Srinagar On Stilts

Daft as well as draft declarations to save Srinagar in another Biblical deluge notwithstanding, Kashmir’s summer capital has adapted admiringly to the requirements of emergencies visiting with little or no warning, provided they come donned liquid(ation) garb with sufficient uplifting power to keep windbags afloat. Telepathy, once the exclusive preserve of an exalted class with a committed following of one and one quarter of a crore (a pity that twitter was not around then), an agency with demonstrably fickle loyalties, seems to have shifted headquarters and billeted itself amid gadgets, gizmos and techno-babble, a far cry from its former home usually described as a veritable Tower of Babel, and operates at super-natural speed. For, no sooner does the weather bureau detect a stray cloud on the far horizon than the instinct of self-preservation takes the city over, and before anyone can say rain, households have made a swift, organised and efficient transition to the upper floors, except a few odds and ends – mostly a few pots and pans – too ignoble to grieve over in case of involuntary navigation. Practice does make man, woman… and child perfect, especially if undertaken amid non-existent tannoy calls reminiscent of disaster on celluloid (its plasma now), and ditty-fied by Hollywood – this is not a drill…repeat… this is not a drill…please keep calm, and make an orderly exit through the fire escape. Except that in Srinagar, when one makes it to the door, there are no boats, only low-flying delayed-release helicopters whose pulsating rotor blades set off air waves (not much unlike ultra-sound and lithotripsy) to pulverise Dal tenements to extinction while dropping supplies for their inmates, and fly patient and precise sorties over the lodgings of some highly endangered species. As for the rest, everyone is equal before the law, and the law has to take its own course.

Tentatively, the moral of the story so far could be that drills work best when drilled into minds in a real-life experience that borders on a near-death experience.  If only one could say that of Jammu and Kashmir’s ubiquitous authorities whose learning curves make one wish for them to cross to the border’s other side with visas stamped khalideena feeha abada, or a variation thereof, barring them from a few of the more delectable pleasures implicit in the phrase. Pleasures delicately hinted at in travel brochures from God’s Own Country, located comfortably above Down Under, and promised to be replicated in Kashmir in an upgraded international version under the benign supervision of a mixture of polar opposites, a cosmic blend of hate-and-heal. It should not require more than a word, provided one is wise, to kill two birds with one stone. Tourists would flock in massive droves to Kashmir, the poor man’s Kerala, to savour a log cabin perched above the pristine waters of sinuous rivers and nestled amid enchanting green, and the denizens of Srinagar would be spared their unscheduled flights upstairs, come hell or high water. Build Srinagar on stilts.