Sunday, March 15, 2015

To Keep it Relevant

On a fine day, we shall choose to talk about art.

But right now, we shall talk of something else.

On January 12, 2015 when a bunch of artists opened the first art gallery of Kashmir, Gallerie One, it generated a small buzz in a very profound city. There were bureaucrats in long overcoats and golf caps, in shawls and stoles admiring the art work. Some old shriveled-looking artists explaining the works and their meanings.

Gallerie One was the brain child of Syed Mujtaba Rizvi, a twenty something Goldsmiths art graduate. Its website (which is quite beautiful in itself) describes it to envisage as a space for artists to express and create. The gallery, the website shows the gallery as a spacious lit up room of khatambad ceilings and minimalist furniture. While I never visited the gallery, I did intend to go. Soon.

That seems difficult now. On February 23, a few officials from the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation hit the gallery and not for admiring the art. They took away the furniture, some equipment, destroyed a few art pieces and wanted to call it a day. The gallery managers documented this on mobile phone videos and put them on Youtube. The owners allege that no prior notice was served for closing down the gallery, and the actions of the officials amount to hooliganism.

The video is infuriating in parts, but Kashmiri to the core. There is a sense of unaccountability with which the ‘department people’ handle the issue ordering their men about which bespeaks of years of government service where the only accountability is to the officer above you.

There is a young woman who decides to inject some discipline in the tense air and says, “Please keep your tone down!”

Her simple reply to questions of vandalizing the properties of artists is “We also respect art. We will put it back.”

“What is your qualification in art? What do you know about art?” yells a frustrated person from behind the camera. I agree, but can see reason in her words. We rarely respect art – artists and their expression. For her, they might have just torn down a canvas or broken something made of plaster of Paris, something she can just seal over and it still would be good enough to put in a corner of her drawing room. That’s the idea of respect for art.

The idea of art is more and more alien to the urban youth. It’s something the  students who could not study science or commerce do. Or something which can be purchased from a handicrafts shop. The idea of academic excellence is excellence in science and mathematics – not literature, not arts.

A small stocky man comes forward and seems to have only one answer for every question. That it is his will and that is the way things happen in Kashmir. Also, he adds without failing, that it is the government’s policy. Then he moves on, giving orders to his men to take things and throw them out.

The question here hardly seems to be of artistic freedom as there was no issue raised on the content and the art works– though one can’t be very sure. It’s more of the official morass that stifles every aspiration in Kashmir. In a place like Kashmir, you cannot escape censorship of one way or the other. But vandalism, is unwarranted. Official hooliganism has no place in a civilized society. If there was a policy decision to remove the art gallery, the officials should have given a prior notice. A month’s prior notice, to say the least. But the gallery owners have consistently denied this. At one point a person asks the small stocky man, who identifies himself as Joint Director – Tourism, feels offended at being asked who he was, refuses to talk and sulks away like a school bully.

The art gallery owners keep asking for paperwork, and the officials keep denying it. Was there an eviction order? Apparently, the officials turned up on the spot without any warrants to evacuate the space. I also wonder, why no one (neither the officials nor the artists) call the police in.

Official high handedness is not new in Kashmir. Or news worthy. It’s a corrupt place, run by corrupt officials. What I admired in Gallerie One was the attempt it purported to be – to make contemporary art from Kashmir visible. To make art relevant to the everyday life of Kashmiris. And that is exactly why a gallery was important. And the fact that it was an indigenous attempt, made it all the more admirable and relevant.

I hope the gallery opens soon. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Zareef Ahmed Zareef on the Floods

Kashmiri poet Zareef Ahmed Zareef pens down the story of Kashmir floods of September 2014.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Blogs of Kashmir

In 2011 when I started blogging, I looked around the room of Kashmiri bloggers. There were many, for sure, but not all were to be found on their writing desks. So many people had created blogs and forgotten. That was disheartening. As a novice blogger having a quiet blogosphere meant that there would be no readers too.

But there were some who were still around. Sameer Bhat was not blogging as much as he used to, but his blog is one of the most beautiful to read. I spent hours browsing his old posts. (Read his description of Delhi's Chor Bazar and Sopore's Fish Market and the more recent post on the epic love story of Habba Khatoon and Yusuf Shah Chak). Then there was Speaking Chinar, writing longish articles on mainly politics (though there is a delightful one written on the politics of pheran and another on the uses of kangri). There were others too though it took me a long time to find them.

