Srinagar: Azhar Lateef is playing cricket with his neighbouring shopkeepers outside their shops in the erstwhile general bus stand at Batamaloo locality here.
Just over five-years back, the place would be swarmed with people from all Kashmir districts catching on their respective buses, there wouldn’t be a space empty enough to lie down. Playing cricket was out of the question.
The people visiting the Srinagar city for different reasons would have their lunch at the bus stand even as they did some shopping at the place, generating income for over two-hundred traders here. Now, the place, once charming and buzzing with shoppers and shopkeepers, wears almost a deserted look.
The touts employed by the eateries are seen shouting and screaming and inviting people, who are only few in numbers, to come and have lunch at their places.
The screams of these touts shouting their menu in Kashmiri reverbs in the erstwhile bus-stand. “Batte, Maaz Batte, Haakh Batte, Riste Batte,” these words, falling only on a few ears, now seem to be lost in translation.
Azhar Lateef, who joined his father at their 30-year-old shop only some seven-years ago, says they used to sell around nine big containers of rice per day, which as per Azhar are equal to 800 platters. “Now, we are able to sell between 50-60 platters only,” he laments as he swings his bat in the air.
Before the bus-stand was shifted to Parimpora on the outskirts of Srinagar, Azhar says they had 12 employees, but now, they only have two.
“The impact of that move from the administration was so catastrophic, that it necessitated us to lay-off our ten employees,” Azhar says as he looks around for customers.
But not only they, their other counterparts, who also employed around a dozen people, had to fire their many workers too, affecting the livelihood of around hundred men, eatery owners say.
Some 200 metres away from Azhar’s shop, on the other side of the erstwhile bus-stand, Ghulam, a man with only one arm is touting customers even as he goes across the road in hope of being successful in getting some eaters.
“Earlier, I didn’t need to travel so much distance to get people to eat, there would be so many eaters, that I would help my co-workers to serve and not tout,” Ghulam says as he gestures with his only arm towards the empty tables inside the shop.
Mushtaq, a Pulwama man, and the owner of the eatery since last 15-years where Ghulam works as a tout, says they used to sell around 300 platters a day, but now, they hardly sell forty of them.
“The charm and the business of this place has now gone, maybe never to return again,” Mushtaq says as he stirs the utensil full of meat and gravy even as he intermittently warms it on the gas stove.
When the bus-stand was shifted, the government officials had collected the shop-registration-numbers of these eateries and promised to give them substitute shops in the new bus-stand, shopkeepers say.
However, they say nothing has been done so far in that regard. Lately, many politicians have visited the place and promised the shopkeepers of returning the bus-stand back here while asking them to vote for the party in the general assembly elections, if and whenever they are held.
“They are only giving us false hope and making farce promises. Until they don’t bring the bus-stand back, their promises here fall on the deaf ears,” said an eatery owner on the condition of anonymity, fearing repercussions from the political parties.
In the centre of the erstwhile bus-stand is a complex type building with narrow streets, and inside those streets are narrow shops on both sides.
Red, green, and yellow jackets hanging from a shop, blue, orange and violet sweaters folded in the other. The street accommodates cloth shops, mobile dealers, dry-fruit sellers and a couple of more eatery shops selling fried lamb lungs and boiled eggs.
Other than the old songs being played in the shops, the aroma of fried meat and spiced-boiled-eggs fills the narrow alleys. The shopkeepers are the only listeners of these songs while the boiled eggs with no or very few eaters, have lost the texture even as they have turned cold..
Ahmad, a cloth seller is scrolling through facebook while sitting inside his shop with head down and hopeless for customers.
“There is nothing to do other than losing time by using a smartphone,” Ahmad says while getting back to scrolling.
The shopkeepers term the visit by political leaders and men from administration “a move for increasing vote bank.” It is nothing more than that, they collectively assert.
Not only the shopkeepers at the bus-stand but the vendors and traders inside and along the Plaza Complex at Batamaloo, say they too have felt the brunt of the government’s move of shifting the bus-stand.
Ghulam Rasool Khan, 63-year-old jute-bag seller says he used to sell his jute-bags to the people at the bus-stand, however, since it was moved, he says he was tremendously affected. Khan now roams in the adjacent areas including Karanagar, Habba Kadal and other areas in-quest of selling his bags and earning bread for him and his mother.