Building Blunders

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THE current LPG crisis in Kashmir, and a looming power crunch, both surfacing at the onset of winter, should drag focus back, among other things, to the valley’s climate-unfriendly construction fashions. Should the situation fail to ease, and chilla-e-kalaan determine to bare sub-zero teeth again like last year, the season will serve as yet another vivid reminder of the colossal blunder the valley’s building habits really is. A shortage of energy-intensive means of artificial warmth will, in all likelihood, trigger a larger-than-usual seasonal migration to warmer climes, and make indoor habitation for the rest an icy ordeal. Serves them right, some would say. The medical fraternity has stopped talking about the links between rising orthopaedic disorders and Kashmir’s architectural ailments. But this silence is a relatively new phenomenon, coincident with a variety of invigorating corporate infusions.

Homespun wisdom had for ages protected Kashmir’s abjects from climatic vagaries. Constructions largely birch-bark and kindle-wood 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 sanitary-ware but urban sewage mostly pours untreated into the Dal and the Jhelum. (The Khush Haal Sar having long given up the ghost).

Kashmir’s 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 valley’s 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. It is Kashmiris who seem to have lost respect for nature, filling their lives with an untenable interpretation of development, progress and prosperity.

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