Sunday, 16 August 2015

India and the Kashmir Ad

Dear Admakers from India,

There has been a spate of Kashmir-focused advertisements in India media recently. I feel we need to talk. This didnt need to be elaborated, but here is the deal, you seem to not understand Kashmir. 

It started with a benign ad by an electronic payment gateway. A man somewhere in rural Kashmir makes an e-payment for some spare parts and produces electricity so that kids can play at night. (At night? No, sir, not in Kashmir. Its neither safe nor tradition for kids to be out of homes after Maghrib prayers have been called out. Ask around.)

Then came the incredibly cute ad from a bank set to a traditional Kashmiri rhyme. Personally, I dont find the ad to have much in common with Kashmir except the background score, but anyway.

Then it became sinister. As all things Kashmiri tend to do, when India starts meddling.

A telecom operator thought it would be a good idea to sell phones by embarrassing Kashmir shawl merchants. The ad was the subject of  a law suit and was taken off air. I am not sure if the people behind this ad apologized, which as professionals they should have. 

Then came the this ad which conveniently chose to ignore the army's atrocities in Kashmir to portray them as friends of Kashmiri villagers.


Not to mention, the Kashmir tourism ad which so calmly ignores Jammu. Eh? (The background score is gorgeous!)

This latest ad which uses the Indian Army is what got me to this table with you. As a Kashmiri, who is appalled by the level of knowledge Indians in general have about Kashmir, I find it to be an attempt to portray Kashmir as a village utopia which it is not. The address is all wrong. It of course creates a good impression on the target audience, but ignores certain basics about Kashmir. 

On a side note, one still deals with people (highly qualified professionals) who ask "Kashmir has its own language?", "Isnt Kashmiri and Urdu the same thing?" etc. etc. Off the topic, but yeah, that happens.

Unlike what people see in these ads, a pheran clad man running towards an army camp is more likely to be shot at or arrested. Not to mention, denied entry into the camp in the very least. I am sure your research would have brought up the difficult dynamics of the relationship locals share with the Indian Army. Can I tell you a secret? We are not really fond of the army. 

For an Army camp to be set in the background of a "life long" friendship will require a collective forgetfulness of last so many years in Kashmir. The ad is a convenient brush over the disturbing realities of living in a place so militarized that it is constantly at war. Indians on an average are blissfully unaware of the undercurrents of the relationship between locals and the army. It may appear neutral and accommodating, but beneath the tranquil facade is the relationship of distrust forged by fear and reinforced by the history on Indian Army in Kashmir. Men like Bashir of the ad have been murdered by the dozen by the Indian Army with impunity. The fact that the other person is allowed to kill you on any frivolous basis is hardly the ground for life long friendship. See my point?

But the problem is set deeper. The ads have hardly any value in the contemporary Kashmir setting. Kashmir is at best a prop. A mountainous background giving the idea of a far flung place. A place with limited access. It ads value to the brand, of course, and simultaneously beats a subtle nationalistic drum, I know that. But then, why in Kashmir? You could have done it at some place in India where people are actually fond of the armymen? 

The friendly Army and the friendly villagers using a friendly online portal to share baby pics on Whatsapp. It is a furtherance of the propaganda posters which the Army puts up every now and then around Srinagar. Of course, Srinagar is of least interest to you. It is neither rural nor inaccessible. We have cities too, you see. And contrary to what you may assume, we do have people who speak fluent un-accented English and have an immaculate Urdu pronunciation. I wonder why no one finds them. They are all over.

Granted that the tragedy of Kashmir is not going to sell you any products, the least you could do is not to use it to sell any more. A little perspective is all that I am talking about. When you speak of Kashmir and your army in its context, see it how Kashmiris would see it. At least try. Your ads will come out different. 

A funny thing happened while I was writing this letter, you have come up with another ad. There are two kids in this ad, running after an army truck waving them goodbye. I am reminded of two episodes from my life in Kashmir by this scene. Want to hear? (You dont have much choice). Once, I was on my way to school and an army truck passed by me. There was a little boy, no bigger than the girl in the ad (if memory serves, he even looked similar). The truck scared him so much that he ran and hid himself behind me. Seeking refuge behind a stranger was, to that small child, the better option than just walking alongside the truck. Another incident happened when I was 12 years old. I was going by an auto rickshaw, one wintry day and an army-man stopped the auto and directed us to come out. Being only 12, I thought he must be calling the driver and not me. But, boy oh boy, was I wrong. First he scolded me for not getting out when called, to which I apologized. And then he asked for my identity card - which I did not have. I tried explaining that I didn't have one and he could check with my school and all, but to no avail. He wanted to detain me or something till the auto driver stepped in and pleaded. Showed his identity card and assured the armyman that I was just a kid (because pre-teens sometimes can be mistaken for adults, you know). The armyman let me go finally but not without a tremble in my spine which had nothing to do with the cold weather. 

Enough of nostalgia, but do you get my point? Next time if you want to place your product in the Kashmiri context, find a theme which is less embarrassing.

Laughing all the way on the hilarity of your ads,
Rich Autumns