SRINAGAR: With Kashmiri Sufiana music playing in the background, the young and old Kashmiris throng Kashmir Haat in Ramadan for Iftar at Karims, Islamic Bismillah Hotel Jaipur, Kathi junction and other restaurants, but what makes the place centre of attraction is coming together of pro-freedom and pro-India politicians.
Kashmir Haat Ramadan festival, apparently the brainchild of the State’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture, has been started with an aim to revive the night culture in Kashmir that existed before eruption of anti-India armed rebellion in 1989.
No one would have imagined that the all-night market would come up at Kashmir Haat and then also turn into a confluence point for separatists and mainstream politicians.
Leaving aside their divergence with respect to political ideologies, some separatist and mainstream leaders are finding Kashmir Haat a common platform.
Kashmir Haat, supported by Ministry of Culture, was inaugurated by Jammu and Kashmir’s Finance and Cultural minister, Dr Haseeb Drabu on first Ramadan.
Since then cabinet ministers like Imran Ansari, Sajad Lone and separatist leaders like Yasin Malik have visited the place.
The other day Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik visited the place and lead the evening prayer. According to the eyewitnesses, Malik, accompanied by his scores of sympathizers, stayed at Kashmir Haat for over an hour while tasting different dishes.
Police officers like Shiv Murari Sahai and Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed office’s political analyst Waheed Ur Rehman Parra could also be seen at the place with guests.
If not India, it appears the Indian dishes have arrived in Kashmir.
Kashmir, largely a conservative society, is usually deserted just ahead of evening prayers during the holy month of fasting. But this Ramdan, things appear a tad different.
Many Kashmiri families visit the night market before Iftar. They usually arrive well before time to book their tables to avoid the discomfort of having to sit on the ground. Such is the rush.
The organisers have tried their best to appear people-friendly by offering complimentary dates, couple of bananas and Samosas for breaking fast.
Suhaib Malik, 35, a lanky man from Baramulla was coerced by her two daughters to visit Kashmir Haat to taste their favorite Karim’s Mutton Jahangiri and Chicken Jahangiri.
“We have been consistently requesting our Dad not to miss this opportunity at home,” say Falak and Bisma, with happiness obvious on their cheeks.
Kashmir Haat can broadly be categorised into five divisions, each division having its own specialty.
As soon as one enters, one can find ‘Islamic Bismillah Hotel Jaipur’, where one can buy packaged water bottles, soft and cold drinks, Shish Tawook, Lamb Goulash, etc. Not many people could be seen here, though.
Then one comes across the famous Karims with its tagline ‘secret of good mood, taste of Karims food’. One has to wait a bit before placing order. Normally people order Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Malai Tikka, Mutton Barra, Haleem, etc.
Majid Dhar, the rather content Kashmiri owner of Karims, says that “every Iftar we get around 200 orders and until around 2000 orders have been delivered.”
Around eight tables are placed in the first compound, each with six chairs, making a total seating capacity for nearly 50 persons.
“I came here one hour before Iftar, otherwise I wouldn’t get an empty chair to sit,” says Ubaid, who has already visited the place thrice in last two weeks.
Once the place is full to its seating capacity people sit on Kashmiri carpets.
Shah’s family, which consists of 15 members, has come here all the way from Kralpora, Budgam and chose canopy instead of table. As they make themselves comfortable there is background music “Piya Haji Ali” playing from inside the beautiful hut in the centre.
One can also see and meet the DJ (Disco Jockey) who is responsible for keeping the visitors entertained all the time with Quranic recitals, Naat, Qawali, Ghazal and traditional Kashmiri songs.
This is not a place only meant for those who fast.
Khalid and his friends are not fasting but don’t want to miss the opportunity of entertaining themselves at Kashmir Haat.
“It will be over after few days, we eat free Iftar and run, Toh Ab Kis Ko Pata Hai Hamara,” says Khalid with a naughty smile.
Javid Parsa, owner of a local food outlet Kathi Junction, says that people should not stop coming here.
“This is an amazing beginning and should actually continue throughout the year,” Parsa hopes.
“We are getting overwhelming response. People are coming even during late evening. And that is surprising,” says Zameer Qadri, a consultant with the Ministry of Culture.
“We tried to give new look post-Iftar. Night life in Kashmir is otherwise dead. Ramadan festival will help reviving the night life,” says Sheikh Samiullah, head of Loud Beetle, an event management company which has co-organised the event in collaboration with The Wings.
This place is not only meant for men. For those who want to apply Henna (Mehandi), Shama Begum Mehandi Parlour is in compound two, adjacent to Ikram Kabab Jaipuri and Al-Baghdadi Rostad.
Besides men and women, children can be seen in large numbers waiting for their turn to purchase popcorn and Bailpuri from Sameer Muradabadi.
There are only three dustbins available in the huge area — a single tin bin in the centre and two yellow plastic bins in front of Delhi Panipuri. For such a huge place, where hundreds of people visit and eat on a regular basis, there is a dire need for installing more dustbins. The cleanliness and hygienic standards are also hardly impressive. The table cloth is full of dirt. Kitchens inside the park also need to maintain highest standards.