Every soldier who has served in the picturesque beauty of Kashmir has an inexplicable love for this place. No wonder when imagination flies, his visualization manifests a Kashmir of our dreams. A Kashmir- that brims off happiness and love, and look, How?
“ Happy Journey to Kashmir 2032″ with Brig J K Kurian (Retd)
I stood enchanted at the sight. The waters of the Dal lake rippled in the glow of the setting sun, its blue green surface overlaid in parts with the reflection of the majestic Zabarwan ranges a golden hue from the rays of the setting sun. Cormorants created ripples of their own as they dived and resurfaced among the small floating islands of lotuses in bloom. In the middle distance, I could see the verdant Shalimar Bagh and Nishant Bagh almost lapping at the lake from the undulating slopes of the Zabarwan ranges. A few quaint Shikaras darted in and out between the more ponderous house boats moored along the shores of the lake, ferrying a courting couple here, a family group there. Liveried attendants hurried across the decks of some of the moored houseboats indicating preparations for an evening of revelry.
The view was enchanting and I was smitten. If there is a heaven on earth, this is it, I thought. This visit of mine to Kashmir (an old haunt of mine decades back) in June 2032 was a surprise and a very pleasant one at that, all arranged and paid for by my children as a delayed celebration to mark my having reached that milestone, my 75th birthday. The immediate clan had gathered in full strength to join Flory and me. Our daughter Sherene and her husband Ritwik, corporate honchos in the US, along with their children, Sanaya a medical student and the teenager Kiara, had flown in. Our son Deepak and his wife Mythreyee, both Senior Captains with Air India, who having organized the logistics of the trip, were obviously present. We flew to Srinagar on an Air India Boeing 777. The Srinagar Airport which greeted us as we disembarked was far removed from the old airport I had been used to all those years back. All swanky and shining with modern amenities – busy food courts, bustling shopping areas and a state of the art luggage delivery system. We were out of the airport in no time and speeding to our destination, the Taj Kashmir in downtown Batmaloo.
We were Indeed in Srinagar…
The streets hummed with a steady flow of traffic and the sidewalks were bustling with happy shoppers and excited tourists, both domestic and foreign. The Taj, Srinagar we checked into is all subdued luxury. Paneled walls, soft Kashmiri rugs and carpets and graceful, courteous staff, mostly young Kashmiris.
The transformation of the city over the last decade was clearly visible to us as we drove in to town. The leafy, well laid out suburbs soon gave way to multi-storey apartment blocks and swank glass and chrome corporate offices as we neared the town. We had to rub our eyes in disbelief lest we were in some other city like Bangalore, Hyderabad or Pune. But, the bill boards with storied names Mumtaz Sweets, Khajuria Paints, Abdullah Hardware and Sapru Textiles reassured us that we were indeed in Srinagar. The tense and hostile streets I had patrolled, armed and alert, appeared to be a distant memory.
The streets hummed with a steady flow of traffic and the sidewalks were bustling with happy shoppers and excited tourists, both domestic and foreign. The Taj Kashmir we checked into is all subdued luxury. Paneled walls, soft Kashmiri rugs and carpets and graceful, courteous staff, mostly young Kashmiris. The only twinge I felt was when I was told that the room tariffs were upward of Rs 1 lac a day. This was indeed hard on a parsimonious, penny pinching old soldier like me. However it soon dawned on me that I would not be called upon to open my purse strings and took comfort from that. As we dropped our luggage and the family settled in to the hotel, I, wanting to stretch my 75 year old legs after the long travel, decided to take a quick look at the sights before sun down and strolled to the banks of the iconic Dal lake. Thus it was, that you found me transfixed on the shores of the Dal lake as we set out on this narrative.
