Srinagar: Ahead of the Muslim holy festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, markets in Jammu and Kashmir`s summer capital Srinagar are crowded with shoppers as locals engage in hectic buying for the occasion.
Foreseeing the heavy rush of commuters, traffic authorities declared city centre Lal Chowk, Residency Road and adjacent markets out of bound for vehicular traffic three days ahead of the festival.
"This has definitely helped the situation. In comparison to previous years, when traffic jams in Lal Chowk would continue for hours without end, the pedestrian passage has become easier and safer", said Nazir Ahmad, 42, a shopper here.
Mutton, poultry, bakery, vegetables, sweets, hosiery and toys are the most sought after items as buyers are seen haggling with the shopkeepers over rates.
"There is no control whatsoever on the rates of items like bakery and hosiery. The shopkeepers are asking for the sky.
"If you ask for a bargain, they don`t give you a second look," said Muhammad Shafi, 50, a local contractor.
Even though the festival is still two or three days ahead, depending on whether the crescent is sighted Tuesday or Wednesday, people are jostling against each other in jam packed markets as if there would be no tomorrow.
"It is not a question of when Eid falls, the problem is that bakery, poultry and other essentials are being purchased in such a hurry that these things would be out of stock by tomorrow.
"That is why one has to do in Rome as the Romans do," said Basharat Ahmad, 38, a software engineer here.
The average income of middle class Kashmiris has definitely taken a quantum leap because of increased government salaries and better business opportunities, leading to many locals taking to charity and helping the needy around religious festivals.
"Some very respectable orphanages and charitable institutions have come up in Srinagar and many other towns of the Valley.
"Unlike the past, when everybody was concerned about himself and his family, Kashmiris are now lending a helping hand to the needy people as well," said Professor Muzaffar Ahmad, a college principal here.
Ahmad said even the surplus food during marriages and other social functions is not wasted now, at least in Srinagar city.
"Surplus food is served to the needy in well maintained and well organised charitable institutions," he said.
Despite the fact that just last week, 11 people were injured here after separatist guerrillas hurled a grenade in Batmaloo area, people have come out in large numbers to ensure they have enough to eat and be merry on Eid.
"Eid is celebrated with the same fervour everywhere else in the world. In Kashmir, one gets the feeling of panic buying and frantic rushes because comparatively, our markets are much smaller and more congested than in other parts of the world," remarked Feroze Ahmad, a government official.
After the fasting month of Ramadan, during which Muslims observe dawn-to-dusk fast and offer extended special evening prayers in mosques, everybody in Kashmir feels entitled to a little self-indulgence.
"That should not be seen either as being spendthrift or vulgar. It is part of human nature. Everybody wants to spend more to make Eid happier for his family," said Irfan Manzoor, a local journalist.