Srinagar, the Sun City is at present virtually in shambles. It has not only literally but practically gone to Dogs! The 2000 year old city is something one should have been proud of. Only few decades back Srinagar used to be the capital of “Paradise on Earth” but not now. 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 not a proud moment for a Kashmiri when his capital city, probably one of the oldest in the world is rated as the 4th dirtiest city in India. To know the difference between the Srinagar of yester years and now, it is interesting to quote some extracts from some old travelogues of Europeans. Margaret Cotter Morison in her book “A lonely summer in Kashmir” written in 1904 says, “Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir and the only big town in the country, is a place full of life and picturesqueness, which captivates the visitor by its novelty and perpetually amuses him by the many quaint similarities to places seen before. With the polo-ground, tennis-courts, and smartly dressed ladies, one might think oneself in an ordinary Indian station; at the Residency garden-parties, where croquet is played on the softest of lawns, and strawberries and cream dispensed under cool spreading trees, any one would think himself at a country house in England; on the river above the town, where house-boats are crowded close together for over a mile, the sight recalls Henley a few days before the regatta; a row down the town where houses and temples line the banks, where gracefully carved wooden balconies overhang the water, where men and women loiter chattering on the steps, and half the population lives in boats, brings back faint memories of Venice. But a visit to the Dhal Lake, with its willow-lined water canals and unique floating gardens, or a stiff climb up the hill, called the Takht-i-Suleiman, to obtain a panoramic view of the city, so green in spring-time, with grass growing thickly on all the roofs; and lastly, the perpetual swarm of merchants round one's boat thrusting themselves and their goods in at the window repeating their never ceasing cry of :"Only see, lady, only see ; don't buy, Mem-sahib " these are suggestive of Srinagar, and only Srinagar, for their like is seen in no other part of the earth”.
H R Pirie in her book "Kashmir, the land of streams and solitude” narrating journey on Jhelum River writes, “There are other roads in Kashmir; roads like colonnades between serried ranks of poplar trees, the tall, slim, silvery pillars of the beautiful populous alba, or the sombre stateliness of the dark poplars of Lombardy…….but the road par excellence of Kashmir is the River, the Veth as the Kashmiris call it, which is an abbreviation of Vitasta, its Sanskrit name, the fabulous Hydaspes of the classic historians. Up and down the wide and placid river go the flat-bottomed, slow-moving boats of the country—the wide grain-barges, the doongas with their roofs and sides of matting, the deep-laden market boats, and the little fishing-boats………….. It is with a dream-like feeling one goes up the wide, calm river; following its thousand windings, one passes in and out of all varieties of climate, sunshine, and shadow chasing each other through the day.”
The descriptions of Srinagar and the journey on the River seem out of this world. Where have these gone? Destroyed by the greed of the people and the apathy of the rulers! What does Srinagar of today look like? Mounds of stinking garbage strewn in every nook and corner. Dug up roads, overflowing drains, coverless manholes, and swarms of wild and vicious dogs prowling everywhere! The famous River Veth is like a sewer taking in sewerage from all the towns and villages on its banks. The view from the world renowned boulevard is more disheartening. One gets the stink of a dying water body. It is more so in hot weather. Lake is in its last throes of death. So far no one has been really able to arrest its further deterioration. The reasons for these disasters are many. The first is the edifice of corruption on which the state runs. The departments concerned with the maintenance of the character of the city and keeping it clean are doing just the opposite. There is absolutely no accountability. There is a free for all atmosphere prevalent everywhere. One department is paving the roads and the other one is digging these up! There is no co-ordination. The only thing that makes things move is underhand money. Municipal Corporation, Urban Development Department, Public Health Engineering, Power Department, and so on ensure the upkeep of the VVIP and VIP areas. All civic facilities are to be provided here on top priority. Rest does not matter.
We cannot blame the Government only. We ourselves have become islands. 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? Each for himself. There is no joint effort to set the services right. 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. There does not appear an easy way out of this mess. The way things are going ahead we may soon reach the first position in the list of the dirtiest cities. Instead of a welcome sign at the Airport, we should put the Latin saying supposed to be at the entrance of hell which says, “All ye who enter here abandon all hope!”