Friday, April 05, 2013

musings on history, memory & kashmir...

In late 2004, my brother Sam went to Ireland to study abroad.  He was there for a semester on a SIT study abroad program that focused on conflict and peace studies.  He was a political science major and autumn of 2004 being his junior year, always interested in Irish culture, Sam made the move there for a semester.  He spent a good amount of time in Dublin, with a wonderful Irish family that we've gotten to known over the years.  Sam also spent a number of weeks in the Northern Ireland city of Derry, which is also the town in which the U2 political song, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" takes place, exploring the events of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in which 26 unarmed civil-rights activists and bystanders were killed by the British Army. Our visit to Northern Ireland, way back in 2004, was eye-opening.  The Troubles were more or less over at that time, but there was a simmering tension throughout Derry.  In some Catholic neighborhoods, the curbstones were painted orange and green, whereas in Protestant hoods, the curbstones were not only painted in Blue and Red but the town there, often still went by the name, Londonderry.  I remember Sammy and I going out for a couple of pints of Guinness, hanging with some of his friends from the youth centre where he had worked.  It was a raucous little pub, one that was too, segregated based on religion.  Yet what really shocked me that night was our walk home.  We passed by police stations that had 20 metre high walls of sheet metal and little slits to see who was knocking, fortresses.  Young men and women, some drunken, others sober, stumbled home on the main strip, not only stopping for late night grub, but also cussing the police who walked as stoic as possible beside Northern Irish reinforced police vehicles that were reminiscent of the South African casspirs of Apartheid. Being from New York, I had never seen police being treated in such a manner, we'd never do that in New York. We'd be arrested, possibly killed.  But I realized that the hatred of the police and the army in Northern Ireland was way more deep rooted and ingrained than it might be in say, corners of the South Bronx or Brownsville and that too (like in NYC), many people had been killed in Northern Ireland in the hands of the authorities and the tension there, palpable and pulsing was alive and raw, something that could not be detained.

Just a week or so back, I spent the last five days of the month of March in and around the city of Srinagar, in the Kashmir Valley. It was a powerful trip.  The city of Srinagar reminded me of Northern Ireland, of Derry and its environs It was the only reference point I had.  Srinagar, though peaceful now, is a city on edge and the tension is tangible and malleable.  It is alive and it is thick and sweaty and nervous and scared.

While I was in the Srinagar Valley, I thought a lot about my brother Sam and Northern Ireland.  I wondered if he was still alive, whether or not, he might be living there himself, fluent perhaps in Arabic, working for a NGO or who knows what, Sam was capable of anything and on the cusp of exploring what he wanted to do and where he wanted to be.  I thought of him because I knew he would have been fascinated and keen on visiting Srinagar and exploring the conflict and the thoughts and attitudes of not only the Kashmiris living there but also the flocks of Indian tourists that arrived to visit what many told me was "paradise."  Yet, I also knew that Sammy would have loved to have fun there as well.  I bet we would have gone snowboarding together in Gulmarg, smiling and laughing at the madness of the world and relishing the ecstasy found in the long late spring wet powder runs commencing at 13,000 feet plus. 

Kashmir is a hard place to describe.  Everyone I met (from human rights activists to houseboat owners to ex-muhajadeen to Muslim missionaries to self-made millionaires to parents and brothers and sisters) were deeply, deeply independent and proud Kashmiris.  They talked of "going to India."  Or "just being in India last month."  Every single person I met wasn't interested in being part of either India nor Pakistan, they wanted independence, a true state called Kashmir, a land they could call their own. (A side note that the state of Jammu & Kashmir is the only state in India allowed to fly its own flag due to its special status). Years of conflict and the ability for the Indian Army to detain anyone at will without charges, to create "fake encounters"which often resulted in countless deaths and disappeared persons (see recent Caravan article), had obviously laid deep mistrust and reinforced a need for azadi - the urdu word for freedom.

Indian families that I met on holiday seemed to be oblivious to this reality. Certainly they saw and recognized the omnipresent military. I overheard once, on the day I was snowboarding, sitting in the gondola, a father explain to his two very little kids that there was an army base beside the top of the gondola, "in case Pakistan attacks."  True no doubt, but the presence of the army is seemingly more complex than that.  The owner of a houseboat I stayed on told me that rarely does it happen that he engages in a conversation about the conflict or the presence of the Indian military with domestic tourists who have come to spend a long weekend in "paradise." The presence of the military, there for many reasons, is also an omnipotent/powerful/presence in a much much deeper psychological battle that goes back to the creation of India and Pakistan.  Article 370 of the Indian constitution gives the state of Jammu and Kashmir a special status.  It is at once autonomous and on many levels occupied by the military. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA) granted special power to the armed forces in the northeast states and then later, in 1990, to the State of Jammu & Kashmir. 

