Desertifying Kashmir

Posterity and in fact the current generation will ask us few difficult questions. As parents I don’t think we have any answers. A few questions and issues they will raise I discuss today.

What we have made of Human Resource Management in Kashmir? Once it was not a big problem. Take the case of log winters, handicrafts and extensive local manufacturing of important woolen, matting and other commodities in most houses. Neither women nor the elderly people were jobless. Today even our youth are unemployed. And most of the jobs are in sectors that are not really productive or contributing in real sense to solving local problems. Previously it was almost all green. Just take the example of constructing house. A few decades back it cost almost nothing. Only certain patience. In the first year bricks were prepared. In the next year other requirements were gradually completed. Then labour was mostly either free or community based. Hardly anyone was hired. Hardly anything was paid. Roofing material was not necessarily imported. Very small of flight of capital and hardly any damage to environment from mud houses was noticed. And the houses were, for all practical purposes, strong, comfortable, warm in winter and cool in summers. Traditional houses along with their grace and comfort – and should I say symbolism as well – are fast disappearing. What has come as a replacement is neither beautiful – though it appears so to those who have no idea of beauty of traditional architecture and its symbolism to which our houses previously had somewhat approximated.
Today our houses are built to compensate our imaginary requirements for identity supposed to be defined by size and newest building materials including important roofing material. The functional and beauty and symbolic aspects are not given due consideration. If you ask anyone what defines traditional Islamic architecture and informs a Muslim culture that ours is one will be, most probably greeted with silence. Do we know that traditionally in Muslim cultures we used to have certain space inside a house that was not walled and exposed directly to sky as is still seen in certain mosques? Do we know there were guest rooms that were almost like hotels without payment for guests? Traditionally we are not allowed to even inquire regarding whereabouts and purpose of visit till three days. Till three days anyone can be a God’s guest in our houses. Today our practice is, generally speaking, not to invite guests for nights and ideally let them stay in our parks and don’t let them enter in. Now no wonder that guests don’t come. Guests disappear with the age of individualism. Today guests are seen mostly for few hours on formal occasions. Gone are the days when we used to visit relatives for weeks, not just days or hours.
We can get to the bygone values though not to bygone institutions. We can fight for restoring community spirit. We can contemplate legislating against building new houses. We can go for flat system. We can teach our new generation that we can’t afford new houses and further destruction of land. We can build mosques in mud. We can experiment with all kinds of houses that are compatible with ecology. We can make an attempt to teach, to new generations, virtues and wisdom in traditional patterns of living. Kashmir was traditionally known for hospitality. Is it there today?
Do we ever consider what legacy we are leaving for posterity? Suppose our children ask us what we are leaving them with, what we have added to the legacy of forefathers, what values we have been striving for? We have destroyed much of the best we had received from our ancestors. This includes environment, such values as hospitality and many shared spaces. We have thrown overboard everything that valued in a culture centred on belief in God and taking seriously the other as an image of God. We had very few beggars. Hardly any charlatans in business of faith healing and occult practices but spiritual personalities that commanded and deserved reverence.
If we can’t add anything from our own we can at least attempt to consolidate what we had received and don’t let it to be destroyed further. We have no right to marry and produce children if we are leaving them with a desert–moral, ecological and spiritual desert–that contemporary Kashmir is fast becoming.

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