The road that was once a hub for people travelling from Jammu to Udhampur is nothing but a deserted path with stones, mud and fallen trees today. As one enters the road to Nandini, after asking the locals whether the road is open for a car to pass by, one realizes the change that has taken place during so many years. A must-visit stop that even the children of Jammu were aware of is now shrouded in confusion of accessibility for the majority of people who wish to visit the place, if not for the delicious ‘pakodas’ and tea anymore, then to revel in the nostalgia of their childhood.
But what one sees there is both disappointing and disheartening. Instead of just a lock on the shops, the stalls have deteriorated to the point of being called a ruin. The carved statue of Lord Ganesha that once brought prosperity to the tea stalls, bringing in a lot of customers and making the livelihood of the shop owners possible through blessings is now blackened and broken itself.
The Nandini Wildlife sanctuary no longer has any animals except for the uncountable number of monkeys that can be seen everywhere wreaking havoc, entering the shops that at some point didn’t used to have enough space for humans, and people had to wait for their turn to try the ‘paneer pakoda’, ‘kachalu’ and tea of Nandini.
The city of Jammu is increasingly changing. From the demographics to the level of infrastructure and even to the people’s mindset, it is becoming more developed to some extent. But when that development costs normal lower class and poor their livelihood, one must ask if it is really a good thing. The faces of the people still living in that abandoned area lit up when they saw me with the camera, exploring the area, thinking that government had finally planned to reinstate the area and shape it back to what it was before. Their faces fell as they talked about how difficult it was to sustain livelihood ever since the shops closed.
Ravi tea stall, Khajuria Tea stall, only the names are left behind along with the rot. A lock on the famous chaat-shop and nothing but goats and dogs resting in the abandoned areas leaves such a depressing image behind.
Most of the families had left the place after uprooting their homes. The people who lost their livelihoods never got any compensation from the government and the promises of getting shops at the new-highway, remained just that, promises made with no backing.
The people I talked to shared with me how difficult it was to sustain their families. Borrowing money to educate their children and doing menial labour jobs to get food in the bellies of the family members, there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel for them. They had already lost hope of ever being helped.
Firstly, it is such sellers and then little by little such hamlets disappear under the name of infrastructure development and what the people are left with are abandoned roads and a place where only monkeys are seen, dangling from trees.
Shouldn’t there be a provision for thinking these logistics through and taking the real-time factors into account while planning? And even afterwards, the people have received no compensation and have lost a major share of their customers to no fault of their own. All the shops have closed down with the families struggling to find another means of livelihood. Some have uprooted their homes and left the place.
Vaishno Devi, wife of Ashok Kumar who ran Raina Tea stall said, “It has been four years and we have been surviving with such difficulty. We have to borrow money for our children’s education.”
In a nation where mass population wanders unemployed, snatching away the source of income of self-sustaining vendors cannot be justified in any manner. The term ‘collateral damage’ in mass progress often comes up in such a conversation but a man whose living was just made incredibly difficult in the name of development of the state deserves more than being a forgotten second thought in favour of convenience for the many.