Open reading spaces are important resource for an academic and political transaction, as socio-political awakening always comes through such spaces. Like the Kashmir’s Reading Room Party (RRP) in 1930’s became the hotbed of discussions around the happenings in world and in Kashmir. Later on, the same room became a sort of miniature parliament which laid the foundation of Kashmir’s political agenda against the oppressive and exploitative policies of the monarchy. Naseem Bagh, the chinar laden garden in Kashmir university campus reminds one of the same reading room party, at times. Since time immemorial Chinar (Buoi’n) in local Kashmir language is treated as an integral part of Kashmir’s soul and existence. It is also said that chinar saplings were fed with milk and honey, hence the sacredness attached with the spirit of chinar in Kashmir .
University of Kashmir has the unique distinction of being the main centre of higher education space in Kashmir region. The University known for its landscape and the breath-taking beauty of the campus leaves every visitor awe-struck. In the same view University is blessed to have its premises in Naseem Bagh, one of the fascinating academic/cultural heritage sites studded with mighty chinars. The debating/relaxing patches enthral the atmosphere of the place. Every university has that distinct signature; where ideas and the contemporary issues are dissected to their roots. The Bagh is the heart and soul of the university acting as the vibrant and democratic landmark in the campus, known for the dissemination of ideas promoted through free thought and expression. The space is not only known for its splendour, but also for its vibrancy turning out to be the prime locus in university, an absolute favourite of every scholar.
On the arrival of ‘Harud’ (autumn), that is between September and early November, when chinars are aflame in the Bagh, a little walk gives divine vibes, gently inviting you to the warmth of peace and seclusion. As a routine one day I went to Naseem Bagh for chai, tea, sitting under the shades of chinars like a mute spectator. Like any other academic journey in this campus, the chinars have also bound me with their mystic and celestial aura. Every fallen chinar leaf has an untold story like every human being. In the past ten years of my life on campus many a time I have taken a stroll through the Bagh in the middle of the night indulging in long discussions with friends which at times have made me lose my “self” in them walking towards Sir Syed gate to Rumi gate and then to Budshah gate, a walk of 3-4 Kms would pass like a quick stroll as if the body had not been existing at all. The discussion would start with politics, conflict and culture, and would end with Moulana Rumi, Gramsci, Habba-Khatoon, Shavisim, Buddhisim, and myths of Verinag etc. Such engrossing was the journey of growing academically amidst the spirit of the Bagh. Besides its academic significance, this place also has become a permanent cultural memory for many of us in the university. I too had a particular spot in the bagh where I would often reboot my inner and outer human spirit. In my bright and sunny days, the shades of chinar give the comfort in the rough patches a scholar goes through in his meandering research work. Whenever I have felt over-burdened I have sought in the Bagh the refuge for timely catharsis. During my campus days I have realized the importance of Naseem Bagh in healing and reconnecting with nature. The sweet chirping of birds, a golden brown leaf falling from the chinar, accompanied by red rays of sun piercing through the canopy of chinar branches, would mesmerizing to eyes and to mind . This ‘whole’ perspective of things which was once the hallmark of German thought to the Sheikh-ul-alam’s stress on man-environment interactions, this place turns out to be the microcosm of that connection. Every student or anyone that crosses this spot sometimes dwells in this whole of the spirit which defines the course of our lives.
The Bagh is an inclusive space that defines the meeting ground of different political, academic, religious, ideologies irrespective of gender. It is a living, informal social institution of the university. It sustains student’s social life in the campus. The Bagh is easily accessible for students with diverse academic backgrounds and is considered as one of the thriving ‘safe spaces’ at KU. Students engaged in dialogue, argument, agreement and disagreement ,synonymous with journey of becoming critical scholar. At Naseem Bagh, time either does not exist or perhaps crawls, coupled with the equally transcendent feeling of being enlightened.
In Kashmir University, this space is also known for the emotional exchange. These chinars have taught students to breath and calm during their emotional outbursts and overburdened lives filled with narratives of conflict. The place has the potential to transform raw minds into finished ones by providing a sense of direction in the campus through the process of thesis-anti-thesis-and-synthesis. The place thus inspires tolerance and respect for those with different belief systems, inculcating a sense of the changing spectrum of socio-economic and political dimensions. In terms of aesthetics, the place is surrounded by surprise environs, natural scenery and a relaxing ambiance which opens spontaneous conversations and discussions, and provides fresh air for stressed scholars.
The salient look, shade and colour of chinar trees in Naseem Bagh are the primary attractions of the place. This space is also like a natural habitat for birds and other small animals. Students here are seen feeding dogs like pets. The crowning moment comes when the blazing chinars of autumn are seasoned with the simmering tea which is the dominating scene of the area. This speciality in the university amidst the hierarchical and codified existence really has been the promised land for the students, scholars and teachers as well. Kashmir university pass-outs reminisce and walk down the memory lane of the Bagh instantly whenever they recall their times in Naseem Bagh campus, thus adding to the sense of memory, loss, and yearning.
Today, as we have enter winter, the cold has been slowly consuming the oranges and yellows of the Harud, and when the the summer would be back, the canvass in the Bagh would shift to an assortment of greens thus behaving like an air conditioning patch of the campus. This garden of Chinars will change colours again just like flow of students who enter and leave this garden of light and knowledge.
Unfortunately, this place has been affected by on-going construction spree. Remodelling of the place shall devoid it of its essence and the status of it being a healing ‘space’. University administration should thus promote and preserve this heritage so that the soulful and the emancipatory airs continue to enlighten our spirits and minds.
Suheel Rasool Mir is a Researcher at University of Kashmir.