‘Now that the autumn is approaching, you might pack up your colour and brushes to paint the landscape of this wailing vale in all possible shades.’
He was losing count of days now. It was a month-old lockdown and the September sun had just begun to smile readily at the mountain peaks.
“What day is it today?” wishing to be ignored, he almost murmured.
It was Tuesday, 2 September in that year of warlike situation.
“Word has it that the taskmasters desire people to lose count of the days and sooner the better, for it would be less embarrassing to justify this forgetfulness.”
“No, no! For Heaven’s sake, no, don’t call that forgetfulness.”
“What else if not forgetfulness? I am already losing count of the days.”
“Fatigue has already entered into my spine. My vision is becoming blurred. I am getting sick.”
There was nothing to act on. Sunlight already appeared growing weaker and the chill in the mornings and evenings had made humans return back into their skin, to remember that it was time for a change of the season. Yes, the summer sun has shifted its glance. There were no more vertical sun rays gazing at the deserted streets. This year stones were missing from the streets.
“Are the stones cleared away from the streets?”
“Wherefrom? The streets that wind along the lake and disappear in the forest?”
“I don’t care where. You know what matters are the missing stones or more likely pre-emptive disappearance.”
“Indeed, what must matter is the absence of the stones.”
“Absence and disappearance are two distinct states, aren’t those? Artista, you are a free man who doesn’t have to risk anything for the arrival of his expectations. You, I know, are waiting for the leaves on some trees to fall and to turn crimson on many others. You do not have to pretend to be self-unconscious to the fatigue so you could feel the numbness of silence of whatever surrounds you. You are waiting for the stones to hurl into the air so you can clench the textures within your colour palate. You rather wait for the sun to change its direction and that explains to me your indifference to the night sky to reveal the secrets of peace unto you. You count the hues that are embedded in the seasons to give directions to your thoughts and capture the moments of sadness.”
“I do not wait for the crimson to smear the streets for the emancipation though you understand me as a free person. I am no more a believer in dreams and I know that someday I shall leave forever to dream my great dream. Waiting for the great dream to come true or as you like to understand it, the arrival of my expectations, I am tied to that moment in time that shall comfort me from my bondage.”
There once lived a woman amidst erudite pandits who refused to die. In her youth, when she would rest down to eat after completing the daily chores nothing would take her by surprise then. She had realized that her wait to take the infinite inside was not far. She sang about the darkness that surrounded her only in the wilderness. She defined the void. She bore no children and marked in her verses the certainty to meet the infinite and pass on in peace from here unto there. Every night she washed the stone hidden underneath the crust of rice served in the bowl for dinner. She left behind the stone for the young.¹
Hond maaran kina kath
Lalli nalwut tsali na zanh
(Whether they killed a big sheep or a lamb (it was all the same Lalla had always got a stone to eat).
“Bring me those diamonds bedecked in the sky. Rise to the sky and snatch not one but all those tiny stars in an entire vault that shield your land from anonymity.”
“I do not wish to wither away in void nor lose my way across the vast deserts. Journeys across would become not just difficult but impossible without those dimly-lit stars in the sky. Aren’t all landscapes grief-stricken? What would become of the landscapes if the horizons as well were measured and guarded?”
“You sound utterly eccentric to disregard the light of the day that guards us all. There is nothing to help you with to do away with this ridiculousness.”
“Death catches those young by the tail of the daylight. There is nothing solemn to bring oneself in loving the light. I have nothing left but my small indifference to offer. At least there is nothing doubtful about this smallness like many of those impressionist strokes, at chance, that create an illusion of ecstasy. I struggle to handle the landscape without striving for the exotica. Landscapes without humans cannot become a site for self-reflection.”
“Why don’t you paint the arrival?”
“There is no shade on my palate that could help me prophesize. It is impossible to paint that which doesn’t hold me. I cannot paint certainty.”
Nothing would be worse than a political discord that generations wriggle against and wither away with. There was a land of valleys up in the Himalayas believed to be of saints and demons. In ‘Abduction’, painted in the year 2005 a demon carries away a piece of a mountain – that led to a series ‘Whose Kashmir?² This strife is neither ahistorical nor sacred. Yet there are stories in the beginning when there was no time. The water that filled up the valley was emptied so the demon could be trapped and killed to end the conflict forever. Demon was driven away yet the water in the lake remained. Troops after troops were washed away ashore on the land. The journey through mountains in search of permanence and certitude continues.
“Who owns strength of character to resolve the strife?”
“Theories nurture cults. At times resolutions are created only to morph imagination into images that speak something beyond any resolution. Landscape is not a passive player. The harder it gets to paint, the easier it is to be consumed with nostalgia. To paint a landscape has become an agony.”
“Artista, you mix up everything to get confused. These are not days to stay confused leisurely.”
“Who has lost count of days? I, who is incapacitated, either to grieve the loss or to bear the burden of not feeling forgetfulness can’t be more astute, clear-sighted and regimented than this. I live on that street in the city, which is openly exposed to the dogmatic gaze however isn’t threatened with what I do. I paint the banal and possibly could survive in the worst of the conditions, which is boredom. My remorse will anyway kill me soon. Yes, I mix. I mix colours to grasp the shade that discloses the anatomy of illusions.”
“Artista, is it you alone for whom illusions bespeak of truth or is it me who sees confusion not separate from illusions. Illusions lure you into believing that you can’t grieve over the loss and the disappearances. It’s been a while now that we are living in a state of deception and absolute vulgarity.”
“Well then, this is not the first time that the enforcer has tuned in to portray nakedness of its presence vulgarly. Everything is equipped. How must one imagine a landscape bereft of fatigue figures marching up and down every day? Interestingly, the landscape has turned those prowlers significant for the game that was shaped, of late, seven decades before.”
“And do those prowlers know anything about the determination to choose for the self? Over the years, such will is invalidated. How then must we understand the desire to be emancipated? Have you got any map to look at, to paint a landscape?”
“When I was summoned to prove my being, oddly I forgot my address. I was numbered as an incorrigible reprobate. All efforts to paint a landscape were labelled as a ploy that possibly could threaten the syntax of the sovereign self. When I was executed, that bored wound was stamped as the void. And as I survived after throwing up the clot, my discharge from confinement was realized only after I agreed to sign an undertaking that I shall be a regular reporter of my case. It was called detoxicating progress. You see, the stamp out stink takes a lifetime to go.”
“Now that the autumn is approaching, you might pack up your colour and brushes to paint the landscape of this wailing vale in all possible shades. I remember you painted landscapes earlier with much pleasure and ease.”
“I have lost the temperament to paint!”
“Don’t forget that your hallucinatory will could turn the upheaval inside you into spite.”
1. One anecdote tells how Lal Ded was starved. Her mother-in-law put a stone in her plate and then covered it with a thin layer of rice, so that it appeared to outsiders that she had been served a heap of rice.
2. Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Abduction, from the series: ‘Whose Kashmir?’. 2005.
Gowhar Yaqoob is an independent researcher and writer based in Srinagar, Kashmir.