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31st October '2009
The Islands of Kashmir!

Ernest Hemingway’s famous novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” carries in the start an inscription from the poem of John Donne which reads, “No Man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; Any Man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee”. Unfortunately, in Kashmir everyman has become an Island. Any man’s death does not diminish him and he does not even want to know for whom the bell tolls! The last two decades of turmoil full of violence have made people very insensitive towards all types of brutality. Death and dying does not create the same awe and scare as it used to do a few decades back. There was a time when a single unnatural death anywhere in the city would result in universal mourning. People would pull down their shutters and go home. There would be sadness in the air. Everyone would be talking about this single incident involving a human life. People would even claim that the sky has turned dark and it too was mourning! Not now. Last two decades have been so full of violence that it does not move us so much now. No doubt there has been a positive effect also which has made people abhor violence and they are using now non-violent means to air their grievances. But in spite of this, the situation does not leave them alone even if they abhor all forms of violence. The vicious circle of violence continues.

In fact, the “Island mentality” has crept into every sphere of our life. Every individual behaves as if he alone lives in a neighbourhood. This is especially true of the posh colonies of the city. People keep their homes neat and clean within their own premises but are least bothered about what happens to environment in the immediate neighbourhood. One can see mounds of trash and garbage lying on the roadside in some of the most famous colonies and this does not seem to have any effect on the people living there. They seem to have got used to it and consider it part of the landscape. Again the internal roads in some colonies are so narrow that two vehicles coming in opposite direction cannot pass each other. The people instead of leaving couple of feet of their own land to make wider roads are in contrast usurping the state land on one or the other pretext. In some areas, the drains stink so much that one has to cover one’s nose with a handkerchief to pass the area. It is difficult to understand how people living in these areas have got used to the awful stink? Only few decades back Srinagar used to be the capital of “Paradise on Earth” but not now. It used to be a city of which local people could be proud of. A 2000 year old “City of the Sun”. Description of Srinagar especially its gardens, popular avenues, chinars, the Bund walkway, and the shimmering waters of Dal Lake given in some of the earlier travelogues seems like a dream. A dream now gone sour! It is at present a city in total mess. The mess is in every sphere, the basic civic facilities, the traffic, the roads, the drains, and in important services like health, water supply, power, education etc. Most of the services are failing because of the “Island attitude” of its citizens. Each for himself. There is no joint effort to set the services right. Same selfish attitude is on the roads. Some people feel as if they own the roads. They think as if they are the only people on the road. After violating all traffic norms and basic rules of road usage, they top up their behaviour by exhibiting worst kind of arrogance and impatience. Everybody thinks of his own interests as if others do not exist! A typical “Island mentality” full of obsession and totally self-centred. The most pathetic attitude is from the intellectuals and well reputed members of the civil society. They appear totally unconcerned and insensitive, lost in their own make believe world! A typical answer is “Why should I bother?” and ultimately no one bothers while the entire society goes into shambles. This is especially true of the social evils and the wasteful customs plaguing the present society. We compete with each other in perfecting wasteful and in reality, unsocial customs. We never ponder whether an average Kashmiri has the economic wherewithal to fulfil and adopt these wasteful and showy customs? The net result is the poor people getting indebted to keep pace with the so called “High Society”. Common people are forced to respect the so called “High Society” which has become “High” by very dubious means.

The same “Island Mentality” is reflected in regard to Dal Lake. There are over 5,000 families comprising almost 60,000 people living inside the Lake on actual Islands carved out of the open waters of the Lake by filling of weeds and earth. There are in some places full fledged localities situated in these Islands. They have even power and water connections from the City’s civic facilities and at the same time all these are supposed to be encroachments and illegal constructions! It appears the law enforcing agencies have been eating lotus roots and other vegetables grown by these people and supplied to the whole city. We have virtually eaten away our precious Lake! Same is true about the house boats. The owners only think of these as a luxury for the tourists regardless of the consequences to the Lake resulting from dumping of all the raw waste into it. Both the groups do not realise that they are fast leading the Lake to its ultimate end when it will be impossible for the local people to live inside or even near it and not to talk of tourists enjoying their stay here. A similar fate has overtaken River Jhelum or Vyeth or Vitasta. We are putting lipstick on a totally naked woman by just trying to beautify its banks especially the traditional walkway on the Bund. No one is bothered about the River from Khanabal to Khadanyar. It has virtually gone to dogs. It was really pathetic to read about a report submitted by an expert committee that the River Jhelum is not navigable. It seems the expert committee is totally ignorant about the history of Kashmir. Only a few decades back, the entire ration to the valley dwellers was being ferried by barges plying on the River Jhelum. The ration Ghats still exist on the river. Apart from the rations of paddy, wheat etc., wood, building materials and other stuff was also carried on these barges locally called “Bahatse”. After the introduction of fast moving trucks on the highways and the neglect of the River by way of dredging etc., this mode of transport has virtually disappeared. No one seems either to notice this or even attempt to persuade the authorities to restore Jhelum to its past glory. A typical example of “Island” attitude.

Recently I noticed an extreme attitude of callousness and insensitivity. “Shafaqat”, a school for children with physical and mental disability run by the Voluntary Medicare Society had planned to celebrate the Annual Day. One of the present cabinet Ministers had agreed to be the chief guest if the function was shifted a couple of days later. The same was done and the function was scheduled as per the convenient time of the chief guest. In spite of all these changes, the Minister failed to turn up and excused the presence due to some urgent engagements! Even other large number of invitees failed to turn up and cheer these young kids who presented some excellent programmes. Had it been a dance performance or a Sufi music concert, hundreds would have turned up. This only confirms that we Kashmiris are typical “Islands” and do not need to send someone to know for whom the bell tolls. Because, it does not definitely toll for us!

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