A visit to your hometown is always welcome and exciting. I was in Jammu for a few days recently and it was the time to re-visit my city along with my children and grand children, all together. My city, what it used to be in sixties and seventies, has changed and changed beyond reckoning but it still remains to be Jammu and at that my Jammu. Raghunath temple is still there with its glory and prestige. My friend Yash Pal Abrol has still maintained the Pehlwan di hatti in Peer Mitha Bazar. Narinder Grover, the ever hospitable and loving Ninni Shah still runs his bed linen shop at the city chowk, the place which used to be our next home for an afternoon siesta and Pachi’s mutton tikkas are still available opposite Uttam Talkies.
Though Uttam Talkie has vanished and an imposing hotel has come up there but for me the place is still Uttam Talkie where I have seen numerous pictures which, at times, made me to think that even I am no less than the great Mukesh or Talat Mehmood because those days I could just sing a song right. Ashfaq Qazmi still lives in Shafi Manzil, Peer Mitha. Above all my S.R.M.L Higher Secondary School and that symbol of our history my college, G.G.M Science College, both in their best glory are there. Much remains the same in the Shehre-Khas, the old city which was the total Jammu city during my school and college days. I showed all the physical limits of that city, which were there during my times, to my children. Vinayak Bazar near Tawi Bridge, Canal Head, Rehari Chungi and the Palace. Growth and expansion is an inevitable process in the evolution and development of a place or society and Jammu can not be an exception. However, from visual observations the amount of expansion this city has undergone is incredible. I now live in Himacahl Pradesh and while driving to Jammu from Palampur, my present abode, I felt that Vijay Pur (our time Bujpur) and Jammu have joined and looking at the pace of urbanization on Akhnoor road the day is not far when Jammu joins Akhnoor, the Battyan wala shehar and I don’t know how will we bring this name on our lips then since doing it in the mornings would have deprived you of even a small morsel of food the whole day during my days
Expansion, development and urbanization are essential facets of human societies but should all these factors be implemented at the huge cost of degradation of land, air, water, forests, cultivable land and other natural resources whose conservation leads to the sustainable survival of land forms, human habitations and the nature. I must dig into my old documents and take out those fine pictures of our lifeline, the Tawi and show to exhibit the grace and grandeur of this important water body of Jammu city. My friends of boyhood must be remembering our long swimming sessions anywhere in Tawi and where have those two Machuas gone which used to ply the year long, one each, below the Bahu Fort and the Raje di Mandi. The garden and the baradari in the middle of the Tawi opposite Mubarak Mandi have vanished. This devastating degradation of Tawi puts me in a quandary and I don’t know what would have happened in our times when a dry-clean shop on Sarajan di dhakki had put up a sigh board reading, “Haar aane pe kapre rur jaayen to hum zimmewar nahin honge.” And then lesser said about the present status of forests around Jammu is better. The nearest forest on the Nai-Sarak slopes adjoining the Qabristan were so dense that one could not walk down to Tawi from the road through the forest. I took my family right upto Nagrota to show the track we, the friends, used to jogg till the doosra sanglon wala bridge. The sangal bridges were just small cross overs with iron chain fencing. These are no more there but it was a shock to see houses coming up just on the extended banks of Tawi near foothills. And I do not know the plight of those hordes of birds including the jungle fowl, partridges, Monal and so many others which used to cover the road from the Palace to the IInd iron fence bridge when we used to jog there.
In the Himalayan eco-system there are natural barriers and systems to save the humans from the terror of climatic vagaries. Our stony khuds above Rehari colony and Gandhi Nagar in the east were the ramifications of a great drainage system of Jammu Shiwaliks. The great monsoon rains of my times used to flush their water in the Tawi eco-system through these drainage streams. But the greed of people and the lack of rules or should I say that the opportunity to grab this land under dubious means has led to urbanization of the entire area. when there was a longer recess on Fridays in the School we, a group of friends, used to go to Rehari chungi and dare at the best 200m in the forest to eat the Bers. My best wishes to all the residents of these areas but just imagine if there is a cloud burst some day in the catchement area what will be the plight of the residents. The cloud burst will not ask, ” should I come or Not.”
Evenings in Jammu used to be a must walk up and down the Raghunath Bazar. Inspite of my best efforts I just could not repeat it since I could not get a suitable parking place anywhere around. Going to Link Road, Jain Bazar, Purani Mandi and the Raj Tilak road was out of question and I was deprived of eating those great pakoras of raj Tilak road and drinking water from that eternal tank of Hanuman Mandir in the middle of Purani Mandi which used to be my lifeline while going or coming back from my school. That old Jammu still exists and that is a great solace. But can this great heritage be saved? Raje di Mandi, inspite of all the shrill raised by the Government in media stands on its last legs. This glorious heritage should have been human free for a long time but it still houses those ugly and eco-disastrous offices.
And the last nail in the coffin of my city’s degradation was its first face – the Jammu airport. Who calls it an airport? Bus stands in most of the cities of our country are much better than this so called airport. The cab left us at about 1 km away from the entry point and there are no trollies. You have to be in a never ending que, as if you have to pay a bill and not take a flight for which you have paid through your nose. I,a senior citizen, had to walk a Km upto the gate to ask for the trolley. Finally I got a trolley and walked back another KM to reach my family. Getting into the airport from that single gate was worst than getting a cinema ticket for third class during sixties and seventies. And then inside the lounge, lesser said, the better.
The ground surface at the crowded Parade ground could anytime be better than Jammu airport’s lounge surface. Why do you manage these airports through JK Police when the entire nation does it through CSIF. And then you always blame the state Government for discrimination against Jammu. What this national agency, Airport Authority of India is doing. Is it that J&K is only Kashmir?
(The author is a former Principal Scientist of Indian Council of Agricultural Research and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)