There’s a strange dynamic to the architecture of hotels in Kashmir that have existed during these times of siege since the last few decades. Today, as I walked through the barbed wires boldly glistening in the faint sunlight of an unbecoming winter, I noticed that most of them, or least of all the ones I saw, were holed up in the first story. Such buildings that are either too inconspicuous or are too far in the middle that it is highly unlikely to think of them as ‘active’ as far as business is concerned. But there is a catch to it I think most of us don’t seem to get; either these ‘billboards’ or these ‘signs’ are barely artistic or they were deliberately designed to disinterest you. Even the doors are a quarter of the size of otherwise remarkable entrances of hotels.
We know the Lala Sheikh, the oldest joint to meet in the heart of Srinagar? Even Agha Shahid Ali has mentioned it in his poems and while its discreet structure isn’t just a strange coincidence, it also serves as a hidden orchestra of an unappealing struggle. Which begs the question, why are these hotels around the clock tower of Lal Chowk fashioned not to appease?
It’d have been interesting to know why that is but there are no professional insights to it. Personally, I think the architecture was only designed like that to keep the hassle away. Think of it as a wonderful facade. As is understood by all, that commerce is the primary victim of resistance here in the valley, it might have been the effective means that helped them out from being affected to a certain degree if not completely.
Keeping in mind that to bring closure to this absolutely common observation of mine, I had to build these walls of the reason for myself by basing it all on the experiences that I have had as a resident of Kashmir and for it to make complete sense is intriguing at the most. Everything is born out of conflict here, you either thrive in it or you become elusive to it. Those are the only two extremes you conform to, almost like a religion. It cannot be separated from us since the conflict has always been our first line of thought. Our minds are literally a back-room and a small door; a small hotel that is and always has been trying to hide from the line of fire inside small discreet shops.
But I am elusive of it; ever since a direct confrontation in my childhood, I’ve always despised its nature. While I was in Delhi, some of my personal experiences pushed me further into this abyss of disturbed recollection. I can’t put a finger on what seemed to be the most appropriate, given how it feels to see your home being turned into a senseless ruling of unparalleled misfortune — an occupation, for short. I was either traumatized or too scared to come back to Kashmir for reasons that are obvious and don’t need further explanation. It seemed so absurdly picturesque from where I sat in the air-plane, so contradicting to the persona it assembles in your mind. I could see piles of smoke, the sign of autumn breathing its last, and the dried leaves being comforted by a pleasant fire. The scent of smoke seared in my memory from when my mother would rake the leaves and burn them in the small stream that has now become unsightly. A mound of grass learning of its fertility has invited all.
It was sudden what my brother said to me after he picked me up from the airport, almost monotonous but not so much that I couldn’t read into the obvious statement of thought; “We haven’t seen the sun for so long.” There wasn’t much of context as is apparent, a little sunshine showing from thick winter clouds is all that it could have meant. Something he said out of the blue and yet I couldn’t decide if I wanted to take that metaphorically or literally. So much had happened.
All this time I have come to terms with the fact that our community is caught in a vicious circle of a snake biting its own head, think of the struggle that is active in Kashmir for so long as a committed civil war. Certainly, I have reasons for believing the same due to significant similarities. I don’t like being vindictive, or assertive and I am not overseeing the desolation that the conflict has left in its wake, but given the opportunity to boil down its certain characteristics, I think we’re at fault too. I have seen people having trouble admitting the same without keeping a straight face since it goes against the whole Kashmiri narrative; which is the ultimate truth and yet the existence of elements that fuel the fire at the hands of our own, can’t be left unscathed and unexplained. Quite frankly, I don’t see that happening. Our line of thought has always been so biased, I must impress that even so, under no situation am I neglecting the gruesome history of our homeland.
Let me begin from my childhood so I can give you context as to why I am so inclined to think a little off-base to the usual line of thought. To begin from my own narrative: my sessional were being conducted and in one of the subjects we had to talk about ‘phobias, anxiety disorders and depression’. My professor asked me what I’d like to speak upon and I say, “I’ll talk about Phobias.”.
