A Catharsis

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The historic Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir reluctantly permitted by the government created an aura that saw emotions brimming over. The event conducted to display the pain and sufferings of commoners offered real faces to the indigenous narrative perhaps for the first time, reports Bilal Handoo.

Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir-ConcertThirty years after the limited-over game of cricket between India and West Indies, an event of international stature was organized in Kashmir with world renowned Zubin Mehta conducting the Bavarian State Orchestra in Shalimar garden under the name of Ehsaas-e-Kashmir (feel of Kashmir).

This time it was not cricket, so people couldn’t exhibit their anger in the Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium by raising slogans and siding against the Indian team. It was Municipal Park, in the heart of city where people assembled and performed Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir (The reality of Kashmir) against Ehsaas-e-Kashmir in the form of art.

As people moved towards the park to be part of, what organizers described as, “a journey of counter-memory” on Saturday morning, government forces stationed near its entry points, fueled suspicions. Conclusions were readily drawn that authorities might not actually let the event happen at all.

By 10 O’clock in morning, organizers were already present in the park. They were putting up scores of posters depicting the story of Kashmir since the inception of turmoil in 1989. “Injustice, violence, subjugation, humiliation, deception…Largest democracy at work,” read one of the posters placed at display in the park. The message was clear since morning that Haqeeqat is aimed to showcase “the pain and sufferings” lived by the people in Kashmir.

Volunteers cutting across age-bars were busy dressing the venue for the occasion. In between, some foreign journalists arrived on the scene, looking curious over the display of posters at the park.

“This is simply atrocious,” yelled one foreign journalist while scanning through a poster which read: “Where are our loved ones? Tell us, if they are dead or alive…” She sighed and went on to watch another poster inked with Bertolt Brecht’s quote: “In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing, about the dark times.”

In order to get the gist out of ‘blatant’ accounts of pain inked on posters, she approached a bunch of girls seated near a Chinar tree in the park. These young girls were volunteers of Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir, who had tied bands around their arms. “Could you just make things clear for me about the display of accounts on these posters,” the lady journalist asked.

“This is nothing, but pain at display,” one of the girls replied. “The pain which is being invoked on Kashmiris since the day they raised the cry for freedom.” The girls pointed towards another poster which read: “From Kunan Poshpora to Shopian, justice denied.” And narratives of rapes in Kashmir began.

Being journalist of some foreign media house, the lady must have done some homework about Kashmir before her arrival. But whether she knew the situation in Valley or not, she was looking engrossed while listening to the ‘narratives of pain’ as told by girls.

But she wasn’t alone in the park on Saturday, who wanted to know about ‘the reality of Kashmir’. Other foreign journalists were equally seen curious to know more about the ‘pain at display’ in venue. And one man who was fittingly replying all queries about ‘pain and suffering in Kashmir’ was the coordinator of Haqeeqat himself, Khurram Parvez. For the day, he was chosen spokesman of all those who have suffered at the hands of situation.

“This event is purely in response to German backed concert, which is aimed to project peaceful Kashmir,” Parvez told a pack of newspersons. “But the reality is that Kashmir is far from peace, it is abode of pain, the pain of losing dear ones. And when pain is all we have, then how could this concert project peaceful Kashmir?”

As Parvez was briefing media, at the same time, a word spread in the park that government forces are not allowing civilians to move freely towards the venue. “After granting permission for the event, it seems authorities are deliberately creating hassles for civilian movement,” Parvez told newspersons.

Soon moderate separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq walked inside the park. He had come to express his “solidarity” for the cause. He was soon quoted saying that Haqeeqat has sent out a message across that “Kashmir is active conflict of the world”. He didn’t stop there and questioned the nature of audience in Mehta’s concert. “Who are these people, and how are they related to Kashmir?” Next, he was heard saying that Mehta must had a divine revelation when he said: Kashmir chose him. He soon walked out of venue after holding sit-in protest for a while.

Apprehensions grew that authorities might not allow the event to proceed, after reports made rounds that Police has held material for the event. After civil society members intervened, Zareef Ahmad Zareef, noted satirist and civil society member was seen carrying wooden planks into the park.

At past 2 O’clock in afternoon, rush inside the park kept surging. Authorities by then had soften their stand and were allowing civilians to move towards the venue. By the time clock passed 4 pm, the event slowly made its staggering start.

Khurram Parvez delivered an introductory note to audience, who had come to be the part of event with a sense of expressing “solidarity”. One among the many was the aged-father of Neelofar (one of the victims of Shopian double rape incident). “I have come to be the part of pain,” Abdul Haye, Neelofar’s father says. This aged father with almost snow-white beard says his only aim in life is to bring justice “to what he and scores like him were put through”.