Kashmir has Woken up to Development
I woke up from my reverie with a start and realized that it was fast turning dark and hurried back to the hotel to join the rest of the family. Over dinner that night, I got talking to one of the restaurant staff, who would have been but alas at the time of the unrest, as to how this transformation had taken place. He smiled and gave a brief answer, “Peace, Sir, peace and development”. Our forays further a field over the next few days were even more revealing. The hinterland was dotted with industries of the non polluting kind, mostly agro processing with a fair sprinkling of software and e-commerce ventures. Production and exports of saffron had zoomed. Units processing apple, almonds, walnuts, pears and apricots had sprung up. Made in Kashmir Apple Cider had taken the world by storm and was an export mainstay. Kashmiri youth no longer had to migrate to other parts of the country in search of employment. The resultant prosperity had a commensurate effect on infrastructure. Many new schools and colleges had opened up, as had new hospitals and other medical facilities.
The Gandola ropeway now connected Tanmarg to Gulmarg and beyond rivaling the famous Swiss ropeway connecting Mt. Titlis. The Kashmir of 2032 has been a decade in the making. The last decade has been one of monumental change for the nation and the sub continent. Structural changes conceived and initiated during the Covid pandemic of 2020-22 had put the Indian economy on a fast track. Large scale private investment in industry and services, adoption of new generation technologies in communication and media had led to a sharp increase in employment and wages. A successful disinvestment programme (Tata Group now owned and operated Air India, the carrier that flew our family to Srinagar) had enabled the government to focus on areas of health, education, security and defence. Stabilization of GST and a widening of the tax net and better tax compliance had swelled the coffers of the state and India is now, firmly, a middle income country.
Pakistan Minds Own Business
In neighboring Pakistan, a new civilian government headed by the relatively young Ms Maryam Nawaz was voted to power in 2023. Decades of below par growth, internal strife and the is proportionate influence of an extremist fringe had taken its toll on the country. A severe debt crisis had upended the economy which was further aggravated by the threat of being black listed by the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) and the country was on the brink of bankruptcy. Ms Nawaz’s ascent to power coincided with the appointment of Gen. Akram Mohammad as the new Army Chief. This was a stroke of good fortune for the country as Gen Akram was a moderate with a progressive vision for the country. The duo embarked on a policy of modernization with a new vision, the cornerstone of which was a foreign policy based on mending fences with the neighbors. The outreach to India was reciprocated and the two neighbors entered into a Peace treaty after intense negotiations. The Indus water treaty was also redone to the satisfaction of both countries.
Trickle Down Revolution in Kashmir Politics
This also led to the dismantling of extremists camps across the border and cessation of armed infiltrators and provocateurs into Kashmir. As promised in Parliament, the Indian government restored statehood to Kashmir and the overt presence of security personnel was gradually reduced. A new governor, Brij Mohan, forward looking and ‘a can do’ administrator, took over the reins in the state. Elections were organized under his supervision in 2024. The political milieu in Kashmir had undergone a major change with the return of Ghulam Sheikh, a Harvard educated, US settled academic to Kashmir. He launched the Kashmir Awami party on a forward looking, secular platform, aimed at bringing economic development and social upliftment to the state. The people of the state, especially the youth, tired of the broken promises of the established political parties gave a resounding mandate to the Awami party.
The peace treaty with Pakistan had put an end to cross border terrorism and in its place cross border trade began to flourish. Liberal assistance from the Centre and the commitment of the new state administration set Kashmir firmly on the development path. The people of the state rewarded the performance of the Awami Party in its first term with a repeat mandate in 2029, enabling it to continue with its development agenda. The fruits of that effort are visible in the Kashmir of today. As we wound up our 7 day trip to Kashmir and prepared to depart, I was a contented man seeing my old haunt which I had seen and experienced in its difficult days, well on its way to prosperity and continued peace. I looked down from the window of the airplane as it banked and ascended, at the beautiful vista below and mouthed a silent prayer, the immortal lines of Rabindranath Tagore “..into that heaven (Zennat) of freedom and prosperity, my father, let my Kashmir awake”.