Srinagar: Traffic jams have, ironically, come to spell a day of normalcy in the Kashmir Valley. They reflect the hustle-bustle of a people out to finish sundry tasks before the sun goes down, foretelling another separatist shutdown or a curfew the next day.
Niyaz Ahmad, 45, a shopkeeper in the uptown area of Srinagar, said: "My problem is I must be able to keep my family alive and for that, I need to work six days a week, so that I earn enough to keep the wolf away from my door."
The man on the street does not argue whether the continuous shutdowns have produced the desired effect or not. They simply want to get their job done.
Bashir Ahmad War, 58, who retires next month as a senior veterinarian, must visit offices where he has been posted during his 35-year-long career to obtain no demand certificates to settle his pension case.
He also has to visit the secretariat to prepare his file and push it through before the civil secretariat moves to winter capital Jammu by the end of this week.
His son Wasim, 16, is already appearing in the Class 10 board exams with hardly four months of regular schooling this year.
"The question papers have been set in such a manner that any student who has completed 50 percent of the prescribed syllabus should be able to attempt all the required questions. But you can imagine the confidence of a student as he sits in the exam half-heartedly," War rues.
Ironically, traffic jams in Srinagar have become a sign of normalcy and a regular feature.
"I was stranded in a traffic jam yesterday for nearly two hours at the Radio Kashmir crossing and could barely do half the purchasing I intended to while buying the essentials of life for the family," said Muneer Ahmad, 36, a businessman.
The traffic cops have been trying feverishly to keep the main arteries in the city open for passage of VVIPs like the chief minister, senior ministers and senior bureaucrats who must reach their offices in time.
"This results in traffic diversions towards smaller roads that get choked during the rush hours," said Sheikh Farooq, a TV journalist.
Traffic cops argue that almost all the vehicles in Srinagar city and those from other towns converge on city roads to buy essential items and do other jobs on `normal` days.
These normal days, however, have shrunk to barely eight in a month during the last four months, with the separatists issuing protest calendars as part of the Quit Kashmir campaign they have been spearheading in the valley.
Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani maintains the protest programme has mounted pressure on the Indian government and that international awareness on Kashmir has increased manifold.
But people have other worries.
Parents of youths arrested during stone pelting are worried about their career.
"Tomorrow when my son applies for a government job or a passport, I would not be able to get a clean chit if police release my son without withdrawing the case registered against him," said Sajad Ahmad (name changed).
For those whose children got killed in clashes with the security forces, days of normalcy hardly mean much.
"For me the world has already ended. I am now spending my days in prayer and have lost all interest in life," said a father whose son was killed in security forces firing in south Kashmir`s Anantnag district.
"My wife does not sleep during the night and keeps on weeping without solace."
A local journalist said: "It is a complex issue. Normalcy cannot be ushered in through some magic wand. The wounds of the local people have to heal and that is not going to happen just because the centre has set up interlocutors or because it has been decided to release the arrested youth.
"It needs a much bigger and bolder decision to reach out to those who have completely lost faith in the system here. Despite the highly divergent views of the three regions of the state as to what should be a permanent solution, life for an average Kashmiri has become a nightmare."
Shabir Ahmad, a school teacher in central Badgam district here, said: "I see a dark tunnel, but believe me, I do not see any light at the end of that dark tunnel."