Doing up downtown Srinagar
Downtown Srinagar. Five lakh people, living in chaotic congestion along the banks of the winding Jhelum, in a 2.58 sq km area. This is where the Kashmir storm rages, where ‘‘azadi’’ slogans rent the air and stones are thrown at policemen and government vehicles almost every day. This is where journalists go looking for ‘‘hard news’’. Downtown Srinagar shapes the perception of Kashmir outside the Valley. It gets disproportionate media attention considering that the Valley has more than 54 lakh people spread out over 15,500 sq km. But now, this perception game is joined. Chief minister Omar Abdullah has readied an ambitious makeover plan for ‘‘downtown Srinagar’’, as the older parts of the city are called. Abdullah said that he will soon roll out the plan, which aims to clear the choked waterways, restore heritage homes, rebuild gardens and walks and basically restore its ‘‘traditional beauty’’. But beautification may not win over the area’s restive, often unemployed youth — the vanguard of the protest movement fanned by separatist leaders such as Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Farooq as they compete for youth support. Abdullah appears to have realized this and has consequently made reviving Srinagar’s old commercial hub a key feature of his makeover plan. Its bustling bazars — with shops laden with dry fruits, saffron, papier mache dolls, ‘‘namdas’’ of rough wool and ‘‘kaleens’’ of the finest silk — once attracted every visitor to the city. Can they ever be brought back?