The streets of Srinagar present a strange sight these days — a man ‘walking his cabbage’. You can see him everywhere with his little green companion on a leash and wheels, at all the landmark spots.
Social media is also abuzz with pictures of the pair, the man in a Kashmir overcoat ‘pheran’ and always photographed from the back.
The mystery was solved somewhat when the man appeared on Facebook with the profile ‘Kashmiri Cabbage Walker’ and identified himself as a local artist. He responded to HT’s email interview request on condition that his identity remain secret.
Calling what he did a “performance”, he said, “Walking a cabbage can claim legitimacy in Kashmir, but militarisation can never do that. With my performance, I am highlighting this factual impossibility.”
His aim, he said, was to make the seemingly “absurd act of walking a cabbage” an everyday Kashmiri experience while exposing conflict and militarisation as “truly absurd”.
On his need for anonymity, he said, “The Kashmiri Cabbage Walker is a collective entity, not a single person. The Facebook profile and email account will be used for subsequent art performances in Kashmir by other Kashmiris, now that the foundation is established.”
Walking the Cabbage was originally an art movement started by Chinese artist Han Bing over 15 years ago. Bing walked his cabbage in Beijing, Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo. In 2001, he attempted it at Tiananmen Square but was stopped by security forces.
Bing’s project, artists say, was a commentary on the shift in Chinese society due to rapid modernisation and economic growth, leaving behind people’s bonds with something like the cabbage, an inexpensive staple.
A New York Times report last year on the 41-year-old Bing was titled The Latest Icon in Artistic Rebellion: A Cabbage.
Why do it in the Kashmiri context? “Cultural production at times of war,” answered the Kashmiri artist.
“If you observe the type of art and literature produced during times of conflict, you will be impressed at the quality of cultural production. This is what I am trying to encourage in Kashmir.”
And, above all, the purpose of “walking a cabbage” was to not lose the capacity to laugh. “The laughter of my people is what I seek… Sometimes or rather most times, laughter is scarce in conflict zones. I am trying to change that.”