What else is there to say?  So much, yet I'll stop right here. I know that Sammy and I would have had some great conversations about the situation over daal and rice and bun gobi in the shadows of the mighty himalayas.  Instead, let me transition to some photographs and captions of my short time there...

with a friend, overlooking a local cricket tournament in the badgum district of kashmir.

in and around the district of badgum

sauchwor, the kashmiri bagel baked in a tandoor type oven (not boiled though, but mad tasty!)





indian army watchtowers and bases that are omnipresent throughout the city of srinagar


"mr. benjamin, research scholar from the university of newzeland" was invited to give a keynote speech (he talked about mother earth, how we are all neighbors, it's our home and the importance of planting trees) at the government polytechnic college for women. and then he planted a sapling.



a different reality for tourists in and around dal lake.

a posse of gujarati policemen who were staying in the same houseboat as me. i spent an evening talking with them about indian politics, crime and drug dealing...

by the shores of dal lake one morning... scratch that, every morning...


the sights at 7 am while driving to the snow and ski area of gulmarg, an hour & a half from srinagar...
snow guides waiting for tickets for stage one of the gondola...

in stage 2 of the gondola, heading up the mountain (photo by little raja)

the army base at the top of the mountain...

about to snowboard down, my guide can be seen down the mountain & above my left foot..

from the bottom of the stage 2 lift.

exiting the stage 2 gondola.

raja and me. the man who owns the cheapest & chillest little guesthouse in gulmarg.
back in the city of srinagar, from the ghats of dal lake. hari parbat fort (muslim, hindu and sikh shrines all reside on that hill). i heard it is occupied by the indian army and/or that it is being restored. 

easter sunday in srinagar, five minutes turned into an hour as these scholars of Islam and I discussed religions of the world, Islam and the madness of life. i left with their homework for me, some pamphlets on Islam...


a busy sunday of security along the ghats of dal lake...
my last night in srinagar before a 4 am wake up call to head to the aerodrome...

love, health and peace to all...

6 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

Great post Benny - keep it up! Much love Alex

7:11 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

So much enjoy reading your posts and seeing the photos. this one was very moving.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Taibai Li said...

qihang0609chanel handbags
burberry outlet online
chanel outlet
gucci outlet
burberry handbags
michael kors
true religion sale
ray ban sunglasses
oakley sunglasses
michael kors bag
kate spade outlet online
cheap ray ban sunglasses
kate spade
ralph lauren outlet
ralph lauren
michael kors handbags
gucci outlet
prada outlet
coach outlet store online
soccer jerseys
coach outlet online
christian louboutin sale
fitflops sale clearance
oakley sunglasses
cheap oakley sunglasses
tory burch outlet online
abercrombie outlet
michael kors outlet
toms outlet
pandora jewelry
hollister clothing store
abercrombie
michael kors outlet online
coach outlet
jordan shoes
coach outlet online
q

4:08 PM  
Blogger Lili Wang said...

20150717wanglili
michael kors outlet
abercrombie store
abercrombie
oakley sunglasses
toms outlet
michael kors outlet
mont blanc pens
true religion jeans
louis vuitton outlet
nfl jerseys
michael kors handbags
christian louboutin
oakley sunglasses
air jordan pas cher
coach factory outlet
christian louboutin
burberry outlet
michael kors handbags
polo ralph lauren
burberry outlet
jordan 4s
hollister clothing
abercrombie outlet
kobe bryant shoes
ray ban glasses
louis vuitton handbags
michael kors bag
louis vuitton outlet
michael kors outlet
michael kors uk

1:26 PM  
Blogger Xiaozhengm 520 said...

2015-10-27 xiaozhengm
canada goose jackets
ugg boots
ugg boots
Air Jordan 4 Green Glow
canada goose jackets
ugg boots
Michael Kors Factory Outlet Online Official
Michael Kors Outlet Discount Purses Online
Coach Outlet Official Website
jordans for sale
toms
Louis Vuitton Neverfull GM Monogram
Authentic Coach Factory Outlet Online
michael kors outlet online
Cheap Real Louis Vuitton Handbags
Authentic Gucci Factory Outlet
Nike Lebron James Shoes For Sale
louis vuitton handbags
Coach Coupons In Coach Outlet Store Online
Discount Clearance Coach Outlet Handbags
air max 95
coach factory outlet
Air Jordan 3 "Infrared 23"
louis vuitton
Outlet Michael Kors Online
coach outlet online
cheap jordans,jordan shoes,cheap jordan shoes
true religion outlet
Jordan Retro 8 Playoffs
Abercrombie & Fitch Kids Clothing
louis vuitton outlet stores

8:13 AM  
Blogger 柯云 said...

2015-12-05keyun
air max 95
tiffany jewelry
ugg australia
uggs for sale
michael kors outlet
uggs sale
michael kors outlet
gucci outlet
louis vuitton bags
canada goose outlet
ugg sale
toms outlet
oakley sunglasses wholesale
ugg outlet
gucci handbags
replica rolex watches
air max 95
p90x
ugg australia
jordan 11 concord
michael kors outlet clearance
coach outlet online
kobe 8
michael kors outlet
longchamp handbags
kate spade handbags
fake oakley sunglasses
ray-ban sunglasses
uggs on sale
mont blanc pens
louis vuitton handbags
michael kors outlet online
ray-ban sunglasses
canada goose sale
coach factory outlet
beats by dre
uggs on sale
the north face jackets
canada goose outlet
louis vuitton handbags

8:55 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home