An entire body of works, from 2007 till 2022, is part of a book project, titled- The Women of Kashmir. Over the years much has changed in my subject’s lives personally and in terms of their identity! I might take some pictures next year, as well, you never know with me! The book is divided into a few parts, some of the works have been shown over the years at the India Art Fair, like the one above but most of them have only been emailed to a few curators and ofcourse Mary Ellen Mark (attended her workshop in 2010) who was instrumental in directing the works this way .
Many a books have come out from the time I began. That doesn’t hinder my project in any way. When one initially began, the only way female photographers would shoot Kashmir, was to go through NGO’s. I took the same route, met Parveena and Parvez, though they were very helpful, I realized that I don’t do well with viewing the world through anyone’s eyes but my own- skewed, tainted, cynical ones! Plus, I’m not an activist, philanthropist not even a feminist. Right from the word go, from my first book, which is stark white and black with hints of colour, to my first film- Loss- which looked at the problems faced by the Kashmiri Muslim and Kashmiri Pandits, one holds what one calls the ‘ greediest view of the world’, wanting to look at everything- from every possible direction one can!
There’s much that one hasn’t been able to do in Kashmir, there’s much when I view the works in their entirety, look at and think, wait a little longer, try a little harder but without organisations pushing you, without proper press credentials and with being looked suspiciously at by both parties- the Pandits think I’m Muslim and with an agenda and the Kashmiri Muslims, a lot of times think I’m a spy; this is what I could do.
Like curator after curator, has been telling me, it’s time to release it, maybe it is! But one’s apprehensive, it ain’t good enough just about yet and once the works come out…I might not be able to return ‘home’!
Side note/ technology is handy, anytime you get accused by some hot shot-there’s Flicker, which will display all your file info and your emails, too can help determining who all were sent the images. This is valuable info for long term projects because anyone can quickly churn out something and turn the tables on you. When I put up the image above, a very famous male photographer got pissed with me. Someone who uses ‘black backgrounds’! Thankfully, for me the pictures had already been published, long before, he did his show and my first book, was filled with such pictures. Unfortunately, I can’t accuse him of the same because it’s needless, doesn’t work in reverse and two because I have studied and taught photography, so what a hypocrite I would be, to get my own references from international photographers and then accuse someone else!
On a pleasant Sunday evening, my companion and I head out to this Haveli in Chandni Chowk which has been restored by Vijay Goel- a Rajya Sabha member who is in the process of restoring another mansion, close to Haveli Dharampura, which took him around six years to restore. We walked in tiny meandering lanes, close to Jama Masjid’s gate number three, where the rains had turned the ground into quagmires and in Gali Gulian found this wonderful 19th century mansion, which will transport you back in time. The entrance isn’t overbearing, it has a quintessential Dilli 6 feel to it, with a narrow lane and a huge door, which you could miss if you’re not on the look out for the board. But as soon as you make it past the concierge, it magically reveals itself.
The courtyard that lies behind that door, is akin to all the old mansions one has visited. So many of the Indian homes, down South, thankfully retain that sort of architectural style-courtyard in the middle and all the individual rooms open into it. But in the times of builder made flats, having a house and that too with a courtyard is a luxury, restoring and owning a mansion seems princely.
Chandni Chowk built by Shah Jahan, is a a foodie’s paradise. Some of the chefs in this area, are actual descendants of those who worked in the Royal kitchen. So, if you are a vegetarian, you can find the best chaats, paranthas, kachoris, dahi bhallas in CC, closer to the Temple. If you love meat, like me, you can find the oldest, most iconic restaurants near the Masjid. So, a delectable meal isn’t what you should visit the restaurant, Lakhori (at the Haveli Dharampura) for. It’s for the entire experience, which is what is unique.
On arrival you are given a welcome drink-Kanjee, which is a zesty probiotic. This is followed by Palak Patta Chaat (yummy), Broken Wheat Kachori (which is heavy as an appetizer), Aloo Mint Kabab followed by Murg ke Parchey. By the time one finished eating the appetizers, one was full to the brim. Right on cue, the servers guided us upstairs for the Kathak performance. In that setup, it’s ethereal, though it only lasts for ten minutes. We came downstairs and were served Tamatar Ka Shorba. Since, one couldn’t get another morsel in, the server suggested we take it up to the terrace.
Up we went, by ourselves and I was so glad I wasn’t on a solo date but with someone who is usually game for some fun and frolic. From a particular spot we could see the dome of the Jama Masjid. On a couple of terraces, young lads tarried and dawdled as we sipped our soup. After a while, we made it back to Lakhori to finish our meal. The food like I mentioned wasn’t my favourite part, as the non veg dishes surprisingly paled in comparison to the vegetarian ones. All the potatoes fill you up, so you don’t really notice that the variety and quantity of the non vegetarian dishes is meagre. The Biryani is vegetarian and you’re given a single piece of Roshan Josh and a couple of pieces of Butter Chicken, neither of which you would want to write home about.
