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Srinagar story

Print edition : Apr 20, 2012

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A tribute to the city through fond memories of its glorious past.

Being the capital of the politically sensitive State of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar has always attracted the attention of writers and researchers, both Indian and foreign. Hundreds of books have been written on Kashmir, its politics, landscape and cultural and religious heritage. Srinagar, with its rich ethos and culture, has been in the centre of the multidimensional debates on the State. The glorious past of this ancient city, which was once known for its seven bridges across the Jhelum which flows through it, continues to glow in some form or the other.

The importance of Srinagar in literary and scholarly pursuits can be gauged from the fact that it is the second oldest city in South Asia after Varanasi. The city, as it exists today, was developed in the 7th century under Raja Parvarsen-II. However, Pandrethan, which is a locality in Srinagar, is even older. It is said to have been founded by Asoka in 250 B.C. as the provincial capital. By all accounts, the city was complete with religious discourses, cultural traditions, a rich language and organised urban habitations.

Srinagar: My City My Dreamland takes the reader through the lanes and by-lanes of the old city, unfolding not only its living traditions but also the political nuances and other aspects of its society. The author, Zahid Gulam Mohammad, a prominent newspaper columnist based in Srinagar, has done a marvellous job of recording the city's oral tradition.

The book is a compilation of articles written by Zahid for his weekly column, ZGM Nostalgia, in the Sunday edition of Greater Kashmir. Each article is packed with information, passion and humour, and is rendered with a personal touch. They not only portray the unblemished secular ethos of Kashmir in general but also Srinagar in particular, where Kashmiri Muslims, Pandits, Sikhs and Christians have lived in harmony for long. They also take the lid off the political upheavals that the city has witnessed.

There is hardly any area that the author has not touched upon. From how education was made mandatory by Maharaja Hari Singh through Jabri Schools (forced schools) to how Mirwaiz Rasool Shah, the great-grandfather of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, gave a proper direction to school education by setting up Islamia School in 1905, Zahid has provided many surprises in the book. He has admiration for Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the most important political personality in the history of modern Kashmir, the former Prime Minister of Kashmir, the father of former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, and the grandfather of Chief Minister Omar Farooq. But Zahid has also criticised him for his political misdoings. A significant part of the book contains the author's own personal experiences. Zahid was politically active before he joined government service. He was a close witness to politics from 1958 to 1975, the most eventful period in the history of Kashmir's politics. Sheikh Abdullah was removed as Prime Minister of the State in 1953 by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Abdullah then joined the Plebiscite Movement, which was buried after he signed an accord with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. The pain Zahid felt at the happenings of 1953 and their aftermath is visible in the book.

Apart from narrating the political shocks, the author has written in detail, albeit with him as the centre of discourse, about how Srinagar de-shaped over a period of time. In the author's own words, the book is a goblet of elixir. Nostalgic about the magnificence of the city he once knew, he bemoans: It is decaying and dying and I am not able to relate its beauty with present-day Srinagar. However, it seems that the author focusses his writings more on his own experiences and tries to keep them knotted to the past, which may not be practical in today's fast-changing world.

Srinagar has borne the brunt of 20 years of trouble. Its resistance and resilience against all odds are remarkable. This is the best tribute one can pay to the beauty of the city and its courageous people. Zahid's book is a valuable addition to histories of cities.

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