-Introduction –

Lady Kashmir

Kashmir, Kashmir, Kashmir… In the blossoming age of global communication, media, and technology, the inaccuracy of information the average Westerner has access to, with regards to Kashmir is astounding… Kashmir and the surrounding region, holds what is currently the worlds most militarized zone on the planet. When asking how or why, one receives only a history as it’s filtered… a reflection-of-a-ghost of what transpired, or more, what is transpiring…

I say this, just as my own reflections on the promises and limitations of media. No matter its form, media has once again proved it’s ability to mis-inform, and keep the spoken truth from being heard.

As in the past, nothing ever, will replace first hand experiences and accounts. It seems even more important in this both shrinking and expanding world, that we get out, explore, discuss, and share. Looking back at my experiences in Kashmir, climbing up and down the proverbial latter… sharing tea and food with urban poor, archaic rural nomads, ex-political prisoners, ex-militants, freedom fighters, terrorists, and up to posh government officials…  a bit of this story does get colored in…

In a locale as fractured and full of smoke and mirrors as Kashmir, truth is an interesting yet obsolete concept… When dealing with people, truth often seems not to be of any use… Stories are what drive people… Stories are what our decisions are based on. Stories are what inspire us… or hold us back.  Stories are the fabric that holds the people together or the wedge that drives them apart…

And what of the majestic Lady Kashmir herself? And her story? Is she a barbed thorn in Pakistan’s side? A weeping skeleton in India’s closet? Another resource in the lustful glare of China? A subsequent “non-interest”, safely in the blind eye of the West…

…or, is she is a lush valley filled with people… families, dreams, and aspirations as colorful as they are diverse…

Depending on who you ask… she is all of the these… but, from underneath her embroidered shawl… Kashmir’s crystalline-azure eyes look down into earthen hands that hold an elaborate portion of humanity’s history – as well as its collective future…

 

 Connections in Lal Chowk –The Kashmir Analogs – Part 1

A good host provides you with everything you need. A great host provides you with more than you could have known how to ask for… And that’s how Nelson and I felt when we arrived in Kashmir. Nelson’s contact in Kashmir just didn’t connect us for the Enemies Project, but he set us up with the full on Kashmir experience. Upon arriving at our hotel in the summer capital of Srinagar, the vibe was that, we may have been the first westerners to stay there in two decades. The history of our hotel in the main market – Lal Chowk– the beating and bleeding heart of Srinagar… the history of revolts, the fidynes (suicide bombers). The Palladium Cinema… a relic of the uprising in the mid-nineties, that was bombed-out and filled with sandbags… its brick walls riddled with bullet holes… Where the roof once was, there are now a few poplar trees growing up reaching towards the blue Kashmiri sky… a reminder to people of their recent history, fraught with a conflict that does not really seem to be theirs… Nelson and I were there to meet people and hear stories… and if the walls of our hotel could talk, they would have some wild stories to tell…

What remains of the Palladium Cinema and one of the permanent bunkers in downtown Srinagar

I remember the first morning in Lal Chowk, we went down to the lobby of our hotel on the square for breakfast. Within thirty seconds, the resident armed-military officer of our hotel walked up, and started barking things at Nelson and I in Urdu… just as quickly one of the kitchen staff ran up and told the officer something to the effect of, “no sir, they are staying here…” Then the guard turned around and resumed his post on the other side of the room and leaned is shotgun up against his thigh… Nels and I looked back at each other with confused expressions, shrugging our shoulders thinking, “good thing that waiter said something”…

View of the cinema from our hotel room

Although the energy of Srinagar was at times intense, the Kashmiris are themselves beautiful people. It is amazing, the base level of happiness that people can maintain after living through three generations of other peoples wars, oppression, and living amidst horrendous violence and injustice. It is amazing what the human psyche can deem as background-noise.  In the same box an American may put traffic noise or pollution, the average Kashmiri has had to put the pillboxes, razor wire, sand bags, gun-fire, grenade attacks, government kidnappings, torture, rebel attacks, curfews and shutdowns…whew… and when you put all that together you create a general feeling of confusion and mistrust that has deeply fractured the communities, economies and families there (oh, and that general feeling gets put into that box too).

Everywhere

One afternoon, I had the sunglasses scraped off my head by a low hanging hoop of razor wire as I walked past one of the hundred un-kept military pillboxes conveniently put on the sidewalk. Thinking to myself, “if that just happened in the U.S., how many people could have lost their job or been sued if I had lost an eye?” Then re-thinking to myself, “what a petty reaction… you are not in a democracy Alex… you do not have rights here, you are in an occupied police state.”

After these experiences in and around Lal Chowk, and others to follow this, I started to deeply wonder what it is like, to live in a place where your voice is not heard…

…Part 2 of The Kashmir Analogs will be released sometime next week. Check back into The Grotto or “follow” my blog for the next segment.

Till’ then,

Alex