But you wouldn’t want to miss eating all these specialities laid out on copper and ceramic plates, in a beautiful environment with a courteous and friendly staff. I would suggest getting the vegetarian meal and visiting on a Sunday, when the performance takes place and it’s easier to park and walk in CC. From Tuesday to Friday, they serve Ala Carte and on Saturdays and Sundays, when there’s the Kathak performance you can only order the Chef’s menu. To tum bhi ‘ aao kabhi haveli pe’ to get reminded of a bygone era.
Stand with Afghan People in their Struggle for Freedom and Democracy- A number of activists from NFIW, AIPWA and ANHAD came together today, at Mandi House with Afghan students and refugees to demand that the people of Afghanistan must get an opportunity to elect a new government. Early elections should be held under UN supervision, so that the Taliban doesn’t force itself as the new regime. They also appealed to the Indian government to not only bring back Indian citizens from the tumultuous land but to also make an effort to bring Afghan students, who have enrolled into Indian universities back to Indian soil.
The Afghan women at the protest were terribly shook up, due to the chaos and the fear that has been caused by the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. As it is in all conflict areas, the women pay the highest price, with not just their lives but also by the nullification of their liberties. Their bodies and souls are traded and forced into a subservience, that is closer to death, than any of us can imagine. All we can give them right now is refuge, cooperation and support.
Post birthday celebrations continued with friends, this week. The culmination of it was today. What a euphoric day! Spent the afternoon with a friend at Bo Tai, then went to the park to lie in the sun. Got dirty looks from the lovers, who hated the intrusion. Made my way to the Dargah. Spent a few hours there till I could feel the depressive thoughts of the past few months, leaving my body. Mujhe aap ne bulaya yeh karam nahin to kyaa he?
The Igloo, in Gulmarg isn’t an abode for Eskimos and hunters, rather it’s a cafe for travellers, an attraction for anyone who likes the snow or kahwa to bear the chilly winters of the Vale. My solo trip to Gulmarg, wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the newest, trendiest cafe in Kashmir.
Syed Waseem Shah, the owner/ creator/ artist, of the Igloo Cafe, is the brain behind this innovative space. I didn’t get to meet him nor did I meet many people there, as I went too early. The tourists were busy skiing, so they would saunter in much later, told me the manager. He was kind enough to keep me entertained, by providing information and taking pictures of me.
If like me, you’re strolling around Gulmarg and can’t figure out where it is, look for the Kolhai Hotel. Pay the nominal entry fee and step into an approximately fifteen feet high, cave like structure made of snow, which can accommodate maximum sixteen people at a time. As of now, there are limited items on the menu, since there’s always the fear of the snow structure melting, with the heat of the food and beverages, I was told. I didn’t care. Give me any kind of tea, anywhere, anytime and I’m sold.
I thought at length about what to write. The young man, who lost his life: Navneet Singh, just returned from Australia, where his young wife awaited his arrival. Seeing him on the ground, left me shell shocked. The events of the day, were going to led to some disaster, that was obvious.
Rajdeep, is bearing the brunt of reporting, what the farmers told us- that Navneet had been shot. In fact, when I got the news, from one of the young farmers, I was told, that three boys had been shot in the head. It was not a rally but a protest, the kind, I have never witnessed and I have witnessed many, in the past decade. Let’s just say it was akin to the people taking to the street when Ram Rahim, was arrested. Plus, there was a caravan, a flight of tractors, stuck in a jam, leaderless, with lots of gossip mongering and alot of violence, from both ends. Now, if I say, the initial screw ups began from the side of the farmers in Ghazipur, I was there when they started to remove all the barricades and damage buses, in the morning, I will look like a right wing supporter and if I lie, I will not be able to live with it.
If I was a politician, a follower of the religion under attack, a leftist, a feminist, an activist, a student leader, a photo journalist with a full time job, I would pick a side and stick to it. Right, wrong, evidence, no evidence, common sense, I would just flush all of it down the toilet and defend my own. I would write and argue till my face went blue about the right to protest any which way, about how religious flags are used inappropriately all the time, about how wonderful the Sikhs are and so and so forth. But, alas! one is unable to do so. Nevertheless, one is in complete solidarity with the farmers, so as a sign of respect to the most important movement, any of us will ever witness, I take a bow. I decided today, after much contemplation, that a truth that does more harm than good is not worth dwelling on and sharing.
Having said that, I just want to add, as a person born into a Sikh family, never have I ever felt ashamed of the community or any of its actions. In fact, one has always claimed, that if I ever did feel the need to follow a religion, it would be this, just for how courageous and generous, it encourages its followers to be. But for the first time, witnessing the utter disregard for human life, made me squirm and I would personally apologise on behalf of all those present at the Ghazipur border (out of which the percentage of Sikhs would not be over 20%, on the upside) for all that took place.
