As soon as one steps inside the Kashmir Valley’s oldest (not elitist) restaurants – some even 100 years old – a sudden taste for knowledge emerges from within. These restaurant-cum-factories, I believe, run the entire engine of human progress. In other words, these restaurants are more known for their abilities of facilitation, where one realises the importance and magnitude of interactions and understands the ‘trade’ of sharing ideas over a cup of tea.
Over the years, these places have become a network where people of all age-groups are caught up in productive and stimulating talks. As mentioned before, the task these restaurants perform is mainly one of facilitation. At least, it provides a space where the ideas of different people get together.
This is where innovation happens. I remember a worker whom I met at one of the famous restaurants – Lala Sheikh in Srinagar’s Polo View (once graced by the likes Jinnah) – and he told me why school children often come here to spend their time after school. “Yeti ma chi aies school paeth shuryen dapan kya chu Karun, yim che free, yi yiman dye’magas manz chu asaan tee che dapaan akis baikis (Here, we don’t behave as dictators but as facilitators. Whatever ideas they may have, they are free to discuss here).”
Junaid, a friend, was not wrong in pointing out to one such restaurant and saying, “The owner of this restaurant has seen my transition from a hot-blooded chick to a better, grown-up person.” What he meant was that these restaurants do convey some characteristics and factors that enable people to make themselves better by working on their ethics and characters.
At their least-functional level, these places help students roll their ideas into reality. I have been documenting students who engage with, share and embrace ideas in these places. It’s therefore not surprising that these places have, over the years, gathered intelligence, facilitated interactions and encouraged the process of circulating information.
What’s more interesting to notice is that these places are not confined only to a particular class. One gets to interact with traders, students from different institutions, writers, street vendors – and occasionally, bureaucrats or politicians. One can witness the fiercest literary and political discussions. Even when not discussing ideas, one can certainly learn so much about different subjects by solely overhearing the conversations at these places. Alternatively, if people simply sit without thinking at all, ideas are bound to wander through one’s mind. Something will be mutely communicated to you from the old walls – maybe a slice of history?
Besides, these places have no pretensions. One has the freedom to do whatever one wants, without fearing what people may think. The engagement in these restaurants also add to the mix, and these create an atmosphere that allows people (mostly young school students) to acquire social skills, communication skills, curiosity and many other life skills. However, the bottom-line is that the people ask you the most important question here – “What is happening in your life?”
People often go to high-ticket restaurants, eat, socialise and post pictures of their meals. But, do they meet the real you? No. The influence of ‘acting’ in front of people gets to you. Your experience in such places often gets dictated by them – and not by your. These people are an extension of the brand – and the owners often don’t allow the circulation of personal opinions which may harm the reputation of the restaurant. After all, allowing people to say whatever is on their mind can be harmful to the restaurant and its reputation. But, in the valley’s historical restaurants, one has unbridled freedom. And that’s what one needs, at the end of the day.
The author is an independent storyteller and a student from Srinagar, Kashmir.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.