Politics, policy paralysis and pandemic have collectively derailed Kashmir’s wheelers now selling their buses as junk for survival.
3D effect—Doom, Distress, Demolition—is quite blatant in the WBS (Western Bus Stand) in the heart of Srinagar.
In this buzz-bereft bus yard, Abdul Rashid’s grease-smeared face gleams in the summer sun. The transporter has arrived for another demolition drive. The metal thuds resonate in the hushed yard where forsaken fleet were first rendered void by the “vendetta politics” six year back.
And now, it’s fast becoming a junkyard with Rashid—with stark shades of the seventies’ Hindi cinema baddie—as its scrap-dealer.
Armed with a sledgehammer, the driver-turned-junk-dealer plays his most tragic role now. He’s breaking his own “bride” into pieces with agitated body language.
“We used to keep it [bus] as a bride,” Rashid says, as he unscrews torn bus parts. “But now, we’ve to destroy it with our own hands, as we don’t have any other option.”
Srinagar’s 500-bus strong WBS is the mover and shaker of urban public transport. But since April this year, when another lockdown halted wheels in the valley, thousands of transporters have become jobless.
Most of them now uplift their gloom with frenetic smoke drags, endless sips of tea and dreamy past.
“I first started driving a bus in 1985 when our tribe was highly respected,” Rashid, now a skinny man in his early sixties, says. “Back then, being a transporter was quite a thing.”
But now, lockdowns have made his situation vulnerable, forcing him to do odd jobs, like collecting cardboard, for a living.
“I couldn’t feed my family properly and there’s no work since the abrogation of Article 370 for us,” Rashid says.
“Situation is quite terrible in our homes. We’re desperate to do any odd job for living, be it even demolishing our own identity!”
Before dented by the repeated curbs in the valley, the urban transporters were uprooted from their yard in 2015 when the unholy league of alliance shifted them from bustling Batamaloo to the Parimpora area.
“That political move simply doomed us,” said septuagenarian Muhammad Sultan, working as the WBS’s general manager. “We were doing fine there, before they send us into this pit.”
Six years later, as the plan to change the Batamaloo bus stand into some “developmental project” remains a mystery, the distraught drivers are now facing an existential crisis in lockdown.
Even as the partial unlock guidelines permit public transport to ply only at fifty per cent of authorized seating capacity now, the transport movement is being restricted at various places in wake of the red zones declared by the administration.
Bearing the brunt of the situation, driver Bilal Ahmed is finding it hard to support his family and pay school fees for his children.
Lately, in lockdown, the 55-year-old driver with 25-years of driving experience also came out to dismantle his bus.
“My bus was in good condition,” the driver said. “Some of us [drivers] had sold our household items to fix our damaged buses after 2014 floods hoping to revive bus service. But we never knew that we would soon land in an endless crisis.”
In his youthful days, Bilal felt proud to be in the transport line, but now the same flourished sector is breathing its last due to political instability and the current crippling crisis.
Meanwhile, in the WBS junkyard, Rashid is done breaking his “bride”.
Covered in smear and sweat, he takes home Rs 300 per day for dismantling the bus that he drove for more than 20 years.
“Wish I could stop this carnage,” the driver rues. “But things are beyond our hands now.”
Adil Amin Akhoon is the Managing Editor at The Mountain Ink.