I said this to a young lad, initially, who I shot with the Nishan Sahab. The flag was on the tractor and he said to his friend that the reason I am taking a picture of him is because , ‘ Madam, humme Khalistani dikhana cha rahee he!’ I flared up, of course. My reply to him was, ‘ You are a cut surd, my father is a turbaned Sikh living in Delhi, who was going to be attacked in ‘84. Whatever you people do and say, be careful that you don’t risk the lives of the Sikhs living here because you all will flee and they will pay the price for it!’ I still maintain that stance. I still feel the need and the responsibility to apologise for the violence, not because I am a coward, but because due to it, we didn’t even rush our own to the hospital, we didn’t even pick up his body from the ground, instead we used him for media bytes. Two wrongs aren’t going to make a right and if I have to share images of the destruction of Babri Masjid, as a defence for the hyper masculinity flexing its muscles, shame on us!
A religion that was formed to stand up for the oppressed ( even if that oppressed person is a policeman) the visual of that religion, the turban and the Nishan Sahib, can’t be be seen on a tractor trying to drive over a policeman or attacking a policeman with a stick or a sword, that was put their in those hands to protect. It’s sava lakh nal ek ladava, not the other way round. This is a farmer’s issue, that across the board affects all farmers but in the end if something goes wrong and incase of violence, like we saw, only the turban will be held responsible and also bear the brunt of it! Never forget what the optics look like to a the man of the street. It is the Nishan Sahib, that will be used to derail theentire movement. The Sikhs are a martial race and there are rules, even in war. Let’s not forget that. This one we will win but let’s just try to win it, the right way.
P.S- This is an appeal to the Akal Takht, from factions of the Sikh community, to disallow people from using the religious flag- the Nishan Sahib for anything other than a religious procession. For it to not be hoisted on vehicles and to not carry it while running. Though, the Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh, has said, ‘ Violence by farmers or police at Red Fort can’t be justified. But controversy over hoisted Nishan Sahib over vacant flag pole at Red Fort is a non-issue.’
Yesterday, was Ghalib’s birthday and all the heritage walk leaders/ historians, I know shared nuggets from his life. Today I saw a lovely video by Aditya Pathak, about Ghalib and seeing that I thought I should write something about the man, who other than Harivansh Rai, Kaifi Azmi and Javed Akhtar and much later, Pablo Neruda, got me through many turbulent nights.
Ghalib was in another league, of course. One does suffer from existential angst, for unrequited love, separation and heartbreak, one found solace in Mirza Asadullah Beig’s poetry. Hum bikhre hue, bigde hue, sharab peene wallo ko, jo khudda he woh to mante he, magar duniya aur mazahb me nahin, unke liye Ghalib mian, ek humnawa he. Ek humsafar, jo Janat ki hakeekat jaanta he. Ghalib, may be a passing fascination for the pious, religious lot but for us cynics, he’s our fellow traveller, who has experienced unbearable loss and who died without an offspring. Unke baare me padh kar lagta he, yeh jee liye to hum bhi, jee hi lenge!
Aaj Subah, subah paigam aaya, Rajasthan se-‘Kyaa Na Didi aao, aapka ghar khula he!’ Jawaab mein humne, ek dil ka emoticon bhej diya. Ghar! Kahaan hota he, khanabadoshon ka ghar? Barf ki pahadiyon mein, ye Rajasthan ki raet mein?
Ghar to humme bataya jata he, Dilli mein he. Kehte he yeh shehar, dillwallon ka he. Magar Dilli aur uss ke logo ka fauladi seena, bhata nahin he, humme. Humari zabaan to sambhal leti he iss jagah ko, darra ke, dhamka ke, magar dil kamzor pad jaata he. Woh ghabrata hein. Ajeeb si khamoshi he yahaan, iss imarat mein jisse ghar kehte he, sanata, jahan fir kabhi na bhai ka pyaar milega, na Ma ka aanchal. Seediya hi seediya, khalli kamre jaahan, mare hue logo ka saman aise sambhal rakha he humne, jaise woh laut ke maangne wale he. Ajeeb si bay tawajhi he, iss shahar aur iss ke logo mein, jo hum jaiso ko kahaan samjhenge-jo ek hi pal mein nafrat bhi kar lete he, aur ek hi lamhe mein ishq.
To ghar kahaan he humara? Wahan jahan humari pedaish he, ya wahan ja marne ki khwaish he? Ya, uss jagah jahan taro ke neeche, ek chatt par, rat bhar humne kissi se baate kari! Raat guzri aur uss shaks ne humme bhi badal diya. Woh akhri mulakatoon mein se ek thi. Kuch logo se, jism nahin, ruh milti he, woh paath pada jate he, zindagi jeene ka. Ussi jagah, se paigam aata he, humme yaad dilane ke liye, taare aapka intezar kar rahe he. Magar ab hum badalne layaak nahin rahe.
Himmat judti nahin he, iss kashmakash mein wahan jaane ki. Uss kamre mein apne aap ko wapis band karneki, jahan hum sare dil ki narazgiya le jaate the. Umrr bhi kam thi, tajurba bhi, Kashmir ne humare dilo, dimaag pe kabu paaya nahin tha. Kuch umeede baaki thi, zindagi se, ishq se aur shayad kuch apne aap se. Ab iss banaumeedi ko dho kar, uss kamre ko kaise bepaak kare?