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Kashmir calling

Abhilasha Ojha & Ravi Teja Sharma  |  New Delhi 

DEVELOPMENT: Film shoots, santoor recitals, music videos, garden singers, cricket camps and educational institutions... is Kashmir getting its due at last?
Abhay Rustam Sopori, son of legendary santoor maestro and music composer Pt Bhajan Sopori, is busy fine-tuning his new music video that's been shot in the heart of Kashmir.
"I'm tired of Kashmir being referred to as a dangerous place, and I want to change exactly that," says Sopori, 25, also a santoor player.
Sopori and Shameema Azad, wife of the state's chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, have come together to create a special song on Kashmir that aims to inspire wholesome new thoughts of the place.
And Sopori's is not the lone voice trying hard to be heard above the din that conveys an impression of "a battle-ridden, militancy-infested place". From film directors to reality TV stars, sundry tourists and even educational institutions, many are joining the effort.
Agrees Vinay Pasricha, chairman, Wigan & Leigh College Ltd: "Kashmir deserves to get a fair chance in terms of education. After all, a sizeable section of Indian youth are in Kashmir."
The institution has invested almost Rs 1 crore in a campus in Srinagar, even though "we won't make any money in the beginning". It's a sign of confidence in the future.
"The economy in Kashmir will open up within the next 3-4 years, and the response we are getting now is tremendous," he adds. Students from areas as far flung as Oori are swarming to the campus, and the college expects to fly some 60 per cent of its faculty in for classes.
Film director Sujit Sarkar, who made Yahaan..., pitches in: "The army was reluctant to give me permission to shoot my film in Kashmir, but I knew my film belonged here "" and the result was beautiful."
With such enchanting images of Kashmir on the silver screen, tourist arrivals couldn't have been far behind. And indeed, tourism is getting back its bustle: a million tourists are expected this summer.
According to Azim Tuman, who heads Srinagar's houseboat owners' association, days of full occupancy could last an entire four months.
Television exposure has played a role too, with tourists turning up at the terraced Shalimar gardens to experience what Fame Gurukul winner Qazi Tauqeer has claimed as a formative influence.
Meanwhile, there's the buzz of Kashmiri cricketers. Last week, at a hunt for cricketers at Srinagar's Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium, former player Javagal Srinath didn't just go ga-ga over "one of the most picturesque cricket grounds I have ever seen in my life", he spotted three youngsters who could possibly make good pace bowlers, perhaps even all-rounders.
Youngsters who may get to play for a home crowd too. Srinath is convinced that with some extra care, this could easily become "one of the best grounds for international matches".
Anyone listening?

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First Published: Fri, May 19 2006. 00:00 IST