This is a distress call from a big beautiful prison. I am calling someone out there. Hello, is anybody listening?I have with me thousands lodged in only one of its kind lock up. It is a prison that sprawls far and wide, with all houses and streets falling under it. Everyone—old, young and children— have been imprisoned.
I and all others have become the mute followers of diktats. Diktats imposed from every side. We are sandwiched. Shutdowns and Shootouts. Stones and bullets. Corpses of civilians, cops and combatants. Decrees and laws. Criticism and victimization. There is no in-between. Anarchy sways.
I am stunned and shaken. Confused and cornered. Is it really a replay of the past? The memories are still sharp and cruel. A shattering hailstorm of bullets and gory splitting of blood. Betrayals in the backyard. A crumpled history. Disheveled promises. And most poignant of all, the belied hopes wreathed in smudge and smoke.
This is Kashmir, then and now, cruising along through many a moon ago. Populace doomed to death and raspy moans giving way to shell shocked numbness bordering on disbelief. Kashmir continues to remain mired in obnoxious reality long after the headlines fade away. The eyes of evil; the hands of injustice; and the face of tyranny—all this gets immortalized.
Words tell stories, the facts and the details, the depth and the background. However, images evoke emotion and, more importantly, memory. We quickly forget the facts and details, the precise names, dates and places. But we recall the images: the blood-smeared dead bodies and roads; the pedestrians fleeing a violent scene; the injured rushed to the hospital; the dwellings gutted into ruins; the vigil under the shadow of the gun; the commonplace identification parades and cordons; the shutdowns and desolate streets; and much more.
Images in Kashmir always arrive with enough impact to leave a lasting impression whilst words land mostly with an intellectual whisper. Once a mother wailing over the corpse of her young son appears in print, she’s everyone’s mother. Once a begging and exploited orphan child is on the front page, he’s everyone’s child. Once coffins occupy a few inches of newsprint, they translate the blinkered past and bleak future. Empathy is natural.
The Washington Post photo-journalists Carol Guzy loves to quote: “Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I may remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.” Rightly so. During the last three decades, the lenses from Kashmir have brilliantly captured the resilience and remorse in the human spirit, even in the most dangerous situations.
Our photo-journalists with cameras have voyaged into so many different souls and subjects. Their lensed pieces have proven to be historical documents and wistful reminders. Sometimes they really touch our very souls. And yes, at times, they make a difference. Perhaps a small difference to one person for one moment on one day, but meaningful nonetheless. The lensmen from here have always tried to catch and communicate their best. Even as it has also fetched them Pulitzers but it has surely revealed their knack of photographic story-telling. And then, it’s the people in the pictures and those who view them that are the important ones, and both perhaps testify their calibre.
However, their work so far has remained disintegrated. That they ought to be duly encouraged, and their work preserved as a powerful witness and documented systematically by an autonomous body, makes a good proposal. Their frames deserve to be etched into permanent memory, for with their succor our posterity may easily discern the recycled death of Kashmir, hear its dying heartbeats, sense its last gasping, and mourn the loss of sense in a land where nothing goes beyond the experiments and expirations, the blusters and blunders.
As I write these lines, there is a slow bewailing in the neighborhood about a young boy shot and battling for his life at SKIMS. There is an eerie silence around after a violent ding-dong battle in the out street, the only real sign that tells it’s not all okay.
I am again wordless, couched in prison with the record of intangibles creeping in and the imagination sneaking out, as figures shelter a painful nostalgia between them. What consoles me are the words of Faiz’s prison poem ‘Evening’ translated by Agha Shahid Ali:
Now darkness will never come—
And there will never be morning.
The sky waits for the spell to be broken,
for History to tear itself from this net…
(The Rebel’s Silhouette)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK