In trying times, Kashmiris find catharsis in prayers, books and TV series
Since the eruption of an armed struggle in Kashmir in 1989, ordinary Kashmiris have been following a different routine. The prolonged shutdowns, curfews and uninterrupted internet clampdowns (called e-curfews) force people to stay indoors, read conflict and resistance literature, watch famous television series and critically-acclaimed Pakistani drama serials, play indoor sports, and paint, draw cartoons and graffiti.
Those who can afford also fly out of the restive region while others weigh in pros and cons of the prevailing political uncertainty or take refuge in writings or visit Sufi shrines for spiritual solace.
The latest internet shutdown in the Valley after the stripping off of Kashmir’s autonomy and statehood on August 5 has completed 130 days. The post-paid mobile phones in the Valley did not function for nearly three months. The ban on pre-paid mobile phones, SMS, and internet continues unabated since early August.
But how did Kashmiris from different walks of life spend the last 130 days?
Time to read and ruminate
For about a fortnight after the abrogation of Article 370, young Kashmiri artist Taha Mughal kept himself locked in a room. He did not read any books. He was trying to absorb and make sense of what had actually happened.
“I was immobilised,” he tells The Federal.
Then, he came to a discomforting conclusion: Futility of intellectual circles.
After a while he began making surprise entries in his diary, noting whatever he deemed important.
“I felt like a refugee. I needed an escape,” he says, adding that “I also started painting ugly things.”
Mughal left for Delhi for work and returned to the Valley when Kashmir’s giant Chinar (Maple) trees had shed their leaves and turned crimson red from the original green: autumn had arrived.
For journalist Faisul Yaseen, reading the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk was a cathartic exercise. Besides reading Pamuk and Dan Brown, Yaseen also killed his time by watching television series Money Heist and Sacred Games.
“During these four months, I killed my time reading fiction like Pamuk’s Snow and Brown’s Origin as well as political non-fiction like Jonathan Powell’s Great Hatred, Little Room: Making peace in Northern Ireland and Simon Denver’s Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy. In addition, I spent time watching television series like Money Heist, Spanish television crime drama La casa de papel, and Indian web television thriller series Sacred Games,” he tells The Federal.
Moreover, he also studied conflicts in southern Caucuses.
Finding comfort in period dramas
In the early 1990s, many youngsters in the Valley would play games like cricket, carrom and cards. Until the early and mid-1980s there were some signs of night life and recreation in Kashmir. Several cinema halls in the City Centre of Srinagar would screen Hollywood movies. Some in an exaggerated praise would compare the famous Polo View Street in Srinagar to London’s Piccadilly.
Kashmir has witnessed mass protests and gigantic pro ‘azadi’ demonstrations in the 1990s and civilian uprisings in 2008, 2010 and 2016.
But this time around, even the personnel of Jammu and Kashmir police did not have much to do after a while. For an officer of sub-inspector rank, his laptop and smart mobile phone proved to be his best companions. The officer’s senior says, the SI has watched around 400 episodes of the famous Turkish TV series Ertugrul.
Ertugrul begins with a firm assertion: “This is our history”.
The events described in this much-popular television series emerge from a kernel of history. The series chases the adventures of the nomadic Kayi tribe and one of its leaders, Ertugrul, who was the father of the first Ottoman ruler, Osman.
Farther from God?
Generally speaking, Kashmiris are shrine-goers. Many Muslim women often visit shrines situated in every nook and cranny of the Valley both for spiritual fulfillment as well as for catharsis.
Because of prolonged protest shutdowns, e-curfews, imposition of Section 144 and acts of civil disobedience, the movement of residents in Kashmir has been restricted since August this year. For the first three months post the abrogation of Article 370 the shrine-goers could not even visit the shrines as often they did earlier.
One of the leading psychiatrists in the Valley says, “In Kashmir, God is the doctor.” He believes the peoples’ faith in the existence of God and reverence for Sufi traditions help them in coping up with health issues mental stress, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to a comprehensive mental health survey compiled by Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) in collaboration with the department of psychology, University of Kashmir and the Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (IMHANS) in 2016, “nearly 1.8 million adults (45% of the population) in the Kashmir Valley show symptoms of significant mental distress.”
Meanwhile, following the abrogation of Article 370 and the splitting of the state into two union territories in August, the authorities have not allowed the mandatory Friday prayers at Srinagar’s historic Jamia Masjid (central mosque).
Inayat, a resident, tells The Federal that since then he has been spending a lot of time with his kids.
“Since all the schools in Kashmir were shut I spent a lot of time with my kids, trying to teach them myself. Besides, I watch a cartoon series called Fukrey Boyz with my kids,” he says.
Sana Khan, a law student from Srinagar was studying for her semester examinations. But she was trembling with the fear of the unknown.
“There was fear in my mind. I did try to watch movies and read novels, but the fear kept disturbing my mind,” she says, adding that “it is just not normal at all, but they (the Centre) force us to normalise this.”
She fears that Kashmir “is slipping back to the Stone Age”.
(The author is a Kashmir based journalist and political commentator)