SRINAGAR: The first thing that strikes one, coming in from chaotic Delhi to Srinagar, is the absence of queues outside banks, with people frantically pushing and shoving to exchange old Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes.There is not a soul outside the banks in Srinagar, despite the fact that curfew has been relaxed and movement is relatively free.

How is it that there are no queues outside the bank? You know to change the old notes? “Oh that,” says the cab driver, “ we don’t have any money to change.” Then goes on to explain, “these four months have broken our back, no one has any money, and the little we have there is no problem as there are no queues.”

Unlike the rest of the country where demonetisation has taken a visibly heavy toll, Kashmir is calm insofar as this problem is concerned. A young entrepreneur explains that the economy has taken a severe beating in the last weeks, money has run out, and “there is little to exchange.” A businessman points out that the conflict and turmoil in the Valley does not allow “us to keep any money at home, and most of it is left in the banks and investments.”

The ATMs are stocked, the people seeking to return their notes casually walk into a bank, do the needful and return without any of the stress and strain that the people all across India are undergoing. As a local journalist laughed, “you can see how well organised we are, how different from you.”

The second fact that strikes you is that the government has all packed up and left forJammu. Despite the fact that Kashmir is far from normal, and has just emerged from an intense period of curfew and shut downs, not a single top functionary of the government has stayed behind in Srinagar.

The Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, her aides, her cabinet, her spokespersons are all in Jammu. No one is here in Srinagar.

Even the Education Minister has left, despite the fact that thousands of students are giving their Board examinations after considerable uncertainty. It is surprising, almost seems like a desertion given the fact that Kashmir has been in a cycle of protests and violence. And remains tense, with the possibility of a flare up imminent. In such a situation for the government to move darbar would have seemed improbable but clearly is not, insofar as this state is concerned.

Where is the government, we ask a cross section of Kashmiris. Some laugh, some ask ‘what government’, others shrug their shoulders with, “when did we ever have a government.” But perhaps the most apt response comes from CPI(M) legislator Yusuf Tarigami who says, very seriously, “the government is very much here. The BSF is here, the CRPF is here, the Army is here, the agencies are here. You are looking for the government in the Chief Minister. But that is not the government Kashmir knows.”

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR. Funeral of an elderly man who died on Thursday, two weeks after being hit by a teargas shell at Soura.)