Utter the word contentious and Kashmir comes to mind, though etymology and anthropology would place their origins several millennia apart. History too would have been a reliable source of evidence, except that its contentious definition, and application, as being a tussle of competing narratives, conforms it to the term unjustly used for the oldest profession in the world. Geography, on the other hand, was supposed to be less pliable, and more enduring, governed as it is by tectonic rather than strategic shifts. But in Kashmir, this holds only as much water as the Dal and Nigeen lakes combined which, like much else in the Valley, is an issue of dispute – be it folklore, or satellite imagery.
Like the Valley’s fabled forests, the expanse of the Dal – past, present and future – is a subject of intense speculative interest, and the springboard of many illustrious careers, the progenitor of many reputations, and the generator of countless fortunes. The louder eco-soothsayers proclaim its extinction, the more committed Kashmir’s rulers become to avert such doom. Apparently, courting a constituency is a highly attractive, and lucrative, proposition on the way to courting disaster. The subject at hand, after all, is contentious. So, while there is one body of experts crying that the lake has shrunk, and drastically, there is another to claim that this is all rubbish — and they are not talking about accumulated trash in its backwaters. But no one doubts that the lake will die. Dal, therefore, is to by-pass all norms of decline, and reduce from full, undiminished and exuberant existence to nothingness with a stroke of the LAWDA’s pen.
That is precisely what appears to have happened to the hundreds of crores of rupees the government never tires of saying it spends on saving Srinagar’s prized jewel – which launched a hundred Bollywood movies but now stinks its starlets off. This is one of the tiny tid-bits of information the LAWDA will never admit. The others being far less complicated in import. Like the scale and quantum of encroachments in the lake’s periphery, the scale and quantum of demolitions it has ordered, and the money it has spent. Right to Information, they said right at the outset, would not apply to state secrets.
Even Kashmir’s mythical origins – sati sar and all the rest of it – are said to have left unmistakable geological evidence of Kashmir’s real traits, summed up by the word ikhraj, or draining, emission or massive leak, the process by which the Valley has purportedly emerged. But no such luck with the inscrutable doings of the LAWDA. Pluralistically, ikhraj morphs into ikhrajaat, or expenditure, the creed of life in Kashmir. In the singular, when taken in the sense of a leak, ikhraj translates into issue. Kashmir seems to have been born out of it.