Continuing on the ruts of my previous post, we move from Srinagar to the idyllic villages that rest on the foothills of the mighty Himalayas flanked by gurgling streams and balmy pines. This is another Kashmir, with another facade, equally fascinating and inspiring as that of the city and its pristine lakes.
Unfortunately the day, and how grudgingly, comes too soon when one has to leave behind this dream and return to the forced, the mundane. A sense of loss, a throb of fear grips me unaware as our taxi speeds into the relatively modern city-scape while the rustic scenes of the villages fade away into the blur of the descending evening twilight. What if I cannot come back? What if the conflict hits a peak again? What if the still struggling situation of peace crumbles one fine night? The thoughts leave me a little shaken, for we did see and sense the tightness of the lingering turmoil in the valley. The silent, uncomfortable presence of the army, armed and alert, almost everywhere and their uniforms oddly camouflaged with the landscape - the busy market streets lined with them, the saffron fields dotted with vigilant soldiers, their tired eyes looking for signs as we very consciously eat our fragrant Kashmiri pulao on a terrace restaurant, the airport buzzing with multiple security checks - were constant reminders of the fragility of the situation.
With a sinking feeling, I make my way inside the airplane. Reluctantly, I buckle my seat-belt and moments later when we take off, I watch the cloud-engulfed mountains garland the valley of Kashmir. It was difficult, imagining it as this beautiful, unfortunate paradox - the awkward coming together of beauty and terror. It is then that I couldn't help but recreate bits and pieces of an old, haunting poem in my mind - 'Postcard from Kashmir' by Agha Shahid Ali, one of the most talented contemporary poets from the subcontinent and Kashmir's very own, who took the tales of his land to far and wide.
my home a neat four by six inches.
the half-inch Himalayas in my hand.
I'll ever be to home. When I return,
the colors won't be so brilliant,
the Jhelum's waters so clean,
so ultramarine. My loveso overexposed.
out of focus, in it
a giant negative, blackand white, still undeveloped."
~ Agha Shahid Ali, 'Postcard from Kashmir' from The Half-Inch Himalayas
A cold November morning unfolds on the streets of Srinagar. The battered dome of Hazratbal undergoing a face-lift. Dance of the pigeons. Like the boys of Kashmir, they too fly away, unbeknownst of their fate. Doll-faced little girls, blushing at my touristy request to photograph them. The rural landscape patterned with terrace fields and trails of smoke escaping from the tin-roofed houses. The jagged peaks of the Himalayas at Sonmarg, the 'meadow of gold'. Pony boys' persistent pleas for a ride. The postcard-perfect village of Aru in Pahalgham. A camera-shy pashmina goat in the midst of a scurrying flock of sheep in a lavender patch. Folds of pine and fog give an impression of a surreal, layered curtain. Beautiful shepherd huts down the meadow. A village shop, rickety yet colourful. The famous Kashmiri embroidery and the ubiquitous paisley motif on a shawl. The much-celebrated maple leaves carved on a houseboat panel. A papier-mâché heaven. To the city we return, where the sublime Jehlum once again greets us with a stoic silence.