Houseboats are not the source of filth as they make us believe, but the marks of beauty without which Dal will go lifeless. The problem of polluting Dal must not be attributed to houseboats which have a role not only in the beautification but in the economy of Kashmir as well, Muhammad Azim Tuman reacts to some comments published in Greater Kashmir about the worsening condition of Dal lake and the causes responsible for it
The articles "Dal Lake needs an ICU" by Saleem Beigh, and "Save a drying Dal from becoming a drying Dal" by Sajjad Bazaz followed by a news story by Zahir-ud-Din were the three publications which appeared in a sequence to malign our community and spread disinformation among the general public. After going through these articles one can deduce that the houseboat owners are being condemned for the degradation of Dal Lake alone which is out of context and unfair. The facts presented by my learned friends in their respective stories and articles on Dal Lake have been shamelessly blown out of proportion. For instance, Mr. Bazaz has called the houseboats source of filth. He has even strongly advocated for their de-commissioning. His rhetoric is damaging and has badly hurt the sentiments of the houseboat owners. I must remind Mr. Bazaz that a houseboat is not a source of filth but it is a source of livelihood for not only the family of its owner but it also provides bread to a shawl wallah, a saffron seller and all those who sell their merchandise to the tourists staying on a houseboat. Therefore, if a houseboat is de-commissioned, hundreds and thousands will perish with it and this unique floating structure, the like of which is found nowhere else in the world, will be lost. So it's quite naïve to talk about de-commissioning of houseboats. Mr. Bazaz can see human waste being coming out from bathrooms of a houseboat but he is blind to half a dozen drains along the boulevard, right from Dalgate to Nehru Park, discharging harmful effluents into the lake bed round the clock. He is also blind to the monster drain at Rainawari spewing all the dirt and slush of the human habitat of that area up down into the lake. Brarinambal, once part of very beautiful backwaters of the Dal Lake presents even more horrible and disgusting picture. It has now become a dumping ground of polythene and carrion. Abi Nawpora is yet another chapter which adds to the tragedy of the lake. Mr. Bazaz and Mr. Beigh both have offended the houseboat owners. I feel it my duty and responsibility as a member of my community to make it known to my esteemed friends that our predecessors were among the pioneers of tourism in Kashmir. We have the honour of being hosts to distinguished personalities of the world. We are not dependent on government jobs. We generate our own employment. Nor are we an illiterate lot to be ignored. We have long come of the age when we were counted among the most uneducated people. Our boys and girls are now educated. Even some of them hold degrees from foreign universities. We have also the distinction of being the best English speakers in whole J&K. Even a member of our community who has never attended any educational institution can converse with a foreigner more fluently than any one else. Now, men like Mr. Sajjad Bazaz and Mr. Saleem Beigh want us perish. If houseboats were non-existent until 50's so were hotels, restaurants and showrooms which have come up in last 40 years along the boulevard. Further, houseboats are reminiscent of the British which need to be protected and preserved as a national heritage of the people of Kashmir and not let it vanish into the murky waters of the Dal Lake. When Maharaja Gulab Singh put ban on outsiders to own or purchase land or house in Kashmir, the British found a donga boat most suitable option and turned it into a floating lodging house to spend their summer holidays .With the time they modified it according to their taste and needs. The roof which was previously covered by reed mats was replaced by shingled slopes. Triangular gables were raised and sunscreens of mosaic were added for extra sunlight. Open deck was another improvisation for having a sunbath under a beautiful canopy. Similarly some space was created at the prow of the boat where they would sit and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee or just sip beer while watching the spectacle of a magnificent sunset through the thick foliage of majestic Chinars. A new craft known as the houseboat was thus born. However, later on, the houseboat owners made additional modifications in the designing of its hull and superstructure. The narrow bow and the stern of a typical donga were given broader base to make it more spacious.
The bias shown by my learned friends in their articles towards my community is very shocking. When we talk about the degradation of the Dal Lake, we must also think of our other water bodies, especially of mighty Wular, of Manasbal and of Anchar. Aren't these once beautiful lakes of deep, blue waters our heritage? The simple answer is yes. From the shores of these lakes our civilization began its long journey. Now, these very hubs of our rich and glorious culture face extinction. Can we afford to see them dry up and lost to silt and swamps? Houseboats are not responsible for the tragic situation the Dal has been brought to. It is not the waste of their bathrooms. It is the mismanagement, corruption and greed which have largely contributed to its destruction. Billions of rupees have been sanctioned for its preservation but all has gone down the drain. Had a small fraction of that money been sincerely and honestly spent on the Dal things would have certainly been different.
I advise my esteemed friends to have a more realistic approach when they try their pens on the Dal Lake in future and refrain from harming the sentiments of our community by presenting tarnished and twisted facts.
(Muhammad Azim Tuman is Chairman Houseboat Owners Association TRC, Srinagar)