However, at a certain point in my presentation I quoted that “some phobias or anxiety disorders could be from a certain traumatic event that occurred in our childhood”, and after that, I stopped. Something in my brain clicked and in a fleeting moment I found a new perspective on something I thought of as vague; my social anxiety is a derivative of the trauma I faced as a child. It may not be that extreme but it is there. Back in the 90s, my village was used to having crackdowns at dawn. In every crackdown, we would be assembled in a field and sat next to each other in close proximity and at best all you could see were shadows— even when everything would start to brighten with the rising sun.
The torture that was inflicted on people was the result of a ‘catalyst’ in most cases; an informer or a spy that would not be far off from the line of men asked to move along. The ‘catalyst’ would often be a Kashmiri person, helping the army identify a person of interest or even wrongly paint someone out as a suspect due to personal grudges. In all the narratives that are focused on Kashmir, the violation and mutilation of rights; the aching need to cover everything up because the world isn’t blind to cruelty— only incapable of correcting it, what you’ll find missing from all of them is this: we are busy fighting amongst ourselves.
We are employed to bring children to prisons under various acts and take scandalous bribes upon release. When the children are released, they end their lives because at thirteen you’ve seen the worst while someone speaking your tongue stood and didn’t raise a finger. In addition, the ones being interrogated and the ones conducting it, we’re seeking unachievable liberty since we are vindictive in our approach while failing to realize not all of us mutually share the same feelings of despicable revenge. The irony of it is when it all comes full round and bites us in the ass.
The hypocrisy of Kashmiri’s chanting for liberty falls through the cracks shamelessly because we aren’t united by any ‘idea’, or moral philosophy that would support our identity. There’s no manifesto to our stone pelting or radical supporting if we’re doing it out of disdain, out of inhumane cruelty and injustice due to covert persecution.
Kashmir uses castes to define your status in the community. Therefore, the people of Kashmir have always been unevenly affected by the occupation and the fact is most of the victims are from poorer sections of the society. It is apparent that we are viewing the occupant and its occupation differently, our ideas and beliefs don’t correlate. Which stands to reason the disunity among the Kashmiri community and in hindsight, fascism is a strong ideology compared to the disarray of unity we persevere. All great struggles, resistances or uprisings have been strong in philosophy and morale despite their nature.
There are resistances active around the world but only one caught the eye of everyone when they saw a woman preaching to a mass of protesters to unite for a cause that needed them all to struggle and struggle as one. It was the Sudanese people who protested against their president. Reports that came carried this information:
“Sudan has been in the midst of a political crisis since long-serving ruler Omar Al Bashir was overthrown in April. The military and pro-democracy movement have been locked in a tussle for power that has led to mass protests and killings. The security forces have used brute force to strengthen the position of the generals. In the worst such case, dozens of people were killed and some had their bodies thrown in River Nile— in the crackdown on protesters in the capital Khartoum on 3 June. But tens of thousands of protesters returned to the streets a few weeks later to stage the biggest demonstration since Mr. Bashir’s overthrow. This forced the junta to resume talks on a power-sharing government & an agreement has now been reached.”
This resistance had three key elements to it; it had aggressive unity among people, it was led by a conscious philosophy where people understood the importance of what they were protesting for. Also, regardless of the reason if they were in the pool of the people being affected or not, they all came together as a community.
We need to reflect upon where we are going with this struggle of ours, the value of it now history, what becomes of our identities that are shaped by conflict? What becomes of our minds that are trapped in these architectural motifs? I see the disunity persevering over everything in Kashmir. Our first war is with ourselves, to fight the remnants of a Hindu society that divides by caste and social standings. This is not a crab race; we’ve to learn to uplift each other rather bringing each other down and collapse like Legos.
Ubair Fayaz Fazili is the Staff Writer at The Mountain Ink. He is the author of the poetry collection, Pain(t).