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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

Each night, put Kashmir in your dreams

On August 25, Kashmir (and Jammu) will have been under lockdown for 20 days. Those who have come from the area say only a handful of phone and internet connections have been restored

mumbai Updated: Aug 24, 2019 23:46 IST
Deepanjana Pal
Deepanjana Pal
Hindustan Times
Detail from Terrain, by Nilima Sheikh.
Detail from Terrain, by Nilima Sheikh.(HT)
         

It took three weeks for the news of fires in the Amazon rainforest to reach the rest of the world. You’d think thousands of fires burning through large tracts of the world’s biggest rainforest would be the topic of serious news programmes, but to some extent, the reason the Amazon fires made headlines was that South Korean boy band, BTS’s fan base made a noise about it. The band is currently on a break, but their fans — known as the “Army” — launched a hashtag campaign #ARMYHelpThePlanet last week, to raise awareness about the fires. Thanks to the phenomenon that is BTS fandom, today if you search for “Amazon fires” online, you won’t see an image of a warehouse owned by Amazon the tech and e-commerce company.

Soon after the Amazon fires made it to the front pages of newspapers across the world, a friend wondered if there was a chance of getting BTS fans interested in the lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir. I advised against bringing the subject to their notice. Frankly, #ARMYStandWithKashmir doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

On August 25, Kashmir (and Jammu) will have been under lockdown for 20 days. Those who have come from the area say only a handful of phone and internet connections have been restored. There are terrifying and unconfirmed reports of children being picked up; of arrested people being sent to the mainland because the prisons in Kashmir are running out of space. There are confirmed reports of elected representatives and Kashmiri leaders being placed under arrest and in detention. The Supreme Court normalised the current state of the newly-declared Union Territory when it refused to examine the constitutionality of the communication blackout in Kashmir. When the restrictions are lifted, who knows what stories will be remembered and which of them will be forgotten?

Since August 5, I’ve been haunted by memories of artist Nilima Sheikh’s magical work titled Terrain. Terrain was an enclosure made of eight panels that were effectively embroidered with stories on both sides. From the jewel-coloured brocade panels that were reminiscent of thangkas, to poetry and prose sampled from all over the world; the motifs that drew upon traditions of miniature art, Buddhist imagery and folklore; the stencilled prints and fine-lined drawings that created a shimmering tapestry of stories; and an intense engagement with history — this was Sheikh at her sophisticated best. Alongside the words and patterns were figures, like the heroine of the tragic love story who swam across the Chenab to meet her lover; the woman who stood, looking neither back nor ahead, carrying on her head a bundle that contained the outline of a village left behind. Mythical birds fluttered and soared. One-winged men lay on red earth and chinar trees held their ground. Unlike some earlier works, Terrain didn’t mention Kashmir in obvious terms, but it was a repository of stories about belonging, unbelonging, violence and upheaval that invited the viewer to remember the traumatic history of the region. It remembered a Kashmir that had survived as memory and was all the more poignant and resilient for this.

Susan Sontag once wrote, “Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead. ... But history gives contradictory signals about the value of remembering in the much longer span of a collective history. There is simply too much injustice in the world. And too much remembering ... embitters. To make peace is to forget. To reconcile, it is necessary that memory be faulty and limited.” Much like the poetry of Agha Shahid Ali, Sheikh’s Terrain offers memory as an act of resistance. These are embers of melancholy, glowing in myriad colours and urging you to each night, put Kashmir in your dreams. Because in reality, the ‘normalcy’ that has been imposed upon it is driven by a determination to forget the promises of the past as well as hope for the future.

First Published: Aug 24, 2019 23:44 IST

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