Among many things that this lockdown has taught us involuntarily, there is this idea of “empathy”. Hopefully, this social isolation has made us more empathetic towards the already socially distanced introverts, social misfits, and other marginalized communities: the poor, the Dalits, the Queer, and the Adivasis.
It has also, hopefully, made us more empathetic towards our fellow Kashmiris for whom such lockdowns have now turned inseparable from their daily lives. They, for some reason or the other, are perennially kept under the state of lockdown so much so that the words like “curfew”, “roadblock”, “section 144”, “closed” have now become part of the local Urdu and Koshur language. As we find ourselves right now struggling in this time of crisis, they have learned to live with it. And honestly speaking, they do not have a choice!
Does Kashmir exist?
If yes, then where? Is Kashmir just a replication, a mélange of images constructed and disseminated by mainstream historiography, grave political commentaries and discourses, print and visual media representations, and consumed voraciously and incessantly by people around the world?
‘Kashmir’ does not exist in Kashmir. It exists, in its various manifestations, outside of it. The extraordinary reality of Kashmir has ceased to remain the reality of the more ordinary Kashmiris, or the inhabitants of the region who are broadly categorized as Kashmiris. They have become more real than the real itself for the outsiders.
The problem also intensifies when there occurs the impasse of understanding the ever-shifting and volatile contours of this continuum. There is no one Kashmir, there is no one Kashmiri. The region which Maharaja Hari Singh received from the British after 1947 is now motley of several regions with almost unsurpassable borders: the regions of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh which are right now with India; Aksai Chin with China; the Shaksgam valley, once with India, taken by Pakistan and later gifted to China; Gilgit-Baltistan with Pakistan and the “Azaad” Kashmir.
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Given the complexity, it is only last year that India passed a resolution to declare Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir as two separate Union Territories and further complicating the already complex affair. Cusped between not two but three nation-states: India, Pakistan, and China and the continuous free-play of hostility and hospitality which exists between them, Kashmir has always been a debatable ground: not necessarily only in the 20th and 21st centuries. It has become a victim of its own image, widely circulated and largely constitutes of two extremes, that of Jannat and Dozakh, of heaven and hell on earth.
Kashmir, not equal to Kashmiryat
It is, therefore, important to understand ‘kashmiriyat’ much before understanding Kashmir itself. The former is a consciousness, ethnocultural, psycho-geographical, socio-political, which emanates from the lived experiences of being a Kashmiri over the course of the period. Kashmir, on the other hand, is an idea/image which comes from the outside. We ought to be more interested in the collective consciousness, the memory, and the post-memory of being a Kashmiri, that is, Kashmiriyat.
Kashmiriyat, with its fair share of myth, legend, and history, is the Kashmir as it has been and being lived for many centuries now. It is important that we locate this lived space and lived time, called kashmiriyat longue durée in history and hearsay alike: in folklore, legends, myths, songs, plays, philosophical and metaphysical treaties, architecture, landscape paintings, films, fashion, cuisine, and others from the region.
And while doing this, we need to move away from the mainstream and mainland historical and political jargon and focus on the ancient aesthetics of Abhinavagupta and Ānandavardhana, the linguistics of Patanjali, the mythistorical kavya of Rajatarangini, the mystical poems of Lal Ded, Nund Rishi, Habba Khatun, Rupa Bhavani, and Arnimal, the Sufi and the Bhakti traditions, the tradition of tazkira and tarikh, the existential poems of Agha Sahid Ali, the writings of Basharat Peer and Mirza Waheed, the contemporary rappers from Kashmir, the Indo-Persian architecture, the gastronomical tradition of Wazwaan and many others from the region.
In order to understand Kashmir, we need to understand this phenomenon called kashmiriyat: to think Kashmir, we need to evoke kashmiriyat. For sooner or later, we will return to normalcy and the current crisis we are all in will be over. We will go back to what we love doing; the people of Kashmir will probably be in it forever. In lockdown.