As a people living under an occupation [in Kashmir] which is camouflaged within a patina of democratic set-up and draconian laws, there is a constant erasure of our bodies, memories, and identities. We are inflicted with active forgetting in order to survive. At the border where the direct gaze of prose is constricted with barbed wires of multiple coercions, poetry spurts forth. Poetry makes one a witness, rather than just an archivist. One’s life-blood, all that is political and emotional; lived, remaining, and forgotten coagulates into a poem.
Back in Srinagar after a year, the first thing I noticed was packs of dogs hanging at every nook and cranny. A few dogs ran after us while boarding the car at the airport. The dogs looked well fed and territorial. They ran snarling through streets – a sight which should be unusual for any city that claims to be well-administered. As the dogs hurled past squirming people, grimy and emaciated children with huge flailing gunny bags were raking through mountains of debris lining the road. We hit a traffic jam that that did not open for almost an hour.
Recently a news item in the Times of India announced that a literary festival would be held in Kashmir. I find something deeply unsettling about the way this piece has been written (or how the news has been evolving ever since). Not to mention, the audacity of the idea of a literary festival in a place where deep constraints on freedom of speech and life exist.
Since 1947, Kashmir has been subjected to three full scale wars between India and Pakistan. The last one occurred as the two nations were poised to become nuclear powers. Until the late 80s, the nature of tension in the valley between these full scale battles can be viewed as latent violence. This period was dogged by rigged elections, corruption, dissent, and awry political coalitions, which led to shaky governments. It was in 1989 that the armed militancy broke out. Since then a burgeoning Indian military presence has been engaged in counterinsurgency policies.
The picture above is a few months old.
It is an allegory of the Kashmiri people (cannot call it a nation since the word bears no trace of coherence, at least at this moment in time). Haneefa lies injured and paralyzed from waist down. Bedridden, teeming with sores and worries. A single mother to a 13 year old Humaira, her only daughter. Humaira, as is obvious from the picture has matured beyond her years.
Recently, six of us Mantle bloggers were asked to discuss the one story we were going to keep an eye on for 2011. Because of space restrictions I could not fully explain the reason for my choice, that is, Arundhati Roy's stance toward Kashmir. Here then, is that explanation.
My first thought when I think about feeling peace goes to a time walking around the Dal Lake (Dal means a lake in Kashmiri language). A young girl sauntering around this simply named rippling swathe of water, looking at the silent shikaras (wooden boats) glide in a mute distance, the sun going down - hushing everyone, I would savor the peace that I thought existed around me. The silence and the whispers hung like molasses in the air, as I watched the saffron sky, blue mountains, and the sparkling water enter into a pact of darkness. Turned out, this idyllic time was an illusion (as all life is I agree).