Every day, Valley waits for the night

Written by Muzamil Jaleel | Srinagar | Updated: Aug 10 2010, 04:38am hrs
For the past five weeks, Srinagar has been caught in a different time zone. Signs of normal life begin only in the silence of the dark night, when security personnel implementing curfew restrictions have retreated to their fortified bunkers and protesters have finally gone home.

At 3 am, families wake up and rush out to the milk vans, as shopkeepers wait with their shutters half open. Within minutes, hundreds of men and women gather to buy the days supply milk, bread, biscuits and other food items. And as the day starts to break, street vendors line up with vegetables. As the mosque loudspeakers come alive with the call for prayer, joggers take to the roads, and neighbourhood teachers squeeze in tuition classes in these early hours.

There have been breaks only for two Sundays one of which was today when the separatists didnt issue a hartal call and the authorities didnt call for a curfew. On other days, once the clock ticks 7 am, the streets start to empty and within half-an-hour, there is nobody outside.

The protests begin once the day has progressed, and peak during the afternoons. The script of the protests and the response of the security forces have become so predictable that neither side is surprised easily. The protesting youths disappear in the maze of narrow lanes, only to return with stones and bricks. The stone-throwing begins. The security forces take position to avoid the stones and then fire tear smoke shells and live ammunition. This battle continues for hours.

In the first week of curfew, we couldnt find a drop of milk. Nothing was open, says Abdul Rashid, a resident of Jawaharnagar locality in uptown city. I have three little children and they wouldnt stop crying. How can you explain to a five-year-old what curfew means

Soon the Khyber people (a local company that deals with milk and milk products) came up with a plan. They got permission to ply their vans in the middle of the night. The word spread and people started waiting for the milk van to buy their days quota, he adds.

Taking a cue from the milk vans, street vendors too started peddling their wares. We have to take risks. If we dont do some business, what will we eat... We dont get salaries, says a vendor.

In downtown city, where the neighbourhoods are congested, people help each other. If the milk man reaches one house, he leaves the supply for several other families staying nearby, says Mohammad Shafi Shah, who lives in Nawakadal. Again by midnight, gas stations open, without putting on the lights, and cars and vans line up to fill tanks.

Each night, we remain open for a few hours, and there is a lot of rush, says the attendant at Bachas Gas station on Residency Road. I feel I have forgotten how to work during the day.