Like the valleys many prevailing paradoxes, its new construction habits too appear to have been devised with the sole purpose of protracted torture. Nearly five decades of building on alien customs, with little or no relevance to native climatic conditions, too have contributed in creating an untenable society, papering over its colossal blunders with artificial padding and energy bills which show no signs of stabilizing. Inexplicably, the medical fraternity has stopped talking about the links between rising orthopaedic disorders and Kashmirs architectural ailments. But this silence is a relatively new phenomenon, coincident with a variety of invigorating corporate infusions.
Homespun wisdom had for ages protected Kashmirs abjects from climatic vagaries. Constructions largely birch-bark and kindlewood held together by mud-bricks, with crude openings for light and air, and in rare cases fine and ornate panjra kaari and three-foot thick clay walls by no means the rule in bygone times – too were a casting of lifestyle and economic activity around the seasons’ variations.
Lest these words appear to be a call for resurrecting primitive mores, a clear distinction must be made between adopting influences from outside blindfolded in the name of modernisation and evolving traditional practices and concepts in line with new needs.
Rootless technology only leads to mongrelized cultures and social monstrosities where seventy per cent people live without safe drinking water even when Hondas and Chevrolets clog potholed roads, and Coke and Pepsi are the biggest money-spinners; where villagers clip mobile phones to their ears but still have latrines on streams and river-banks; where city buildings boast of the latest in sanitaryware but urban sewage mostly pours untreated into the Dal and the Jhelum. (The Khush Haal Sar having long given up the ghost).
Kashmirs engineered new architecture is not only a winter ordeal,but also a summer agony becoming severer as every passing year takes urbanisation to greater heights. Rising mercury turns the valleys ill-conceived concrete pillboxes into virtual ovens, a new burgeoning market for electricity-driven climate control in homes and government buildings. Alas, this lucrative field of entrepreneurship has been fundamentally sabotaged by some obscure treaty and malefic policymakers beyond the Pir Panjal.
Otherwise, domestic bliss would have been just a function on the remote control, and not a 12-hour-a-day wait for the light bulbs to glow.
It is not that the elements have turned against Kashmiris. Even today the skies get overcast to break the hold of sub-zero night temperature, and rain and snow still grace the valleys moor and mountain.
It is Kashmiris who seem to have lost respect for nature, defacing their landscape with a grotesque interpretation of development, progress and prosperity. That could be one of the reasons why the valleys seasons are no longer the delight of old times; why summers are only dust and sweat and smog, and winters not even a ghost of their former selves. Yes, the few remaining open patches do turn green in spring and bring forth exuberant colour, and chinars still burn an autumn blaze. But, for how long?
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