To Build A Bridge in Kashmir: A fable by Abhijit Dutta
Guest post by ABHIJIT DUTTA
Once upon a time, a young politician – young enough to have a ‘baba’ appended to his name – came to Kashmir to build a bridge in Srinagar. Now as anyone who knows Srinagar knows, the city is filled with bridges. Some are famous, like Gawkadal, some are pretty, like Zero Bridge, and some are simply without charm, like the Abdullah Bridge that goes from fountain square to Rajbagh. There are several others too, each with their own unique character, their own unique relation to the Jhelum.
When he was told about the many bridges in Srinagar, the politician shouted, “I want to build a bridge.”
“But we don’t need a bridge,” said a man softly to him, wanting not to embarrass this well-meaning man who had come to Kashmir from aafar. In response, the young politician turned around and shouted once again: “I want to build a bridge.”
“I want to build a bridge. A different kind of bridge. Kashmir will have never seen a bridge like this. It will be a bigger, longer and more powerful bridge than anything you will ever know. It will be built by the best engineers and corporations of India. It will not use cheap materials, everything will be best in class. Money will be immaterial. It will be financed by the biggest banks in India. No limits, no budgets. No matter how much money it takes, I will build this bridge.”
Even those who had dismissed this young politician now began to pay attention. ‘Money‘ did he say. No limits? No budgets?
A young boy raised his hand to ask a question. The politician smiled a dimpled smile, walked over to the boy and putting his arm around his shoulder, nodded. “We are friends”, he said, “you can ask me anything.”
The boy, who had met the politician for the first time, was very impressed by this show of kindness and familiarity. Though he did not know him well, he felt, over time, they could get to know each other. He made a mental note to himself: As soon as they unblock Facebook, I shall add this baba.
“Don’t be shy my friend, ask any question you want,” the politician urged, slightly impatient with this obviously stupid boy. ‘There is so much good human capital in Kashmir’ he thought to himself, ‘how did this rotten one get through here. The screening couldn’t have been very good.’
The boy had mustered courage by now and asked his question: “Sir, what will your bridge bridge?”
“Yes, bridge bridge what. Go on don’t be shy,” encouraged baba, thinking to himself why the screening committee would allow someone with a stutter to come meet him. ‘I had specifically told them I am coming with an important delegation. These Kashmiris. They never listen.’
“No, Sir. I just want to know what will this bridge, bridge? Will it bridge the Jhelum, or will it bridge the Dal Lake? Will it bridge something else?”
The politician became serious, the dimple disappeared into his stubbled cheeks. He removed his hand from the boy’s shoulder and turned to look at the crowd that had gathered around him.
“No, my bridge is not for the piddly Jhelum,” he began. Everyone listened, the Kashmiri autumn sun on their faces.
Nor is it for that dirty Dal. No. My bridge will not bridge mere rivers, it will bridge greater gulfs. From New Delhi to Srinagar, an 8 lane bridge, toll free. It will be suspended in thin air, 2 kilometers above the ground. It will be an arc in the sky, it will fly over the Pir Panjal and descend gently over Srinagar. We will have helicopter services on both ends to lift people from the ground and put them on the bridge. Modern technology, its marvellous what we can do. It will be spectacular. Of course it will take a few years, maybe a decade, maybe couple. I am here for the long term, this is going to be a long term relationship.
Everyone tried to imagine the politician’s words, tried to imagine this long bridge suspended like a silver thread in the blue sky, hanging over the mountains and the valley, helicopter ferrying passengers up to the doors of the bridge.
“Will the helicopters ferry the cars too,” asked someone.
“Smart question,” said Baba and patted the man. “No, there will be no need for cars. The bridge will be like a high speed travellator. People get on and hold tight. It will be a breeze. Kashmir will be more developed than London or New York.”
The man, encouraged by the response felt the need to joke. “I hope there won’t be immigration for us when we arrive.”
He cackled at it himself, his friends joined in. Then they saw baba turn serious again and then stopped laughing.
“Is everything alright baba?” they asked.
“What did you mean by ‘when we arrive’?”
The Kashmiris looked at each other waiting to see who would volunteer. They had all been arrested for saying Obvious Things before and they had moved on. They did not want to go back.
Baba looked at the boy who had spoken earlier. “You tell me, what does he mean ‘when we arrive’?”
The boy was simple and he gave a simple answer: “He means when we reach New Delhi.”
“Why on earth will you be reaching Delhi?” The politician exploded, his voice rising above the Zabarvan. “The bridge is One Way only you fools. I said 8 lane, not 48 lanes. Where is the space for you to also get on? Don’t you see it? I am bringing the world to you. Kashmir is going to be developed. Everyone will come with jobs. Thousands of jobs. You will have money. You will have financial freedom. Didn’t you used to say: Hum kya chahte – Azadi? I am bringing Azaadi to your doorsteps, to your feet.”
The men who stood besides baba and had not said a word so far, burst out in applause. One whispered reverentially to another: “I thought he would open a little crack in all the glumness that is Kashmir. But what he has done is not open a window but open a door! He is not a baba, he is a bapu!”
There was a lot of clamour and the Kashmiris were now shouting, hurling questions. No one listened to no one and someone started singing Pak sarzameen shad bad. Over this din came the sound of a chopper which hovered above it all. As everyone watched, the young politician, like a real baba, levitated off the ground and reached the height of the helicopter. Then, in a voice that echoed through the valley he said:
“I want to build a bridge.”