A whiff of Jammu

Suman K Sharma
The crisp air smells of urgency. But indolent day-light is loath to cast off its gossamer of mist. Tetchy auto-rickshaws drivers slog on the roads to pick up reluctant school children from their house fronts. Well-fed sadhus sonorously call out the devout to give handouts generously in the name of the All-giving. Men and women throng vegetable vends looking for onions that have gone pricy. A new voice is heard over loudspeaker mounted on a vehicle. In chaste Hindi, a municipal worker courteously asks the householders and shopkeepers to deposit their garbage in the municipal garbage truck and not litter the streets. The city of Jammu is warming up to another day.
The newly carpeted roads please the eye. The muck that cluttered them is not to be seen. The streets are chockfull of all sorts of vehicles. Still, there is a marked difference. Young bikers wear helmets and the car-drivers have belted themselves.
Sunshine has rid itself at last of theveiling mist to come out in the open. Effulgent in its soft glow, the Circular Road lovingly embraces the eastern part of the old city. The view is too enticing to resist, what with my memories attached to the place.I spent good five years of my childhood (from age 5 to 10) In Jullaka Mohalla before my mother was allotted a quarter in Bakshi Nagar back in 1958. The age-old dakki connecting the road to the mohalla sportingly challenges me to bask once again in the lasting warmth of the place. I take the challenge despite my advancing years. But old age seldom panders to whims. I am out of breath by the time I climb to the top – only to find that it’s a dead-end. Presently, a middle-aged man standing against an open door asks me politely where I intend to go. ‘To Jain Bazar,’ I reply shamefacedly. It is hard for me to admit to the Good Samaritan that I wanted merely to feel once again the ambience of the place. The householder points out to me a narrow lane to the left. Walking through it is a time warp of sorts. I feel as if I were a 10-year old all over again. The sights and smells are the same, though faces have changed. From Jain Bazar I saunter down to Pacca Danga and then on to Moti Bazar. By now I have had enough of nostalgia. A friendly auto-rickshaw driver agrees to take me to my host’s place at a reasonable fare.Going by fare meters is a no-no here.
Getting back to the present is not without little bumps of reality. A shop owner of Moti Bazar bewails that business is not what it used to be in yester-years around this time of the Darbar move. A skilled worker in a Government department airs his fear, albeit unfounded, lest the Union Territory administration should post him out to some remote corner of the country. Carousing in a bar, tipplers bemoan the spurt in prices – a bottle that cost around Rs 800 not too long ago cannot be had even for a thousand. At tea after a book release function, writers jokingly spar over the relative merits of Dogri and Kashmiri to be declared the official language of the Union Territory. A bespectacled man in kurta-pajama-waistcoat ensemble quips with a poker face, ‘No, it could be Hindi – one nation, one flag, one language!
The city is in a mood of celebration. At Abhinav Theatre and its sprawling lawns a public school has organised a jamboree spreading over a couple of days. Dressed up boys and girls twitter about the place like birds of paradise; while their chaperoning teachers look on wistfully recalling perhaps their own adolescence.Dogri Sanstha organises a Samman Samaroh to celebrate its platinum jubilee, honouring Sahitya Akademi awardees of Dogri and those who have qualified in the KAS exam with Dogri as a subject. At a packed Sehgal Hall of the Cultural Academy, Dr NirmalVinod, a well-known name in the literary circles, is heartily applauded at the simultaneous release of five of his works. Idaa Entertainment, a fledgling organisation, is gearing up to showcase Dogra ethos and culture at a mega show.
Jammu is on the upbeat. Jammu smells good.