I had almost entered into a nuptial tie with the Arabian Sea. In the late evenings, I felt incomplete without sitting on a cement bench on the marine drive or the parapets at the Gateway of India and looking into the vastness of the sea. Many a time, the evening zephyr and the high waves in symphony waxed a prosaic person like me lyrical. Someone has rightly said, “There’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.”
I almost strolled on a daily basis after dinner to the Gateway of India, which was ten to twelve minutes’ walk from my residence. And whenever I had a friend from Srinagar we would have a cup coffee in Taj- as I recall a cup of Coffee at Taj then cost ten rupees. Or would have dinner in one of most haunted restaurants in South Bombay, Delhi Darbar.
The restaurant on two floors of the Holland House, just in front of the Regal Cinema for its ambiance made one nostalgic about the Ahdoos restaurant back home.
Most of the cuisines of the restaurant were palatable to Kashmiri taste beds. The items on the elaborate menu card that after donkey’s years stare into my eyes included Mutton Mughlai, Dum Ghosht, Rogan Josh, Murg Nargis, Chicken Leg Barra, Biryani, Butter Chicken, Chilli Chicken, Chicken Soup, Kadai Paneer, and Tandoori chicken. There would be hardly a Kashmiri on a visit to this city of great dreams who would not visit the restaurant for a meal. Some of my friends, who had been visiting the big city from college and university days were obsessively fond of the restaurant and its food. Because lots of top handicrafts traders from the the Downtown Srinagar having showrooms in and around the Taj and the Oberoi towers, Appollor Bunder and near Regal Cinema the owner of the restaurant, Shafiq Sahib as I remember his name was friendly with many Kashmiri traders- Shafi Khan of Kashmir Novelties was his intimate frien. On spotting a Kashmiri in his restaurant, he would often visit the table to exchange salutations. Nevertheless, he had never visited Kashmir.
In December 1983, when rumors back home about the defection of some legislatures in our state had started sending tremors to the Farooq Abdullah government, some legislators were sent on a tour to Bombay to keep them in a good mood. It was on one of those evenings; I was sitting in Delhi Darbar with some of my friends that Shafiq Sahib owner visited my table for exchanging greetings. Quite some legislators from Abdul Salam Deva to Sanullah Dar were also having dinner in the restaurant. After exchanging greetings with the owner of the restaurant, I introduced him, Nisar Hussain, the then Tourist Officer of the state in Bombay and suggested him to visit Kashmir in the coming spring. His reply amazed me about the lack of awareness in a big section of Indian society about Kashmir. Moreover at the same time infuriated me about the role played by the collaborators in playing havoc with the political identity of the state. Shafiq Sahib, a successful businessman owning a couple of restaurants in the commercial capital of India told me I don’t have a visa for visiting Kashmir and enquired if my office could arrange a visa for him. The owner of the restaurant was not at fault many elderly people in Bombay and Gujrat remembered visiting the Jammu and Kashmir Trade Agency in the Chicago Building, Fort Bombay for more than a decade for getting a “permit (Visa) for visiting the State. Even former Prime Minister Morarji Desia remembered the Trade Agency of the state in Bombay during fifties. One day, during a visit to his apartment on Marine Drive he told me that he had visited the office when Kashmir had a serious flood and Sheikh Abdullah had the city for mobilizing funds for rehabilitation of flood victims. Moreover an elaborate flood relief committee had be constituted in Bombay. Then, no Indian citizen could enter the territory of Jammu and Kashmir without a “permit” from the State government. The Trade Agency, which was a de-facto consulate of Jammu and Kashmir in the commercial capital of India was set up in 1948 and Dr. Shanti Swarp Nishat, a Mirpur born writer, appointed as an in-charge officer. The flag of Jammu and Kashmir was unfurled from dawn to dusk on a mast, fitted with one of the windows of the office. It’s functioning, was more akin to a consulate than a routine office of a state in the metroplois. Besides granting permits to Indian citizens for visiting the State, it served as tourism bureau for international tourists and looked after the trade and commercial activities in the region.
The old stories about the office once enjoying consulate status made me feel good.
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist