agitator, adventurer (crossed the great Sahara desert on motor-cycle), and a mercurial politician. He is adept at espousing every cause regardless of the consequences! The other person I met in early sixties was Professor Balraj Puri. Right from those early years he has been advocating the concept of Regional Autonomy but he has not been able to get the concept materialised on ground. He is a scholar of great repute and a secular broadminded person of which Jammu should be proud. On the other extreme I happen to know very well Ashok Khajuria, the firebrand BJP stalwart. He too is quite knowledgeable and discusses many things in a positive way. During my discussions with him I found him quite progressive and broadminded. I fail to understand what is he doing in a party like BJP? I have also had a lot of interaction with other politicians like Thakur Randhir Singh, R S Chib, and Surjit Singh Salathia who served as Ministers of Tourism during my tenure. Salathia Sahib took me to his native village Gorda Salathia a number of times. This is the village which has contributed probably the largest number of Generals from a single place in the Indian Army! Every family has contributed soldiers to Indian Army.
Among the journalists from Jammu whom I happen to know personally, are Ved Bhasin, S D Rhoemtra, Arun Joshi, and Kavita Suri. With Arun and Kavita I have had many interactions.
One unique person from Jammu with whom I had official as well family relations is Sushma Choudhary. She is like our family member and my mother considers her as her daughter. She was probably the best ever officer produced by Jammu in recent times. A workaholic, upright, intelligent, dynamic and a persistent officer. She rose to the level of Union Secretary in Government of India. In the state she made plenty of contributions in various fields in which she served. People of Jammu must be beholden to her for the contributions she made in its development. But as usual they say people are sometimes very thankless. Jammu has not given her the recognition she deserves!
In concluding, I must say that people outside especially in the valley, have a very wrong impression about Jammu people. Mostly people believe that Jammuites are Banias and are not really intellectual. Well, my personal experience has been totally different. Jammu has like all other places all kinds of people. There are intellectuals, scholars, progressive, and innovative people here. One can know this only after a long interaction and stay in the area. I have been lucky in that regard and cherish my association with not only Jammu but its people too!