A historical centre of trade and architecture, downtown or Shehr-e-Khaas in Srinagar city today suffers the traumas of violence and the tragedies of lives and livelihoods lost as a result of it. The resistance movement of Kashmir which was upheld largely here in the previous decades, today is said to have shifted momentum more to the rural areas. The Shehr-e-Khaas, Srinagar city’s ancient hub of worldly trades, however, continues to suffer a trauma that is visible in the wounds on its antique wooden textures, the abandonment of its walls and the decay of its trade.
“There used to be a time when we would export goods across North India, from Jalandhar to Delhi to Calcutta; we used to export raw material to Jammu, now we have to import from Jammu. There are no factories left for leather products in Srinagar, and all the material I have collected is lying useless in the backroom,” says a leather shop owner in Zaina Kadal who inherited the trade from his father who inherited from his.
The inheritance of work and workshops that are characteristic to downtown has left behind remnants of Kashmir’s culturally hybrid history; the craftsmen, artisans and traders of downtown continue to reproduce age-old workmanship in dimly lit workshops across old city. While the objects of their work are sometimes brightly displayed, such as in the glistening shopfronts of the famous copper dealers; sometimes they are just a sweet smell or a soft hammering sound in downtown’s alleys, that lead to hidden workshops where some of the most traditional and nostalgic of Kashmir’s culture are being baked and crafted.
Most times, it is the sight of a solitary man sitting in his shop, meditating on the tools at hand, that makes one take A Walk through Old City’s Workshops.