Love birds of Kashmir’s ‘No-network zone’

NET-workers. [FPK Photo/Kaisar Ali.]

The Chinar tree has not only become a symbol of connectivity but also a place where relationships are nurtured and strengthened.

Qaisar Yusuf removes his gaze from cellphone screen and gawks the vast desolation before his eyes. In the snowless fields of Budgam where the autumnal hues are unleashing a pervasive sight of gloominess, he likens a Chinar tree with an oasis in desert.

“To get network connectivity and maintain the bond is a blessing we cherish,” Qaisar says. “For me, this tree is a benefactor as it helps me connect with the love of my life. We cherish our conversations because we do understand that we still live in some blockade era.”

Rooted Connection. [FPK Photo/Kaisar Ali.]

In the frozen boroughs of Budgam, a unique phenomenon has taken root. In an age dominated by digital connectivity, where access to the internet and cellular networks is often taken for granted, this hamlet has found a lifeline under the shade of a centuries-old Chinar tree.

Cellular networks are yet to spread in this serene and spirited countryside of central Kashmir. Both traditionalists and tech-savvies are facing the challenge of staying in touch with their loved ones and the outside world. However, a solution has emerged beyond the village boundary where an ancient tree has become a symbol of connectivity. Under its sheltering branches, the youth gather day and night to bridge the digital divide and communicate with their loved ones.

During the day, the tree provides respite to weary souls. At night, its presence is illuminated by the soft glow of cellphone screens as friends and families catch up with distant relatives. One among them is gaunt-faced Qaisar Yusuf.

Dusk Dispatches. [FPK Photo/Kaisar Ali.]

Qaiser calls the Chinar connectivity as a blissful state of happiness for people living in no-network zone. “When we get connected with our loved ones here, we feel a mix of emotions,” Qaisar says. “This unique meeting point allows us to share our thoughts and feelings.”

But while birds of the same feather flock the ancient tree together, the love birds outnumber them all. Like Qaisar, Vilayat takes a daily detour for stealing some beloved moments. He wears a signature lover’s expressions on his sleeves and talks passionately about his routine.

“I often felt disconnected and longed for a stronger connection in my village,” Vilayat says. “However, I found creative ways of staying connected, like sending letters and voice messages when the internet was too weak.”

He eventually found the refuge under the tree. But he pays an added cost in the form of late-night arrivals. “It’s tough to imagine the feeling of using a low network internet under a lonely Chinar tree,” he says. “But the connection has become a testimony to our love and dedication.”

In the shade of Chinar. [FPK Photo/Kaisar Ali.]

In this lovers’ paradise, many things have become highlights now. A bunch of boys often share their emotional moments, arguments, and heartfelt conversations.

“Stories of misunderstandings and conflicts within relationships by the absence of proper networks in the digital world, lead to hurt feelings and emotional pain,” Irshad, a teacher, says. “Conversations with loved ones evoke a range of feelings. It’s a time when we often feel more relaxed and open, allowing for deep and meaningful conversations.”

Remote Networking. [FPK Photo/Kaisar Ali.]

But stepping in the village isn’t a walk in the park. Aakarwail, a village close to the Chinar tree, remains cut off from the rest of the area due to a wrecked bridge. The villagers without access to transportation are forced to cross this bridge on foot and take refuge under the Chinar tree.

“The Chinar tree acts as a marker, a point of reference, and even a symbol of hope,” says Yaseen, a Literature student who frequents the place for connectivity. “The tree is a consoling symbol and serves as a reminder of the trip ahead as we leave our homes. We carry mixed feelings about the Chinar tree—both pragmatic and sentimental.”

TreeLy Connected. [FPK Photo/Kaisar Ali.]

At sundown, Qaisar Yusuf and other love birds are still busy with their chirpy conversations under the Chinar tree. The warmth of the moment makes them brave the sub-zero temperature. They disperse at midnight when howling strikes an uncanny fear in their hearts. But once the night ends, it’s a dawn of another beloved day for the cupids of Kashmir’s no-network zone.

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