In this hour of direst need, all, barring one, shrank when a sacrifice was sought. As Kashmiri students from different countries, mostly Bangladesh, started returning to Srinagar in mid-March following the coronavirus outbreak, the government approached different hotels in Srinagar, asking them to house them for the mandatory 14-day quarantine. As expected, the owners refused, conjuring a deadly cocktail of contamination and future loss of business. The popular Centaur Hotel, for example, cited risk to staff, who lodged a pre-emptive protest. All except one man--45-year-old hotelier Irshad Mirza, who put his hand up and asked the government to use his property.
“I told them my hotel is available,” says Mirza, who owns Shah Abbas hotel on Srinagar’s Dal Lake. “If the virus can be contained due to quarantine and other isolation measures, it will save Kashmir; if Kashmir is safe, my family is safe,” reasons Mirza lucidly. His offer was gratefully accepted.
“After the first batch had completed quarantine in my hotel, I told the administration they can continue to use the facility for the same purpose,” Mirza says. He scoffs at other hoteliers’ argument that this would devalue the property, pointing to examples in Italy and Spain where hundreds of hotel rooms were converted into isolation wards.
Mirza’s noble gesture was quickly acknowledged and Srinagar deputy commissioner Shahid Choudhary took to twitter thus: “Tiger zinda hai!! Let’s clap for Mr Irshad who came all the way to offer keys of his hotel to help us”.
Established in 1982, Shah Abbas is one of Srinagar’s well-known hotels with 88 well-furnished rooms. “We handed over all our rooms and provided our usual service to the students,” Mirza discloses.
That Mirza proved an inspiration became apparent when other hoteliers across Kashmir offered their facilities for quarantine. Even in picturesque Pahalgam, hoteliers followed Mirza’s lead. Indeed, a senior official says Mirza showed the way and “helped erase misconceptions about the virus”.