Even by Kashmir’s rather cataclysmic standards, this is nothing short of a revolution – when it finally dawns on someone in the government that Srinagar is ‘turning ugly,’ and that someone says this in public. Whether the city is merely ‘turning’ ugly or is far past the benchmark can easily be decided by a five-minute walk anywhere in the state’s summer capital, including the local equivalent of the Queen’s Necklace around the Dal Lake and the inviolate enclaves of pelf and power – even with their royal greens and allegedly classy clubs – where this ugliness is metaphorical and viscerally revolting. The officer in question could have done definitely better using the word ‘obscene,’ except that in politically-charged Kashmir, politically incorrect terminology is a sure guarantee of a mutilated career on the one hand, and a truncated life on the other. Obscene, one must caution, transcends many boundaries, while ugly is safe and, well, secular.
Still, serving officers in Kashmir are not known to make what once used to be known in the West as Career Limiting Moves by issuing verdicts on the performance of a succession of governments except when straws in the wind and other such portents indicate exit signs lighting up for one set of its revolving rulers. But then, this would be reading too much into what amounts only to mouthing inane generalities about a situation that bothers no one in Srinagar except a few oddballs and idlers with nothing better to do than daydream about sane and rational urban life reminiscent more of an earthly paradise than its diametric opposite.
This custodian of the city’s “commissioned development,” with an encyclopaedic overview of its many ills, was careful not to venture into specifics like commercial complexes and shopping malls standing proud by legislative fiat on the eve of elections, for that would have meant upsetting many a heavily-laden, and precariously-poised, democratic apple-cart. And citing these monuments for their ornamental value could have earned judicial ire, what with the High Court’s well-known aversion to illegal buildings. Discretion being the better part of valour, the officer instead launched into a comparative study of institutional strength and efficacy in the state’s summer and winter capitals, with particular reference to municipalities and development authorities, and underscored ‘local’ culpability in Srinagar’s cultivated unwholesome state. Unobjectionable, many would say, particularly those waxing eloquent on notions of mass civic sense and public responsibility. The fine detail most likely to be missed in this exuberant self-bashing would pertain to the domiciles of those running Kashmir, or running it down.