‘Srinagar was my elegy and I was her poet of doom’

FPK PHOTO/Aamina Altaf

Throughout its history, Srinagar has left indelible marks on travelers, sightseers and natives who’ve mapped their ground impressions for the world to see and read. One such narrative has come from a budding journalist of Jammu, who came to the city as a blank-minded rookie and returned as an incisive chronicler.

I arrived in Srinagar, this past spring, to cut my teeth on journalism.

For someone who grew up in the sweltering plains of Jammu, the Sun City was always intriguing. The legends of the place aren’t any secret.

But much of that just proved to be a rosy picture of the place. The fact was that I had just stepped in the city which was sad and sulking. I surmised a strange longing for emancipation whenever I walked out on its pulsating streets.

FPK Photo/Aamina Altaf

Even as people were going about their routine, something seemed missing. And it didn’t take me much time to realize how people were surviving, than living, in this heritage city.

With each passing day, Srinagar was only making me gloomy over its plight. I would brood while ambling on the famous Bund. The life at the riverbank was largely lifeless, as much of the moniker tribe of river Jhelum had long left the ghats deserted.

FPK Photo/Aamina Altaf

The desolation was all-pervading. The city was beautiful, yet poignant. I sought answers, but ended up gathering more queries.

I saw armed forces wearing long faces inside resurged sand pickets in parts of the city. Some locals termed it another strike to create a siege sense in Srinagar. But the war-wardens on routine vigil never minded such gripes, as they were just ‘doing their duty’.

FPK Photo/Aamina Altaf

Even as the state wants to paint a ‘hunky dory’ image of the place, the overriding presence of lurking gun was only derailing the much-talked about ‘sense of normalcy’. The city’s weathered denizens, taking pride in their sense of defiance, term such street enforcement as arm-twisting.

The quest to know more took me to Old City.

FPK Photo/Aamina Altaf

One Friday, the day of signature defiance in Downtown’s Nowhatta area, I bumped into masked youth. They were out ‘to find a new way in cul de sac’. That’s what they had to say. But it wasn’t easy.

In front of them, the helmeted-paddled cops, carrying batons and guns, were ready for the weekly showdown. The clashes trailed by the old pitch shortly started. And soon, parts of downtown were weeping in the smoke of tear and pepper gas.

Away from the confrontation point, Srinagar’s heritage sites were desperately awaiting attention. Inside rundown structures and medieval streets around the seven bridges of Srinagar, some bright kids were busy playing. The joviality lifted the gloom of the place, otherwise imposed by the reflective and meditative elders on shopfronts and streets.

Srinagar’s another reality was her deep mystic longing and belonging.

FPK Photo/Aamina Altaf

Votive threads at the doorsteps of saints of Srinagar reflected the spiritual moorings of the city.

I saw the city’s helpless and faithful frequenting the doyens’ doors, seeking their interventions, in their troubled routine. If only those tears could’ve spoken for the burdened hearts that have come to dwell the city now!

FPK Photo/Aamina Altaf

Then, there were padlocks hanging on the doors of many empty homes. Those vacant addresses are the signposts of the city’s faded aura.

All those ground impressions made Srinagar a different city for me. It has stayed with me, like a traveller’s beloved diary, even when I’m no longer traversing those winding alleys.

FPK Photo/Aamina Altaf

But taking a tour of the torn world that seemed to romance with its own grit and grief taught me about the resilience of the city. And the faces only made it certain. I met some reluctant souls loathing the idea of posturing. They wore unassuming faces, talked with clarity and made the city’s reality clear to me.

My story assignments further took me in those sulking spaces, where they mostly talk about their enforced circumstances and cursed fate.

FPK Photo/Aamina Altaf

Over the period of time, the natives, I realized, have developed their own defense mechanism to cope with the conflict.

And while mapping these experiences, I thought of myself as a chronicler of the city. Nay! Perhaps, another record keeper. Nope! Maybe, another wandering soul in search of the elegy!

Yes, that!

Srinagar was my elegy, and I was her poet of doom.

FPK Photo/Aamina Altaf

And poets, I’m told, even see a speck of gloom in gaiety.

Finally, when I took my flight back home, I wondered about the city and its strife-battered denizens—still craving for emancipation.


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