Artist AK Raina (75), a Kashmiri migrant running a studio in Indore, is back in Kashmir after 25 years. The septuagenarian says it was only for his childhood friend MK Mehboob (also an artist), that he decided to visit the Valley again despite the bitterness of the past.
All above 50 years old and having vivid memories of communal harmony, a mix of 15 artists, Muslims and migrant Kashmir Pandits, came together in a rare week-long art camp in Srinagar to stay connected with the past.
However, the move initiated by artist Delhi-based Veer Munshi (60) with the help of the DP Dhar Memorial Trust has provided a platform for these aging artists to go through catharsis, besides cherishing the golden period they lived together once again.
"We have spent the best times together. Mehboob was my only attraction to visit Kashmir again. May be I was just living so long to see my place again... I remember I had to leave with a bag and a dog, which was too on the hit list, in 1990s. In fact, I did not visit my old house here. I am not interested," says Raina, whose eyes grow moist as he looks at his friend Mehboob.
All the artists created original works during the camp, which started on July 30 and ended on Tuesday.
"The bull in my painting depicts 1990s. It's this bull that threw away Pandits from their Valley," says Mehboob.
Another artist MK Bhat (70) sees art as a neutral space to start a dialogue between the communities as the gulf keeps widening in the wake of controversies like the Kausar Nag Yatra.
"There is a parallel narrative running between those who stayed in Kashmir and those who migrated. The art provides a space to clear misunderstanding and misconceptions," says Bhat.
Hundreds of Kashmir Pandits left the Valley after mass armed rebellion broke out in 1990s. Despite several packages announced for the migrant Pandits, the government has failed to instil confidence in the community to return.
"Conflict brings in erosion and disconnect. We have rich culture and there is need to preserve the same and pass it on to the new generation. This initiative 'To our roots' helped artists share memories, agonies and ecstasies," said Munshi.
The joint exhibition of Muslim and Pandit artists was held at Delhi Public School for public and artists reflected Kashmir in their art on Tuesday --- from the images of migration to craftsmen to vague images of pre-1990s era of Pandit artists.
For Muslim artists, like Zahoor Zargar, it was a lifetime experience to be among old colleagues and teachers once again.
"We cried and laughed together. This was catharsis for me and a real beginning of getting together," said Zargar, who also teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi.