The Kashmir Valley has fallen in love. With good life and everything that comes with it.
The growing population of professionals and middle class, connected with the rest of the country, has taken the aspirations – especially lifestyle-related ones – of the people to a different height.
And the new lifestyle is trickling down the social and economic ladder too. Take, for example, Anees Ahmad (15), son of a carpenter. He sits with his gang of friends in the cozy comforts of a classy restaurant in Lalchowk, downtown Srinagar, and discusses, among other things, the recent cricket match with a school nearby.
Attired in typical middle class Kashmiri dress, their language is not too sophisticated, but they are feasting on a spicy kabab, handling expertly their knives and forks.
Dining out used to be a status symbol of only the rich a decade back, but it’s fast becoming part of the popular culture now. The poor, the ordinary and the middle class are getting used to meet in a restaurant, according to Ghulam Mohammad (43), who has been a waiter at a Lalchowk restaurant for 25 years now.
He remembers the time when he had to wait until 4 pm for the government offices to close to receive his first customers. “Government officers, doctors and engineers were our main customers. I would remember each and every customer. But today, even people who don’t look like they can afford the luxury are coming to the restaurant,” he said.
Mir Jan (27), a restaurant manager, felt, “Now the prices are affordable for even the lower middle class. Besides, people want respect. They love to be called sir or madam and served in a restaurant. This they won’t get at a roadside dhaba.”
There is more to the growth of the dining out culture in the Valley. It is breaking some taboos too. A decade back, restaurants here would often be an all-male affair.
Forty-year-old Khalida, a school teacher who uses only her first name, said, “Girls never dared to venture into a restaurant. They did not know how to eat and behave with unrelated males around. But now, boys and girls meet and even get engaged in restaurants.”
Noor Mohammad, a government bus driver, said, “My father would say that people having food outside, especially barbeques, are loafers. Although I managed to have some, but it was too shameful to get caught.”