Barbed Wires and Broken Lyres: A review of a Photography Exhibition on Kashmir by Amit Mehra

Amit Mehra has been travelling all over Kashmir for a while and has tried to capture the valley in all its essence, away from the haunting memories of Insurgency, words like “crackdown” entering common parlance, and Curfew tearing across the evening sky, in the Photography Exhibition being currently held at Alipore, Kolkata. The pictures are haunting in themselves, as it would be of any place with so much history and wound festering in its nook and corners of its cities. But to his credit, Mr. Mehra tries to look beyond the prism which has so far tried to paint, colour, codify Kashmir as a Paradise Burning. The culprit in question has to be Bollywood, which since Kashmir Ki Kali to a very forgettable Mission Kashmir has plastered the state with stereotypes. Only recently, Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider and the controversial Kaafiron Ki Namaaz has somehow projected Kashmir better than it had been all along, like the spectral images at a photographer’s studio. Amit Mehra tries to do the same: his photographs on display try to capture the day-to- day realities of a torn state. People are seen gathering for the Azaan, Balloon sellers with their wares, Loudspeakers tied on top of buildings, Private and Government, the famous Dal Lake and flower sellers. For a moment, walking down the gallery, one might want to dismiss newspaper reports, the stories of horror, of young men, unarmed at that, being killed/ murdered, brides being raped and the supposed human rights abuse by the Indian Army. What strikes the viewer is the absence of any photograph of the Army Personnel, No Indian flags, or nothing pertaining to the clamour for self- determination.

But some ghosts refuse to die. And no one can ever look at Kashmir at the same way ever again. Not from the edge of the poet’s nib, nor from the tip of the gun’s bayonet, and definitely not through the lens of a camera. Barbed wires, lonely roads a foot deep in snow feature prominently. Solitude runs like a signature tune whispering the sad plight of the people between the framed photos. There are graveyards, tombstones sleeping not so peacefully side by side, with feline creatures and dogs manning the emptiness that surrounds the space. Photos of children haunt you, they are pensive and their bodies taut, seemingly standing in front of an army gun and not a chronicler’s lens. This is Syria all over again. This is Palestine. We see young men on the opposite side of the wires, we see autumn leaves stuck between them. Lambs have been assembled for slaughter, possibly for a Friday feast or Eid celebrations. But we know, don’t we, what the metaphor stands for?

This is an exhibition that one must visit. And preferably not just once. Go a second time, stand in front of the images, and cower in shame. Come out of the gallery only when your hands smell of blood. But come out with the image of a certain Ghulam Nabi Bhatt, standing in front of the Shiva Temple that he has build. That’s the Kashmir that we have lost. That is the greatest tragedy. That syncretic culture of inclusion is what we have lost. It is that we have to protect. There are still some good brave causes left.

-Sayan Aich

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