In sometime I found out the blogs of Muhammad Faysal, Sabbah Haji, and many more.

Francesca Recchia, who collaborates for the  Samavar blog, had asked me once about other Kashmiri bloggers. The result was a small list which we maintained on a Google Doc. But, a later Twitter discussion lead to more discoveries for which we are largely thankful to Dr. Haamid Peerzada. The full list can be seen here.

There is an enormous wealth of bloggers from Kashmir craving for readership. Even though, there are many to choose from, Kashmiri blogosphere suffers from a few limitations. Most of the blogs are political in nature - have something or the other to do with politics. This might be expected, as politics is the most significant aspect of everything that has to do with Kashmir in the contemporary world. People do try to make sense of this overbearing arches of politics by turning artistic, but there are limitations to that. So may of the bloggers dissect the political climate without mincing the words. There is another reason to that as well, one that appears to be more pertinent. Since the discourse on Kashmir is handled heavily by those sitting on the other side of the fence, there is little heard from the Kashmiris. The blogs give air to that voice and sense to the crumbling world of Kashmir's partisans. And in that every little squeak counts.

Poetry and politics seems to define the blogs of Kashmir, as in much of Kashmir. Sadly, there are few bloggers writing the stories of contemporary Kashmir. Vinayak Razdan, however, maintains an impressive blog about Kashmir's contemporary culture and kitsch.

Digital SLRs have been however very kind to Kashmir. Though there are no dedicated blogs or Tumblrs for the ancient pics of Kashmir (there are a couple of Facebook pages though), new photography blogs abound. Check out Sajad Rafeeq's blog.

There are a lot more wondrous voices from Kashmir. I hope someday we will be able to hear them and heed to them.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Dawn of His Day

Ya Nabi Salaam Alaika
Ya Rasool Salaam Alaika
Ya Habib Salaam Alaika
Salwatullah Alaika

On this Milad un Nabi, God on the day of the birth of Your Beloved, more than any other day answer our prayers because they have nowhere else to turn to.

Light the candles of our hope, for no one else will.

Bless us with happiness and joy from your boundless treasures.

Shine Your light, for its dark in the world we live in.

And warmth, because cold surrounds us. We are frozen.

For the love of Muhammad (SallaluAlaihiWassalam).


Ya Nabi Salaam Alaika
Ya Rasool Salaam Alaika
Ya Habib Salaam Alaika
Salwatullah Alaika

Sunday, December 14, 2014

To the Stranger who asked for Prayers

We had been silent for coffee shops were not quite our thing yet.
The coffee was gaping at us from large porcelain cups, uncomfortable and quiet.

The conversation drifted from one thing to another. Arundhati Roy said that when people meet only the small things are said, the big things remain unsaid. Lurking inside. I am pretty sure she said something like that in The God of Small Things. 

And so we taked about the weather. You can talk about the weather in Srinagar for ever. So did we. Then we talked about other random stuff, before falling quiet again. The silence made flitting appearences throughout the meeting. There and gone, in a moment. 

But it would soon turn all pallid. He would leave. 

"Pray for me", he said.

Did I believe in the power of prayer, he had asked. 

The stranger before me was an old friend, who rarely met. And even though I loved him, he wouldn't have known. We take things we dont care about for granted. In fact, right then sitting across him I felt as if I had never really met him. May be I never had. May be he was just a name from the long list of people I have come across on the internet who materialized.

So I said, yes, I will pray for you.

We paid for the coffee and left. In different directions. His to leave the place, mine towards the maze of Srinagar lanes to home. 

The air was heavy with the burden I carried. I must add his name to the prayer. But then, my prayers had carried no name. It had been more of a wish, a secretly expressed desire to which God was a witness. And of course, his Prophet (PBUH). And yet, it would have been unfair if I hadn't mentioned him specifically. Donated a whisper in his name too.

What is the price of prayer?

On the day of Jumat-ul-Vidah, a few years ago the Imam was fervently praying after the congregational prayers. There were loud gasps as people broke down, saying Amen. Afterwards they chimed in loudly for a highly effected Kashmiri na'at. Even in the women's section teary eyed women raised their shawls and the hems of veils in prayer. The prayers then too had no names. They were universal for every body. For joy and happiness. For peace and justice. For life.

However, at night I tried to remember the name of the stranger. The little warrior far away from home, fighting his own brand of despair. And wished his freedom. I tied the wish to the wings of prayer for the stranger. That he may find rest from all that was hard on him.

I prayed that someone would do so much for me too.