After Parvez, stage hosted Dr Altaf, a reputed civil society member. Though, he delivered his speech in English, but his passionate gestures made the cheering crowd – some of them unknown to English – to comprehend the underlining message. After him, it was the turn of darling of crowd, Zareef Ahmad Zareef.

He walked on the podium amidst loud cheers. “I would prefer to address you in Kashmiri,” he told audience consisting of scores of non-Kashmiris. And then he let loose his satire that was humorous, as always, but equally loaded with wisdom. “The day, we will find ourselves free from the chains of slavery, we will invite Zubin ourselves to play music of freedom for us,” he said amidst applauses.

By the time hundreds of people were glued to stage, the park had worn a colourful look. Discussions in small groups were keeping people busy, while scores were still watching posters. “…and injustice for all,” one poster read placed at the left side of park, that was an apparent crowd-puller. “Ghulam Rasool Mattoo, Nazir Ahmad Gilkar and Javed Ahmad Shah: Victims of the triple murder case,” it further read.

Attention again shifted towards stage, when a host announced the next performance by young rappers, K2. “Resistance is the choice; it is gonna make some noise,” the rapper duo sung while audience chipped in by clapping for the boys. After they left, Urdu poetry gripped the attention of audience. The poetic content set rolling gush of emotions in people, some of them couldn’t stop themselves to pitch pro-freedom slogans.

“And you will ask: why doesn’t his poetry speak of dreams and leaves,” these are poetic lines of Pablo Neruda, placed on a poster in the park. “and the great volcanoes of his native land. Come and see the blood in the streets. Come and see the blood in the streets. Come and see the blood in the streets.”

And then came a performance by a Kashmiri singer of fame, Irfan-Bilal. The tall and handsome singer lived upto his image. He enthralled audience with his ‘melodious’ voice. The content of his song sounded relevant to the occasion, which was equally appreciated by people.

Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir-Concert-preprationsOne of the moving moments presented by Haqeeqat event was a muted act by three students of fine arts. The act presented two boys painted and shrouded in white, while another painted in black. The white-painted boys represented the plight of common Kashmiri, while one painted in black represented the ‘oppressive hand’. The performance presented a ‘heart-rendering’ moment when the black painted boy tied shroud to both arms and legs of duo in white.

The manner the act showed them struggling to set themselves free from tied shroud created an apparent awe in audience. The performance ended when a fire was lit in the middle of their shroud and then they fell apart and were seen dead in play. “Wow! This is unbelievable act. Kudos to these boys, who summarized the prevalent situation in Kashmir for us,” said one of the elder in between deep sighs.

But perhaps, the most ‘poignant’ moment of the entire event was yet to come. It came in the form of play penned down by Theater artist and filmmaker, Arshad Mushtaq. He addressed audience in a chaste Kashmiri and caused laughter-riot with his remarks. He also recited his poetic verses in Kashmiri that amused people present in an event. “Wyen sozan kokeryen te bharat darshanas (now hens would be send on trip to India),” people burst into laughter again. But within next few minutes, all laughter turned into lamentation!

Two boys took to stage to perform a play called Bityi chus shahid (I am also witness). Play began and an artist performing the role of an elderly person informed audience that he is carrying identity in his bag. He subsequently handed over the bag to his fellow young actor exhorting him: “The bag contains letters which carry your identity.”

After handing over the bag to a young boy, the elder left. Out of curiosity, the boy took letters out of bag one by one and read them. The reading soon left most in audience with moist eyes. “My son, where are you. I am waiting for your return home. I keep on waiting for you near the threshold of home. Please come now,” read one letter, wherein a mother is asking his lost son to return home. The content of the letter caused wails, shrieks and tears among the audience. “Papa, my results have been announced. I am now in Class 5. Please come home now. You promise me you won’t stay away so long,” another letter, wherein a son is pleading his ‘lost’ father to return home. After that one more letter was read out which pushed emotions to threshold in people and they started raising pro-freedom slogans, relentlessly.

The organizers had to make an effort to pacify people. Tears took time to cease from the ‘bloodshot’ eyes. After that a stand-up act performed by Inder Salim, a theatre artist made ‘vivid’ impressions on people when he smeared mud on his face. He had donned perforated outfit, suggesting bullet holes.

In the concluding performance of the event, Kashmiri bandepather, folk-music was showcased, which spread smiles again on the faces of people. As the end of event was declared, the Municipal Park, that hosted ‘reality of Kashmir’ for the day, reverberated again with slogans. The scene became chaotic, when emotionally charged-up people came out of the park. Police stationed outside swung into action and soon crowd got disbursed.

And just when people were coming out of the park, a poster still left inside it read: “Is it too much to ask, that justice be done?”

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