It is a langar of Guru Nanak and Allah, says Sikh driver from Jammu who has been eating from a ‘vegetarian’ community kitchen for past 10 days
Qazigund: It is the third day since the Srinagar-Jammu highway has been shut. An avalanche of untidy trucks spans more than 70 kilometers on the edges of the four-lane highway, stuck in snow. It is biting cold even on a sunny afternoon. An army of truck drivers is sitting idle on pavements, shop fronts, or holding shovels to clear mounds of snow from around their vehicles. But as the sun sets, the roads begin to freeze over and the cold begins to gnaw into the bones. Silence falls upon the dark highway surrounded by a vast maze of empty paddy fields draped in snow.
In pitch dark, Jatinder Singh, a truck driver from Punjab who has been stuck on the highway for the past 10 days, walks along a long line of idle trucks with his hands tucked into his armpits. Wearing thin clothes with a stole draped over his head, he walks along a fellow trucker who carries an empty bucket in his hand.
“I am thankful to God, I got this here after trudging through ankle-high snow,” Singh says, pointing to a packet of milk and sugar he is carrying in a polythene bag.
The frail man says he stayed without food for three days, drinking only tea with roti because he was short of money. But when he reached south Kashmir’s Kulgam, he was in for a treat.
After locals learnt that truck drivers were hungry, they established kitchens, separate ones for vegetarians and for non-vegetarians, at Wangund village in Qazingund. From there they distributed food, ration and vegetables along the entire stretch of the highway for thousands of stranded truckers comprising Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.
“It was painful to see our Muslim, Hindu and Sikh brothers having nothing to eat. Our village collected ration and money to establish community kitchens for our stranded brothers on the highway,” says Bashir Ahmad of Chek Wangund at a community kitchen, from where food was being carried in vehicles and load carriers to people stranded between Levdoora Qazingund and Jawahar Tunnel.
The stranded people are being provided meals twice a day, in addition to breakfast and both salty (traditional Kashmiri nun-chai) and ‘Lipton’ tea in the afternoon.
The stranded truckers and locals both lamented that the government was providing no help at this time of crisis. “We threw open the Hamam of our Masjid for stranded people, so that they can keep themselves warm there. We requested the government for firewood but our pleas fell on deaf ears,” Bashir Ahmad says. His kitchen is a stove kept upon a mound of knee-deep snow.
Trudging on a narrow path carved through snow, a Sikh driver from Jammu, who has been eating for the past 10 days from the vegetarian community kitchen, described the platter of food as “love” from Kashmir.
“Is khaane se humko ye mehsoos hua aage waala kal ek hoga. Hume bahut khushi huyi (This food has made us feel that we shall be united in the coming days),” he says, calling it “langar (community kitchen) of Guru Nanak and Allah.”
Like him, Gurdeep Singh of Jammu thanked motel owners at Sangam for not charging money from the truckers. He complained against the government for failing to reach out to them for help. He said that two of his fellow drivers fell sick the previous night and were shifted to an adjacent health facility through the help of locals.
“We are indebted to them. These people have not just opened their spaces to us but also their hearts. They light wood for burning stoves and keep ready warm water for us,” Singh said.
Yet, many still have to brave hardships in absence of washrooms and drinking water. The community water taps are buried under snow and there is lack of portable water. “I walked 3 kilometers inside the interiors of the village to draw a bucket of water for drinking,” said Kashmiri Singh from Punjab, describing the situation as a “disaster”. “There is no toilet around and an adjoining public toilet in a fuel station is closed. It is quite frustrating,” said Singh, who spent nights in his truck in freezing temperatures.
He said that a government vehicle distributed a few packets of essentials among stranded people and vanished after clicking photos.