From Kashmir Dispatch: “The Storytellers and the Idea of Kashmir”
Excerpt: “…Over coffee, you explain the ingredients of kong-e-kehwa, made from the costliest spice in the world, the best quality of which Kashmir produces. With lunch you boast about Kashmiri Wazwaan, cooked for days together, the best quality available on weddings. With heat you talk about snow. With fog and smog you talk of clear summer skies. With AC you talk about the electricity produced in Kashmir, and taken by India. All Kashmiri.
These are softer themes. At University protests, over fee hikes and the like, you give a sarcastic smile when police provide the security. And when at times they selectively do nothing when they should actually intervene.
You read the morning newspaper and tell people about the news items relating to Kashmir, and tell them how they haven’t, more often than not, portrayed the full story.
These are bits and pieces. There is a grand narrative which one has to repeat. After the introduction. Infinitely. With almost every person introduced.Someone asks you about you. You say you are Kashmiri. “Oh! Indian.” “No Kashmiri.” You insist. Then you talk and talk. Discuss, argue, politely. You lose patience, you keep patient. Talk.
Question: “Okay! You are from Kashmir! Such a lovely place. I just love it. I so want to visit it… at least once in my life. But… is it safe?”
Answer: “Sure. Well, yes… safe… relatively, more or less!”
Q: “Don’t you feel scared there.”
A: “Fear is everywhere. In Kashmir, just the geography changes.”
Q: “Lovely place, but for the terrorist attacks on innocent people. Thank God for the security forces!”
A: “Yes, mujhh… I mean, militants do attack Indian forces sometimes.”
Q: “Do you really want to live with Pakistan?”
A: “We want to decide whatever. Just that.”
Q: “But won’t you create an Islamic state if India leaves?”
Q: “Tell me something about Kashmir. I’m really interested to know.”
A: “IOK”Call: “Hey! Happy Republic Day!” Response: “That’s for Indians. Not me!”
Replies: Standard narratives. Repeated many times over. Personal stories. Insider takes on politics, history. 1586. Akbar. Afghans. Sikhs. Dogras. 13th July 1931. Sheikh. 47. Indians. Army. Occupation. 1953. 1975. Maqbool Bhat. 89. HAJY. 90’s. Naebid. Ragda. 2010. Azaadi. Longing for Azaadi.
Vocabulary: Shaheed – Martyr. Shaheed Malguzaar – Martyr’s Graveyards. Hartals – Strikes. Crackdowns. Curfews – declared, undeclared. Half-widows. Disappeared. Torture. Papa-1, Papa-2. IB & Cargo. Cant. SOG & RR. Terms you explain with pride. Words, imposed, hated.” …
This essay is part of a collection of writing published in “Paper txt msgs from Kashmir,” an upcoming e-book and video based project that has developed from a lo-fi participatory media work, initiated by artist Alana Hunt, that humorously responded to the banning of pre-paid phone connections in J&K in late 2009.