Kashmir is a distinct region yet to be explored fully. The authors ‘tell’ human stories against an awe-inspiring, natural backdrop.
Their compelling and magical pictorial journey with the reader through the Valley - celebrating the ethereal beauty and the cultural diversity of this land as well as marking the shades of change and transition – has been painted with the lesser known colours, layers and textures which lie beyond the known dimensions of Kashmir.
Breathtaking photographs in varying shades and angles supported by well- researched, relevant text in this unique travel book are the tools to communicate to the reader a classical Kashmir – with its inherent rich culture and exotic landscapes set against unfamiliar facts, fables and space and the intimate aspects of daily life and its treasured moments. The reader becomes a part of a thriving society waiting to match steps with the rest of the world despite huge challenges.
Filmmaker NILOSREE Biswas documentary Broken Memory shining Dust was an Official selection at the 65th Cannes International Film Festival; it is now a part of academic library collections including Harvard and Columbia University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and the permanent archives of Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (Oscar Library). Currently her time is divided between photo books and in developing screenplays.
A keen traveller and food enthusiast, Nilosree’s interests are Central Asian studies, subjects related to women, and cats, necessarily not in that order.
Irfan Nabi believes images build stories. Irfan's photographs have been exhibited at 'Picturing Asia' at the International Institute for Asian Studies at Leiden, The Netherlands in 2015 and 'Food: Our Global Kitchen' at the National Geographic Museum, Washington DC, 2014. They have been published and acclaimed by National Geographic's and Guardian Travel's online portals.
Irfan remains connected with film making, script writing and still imaging, having just completed a public service film on pedestrian rights in Mumbai. A consistent reader, Irfan loves painting and is a self-taught chef. As he puts it - 'I happened to study and practise medicine also'.
I distinctly remember a wooden 'showpiece from my childhood-a flying crane fixed on the wall above my study table many years ago. Neither did I know who had got it as a gift for my parents nor how it became a resident of that wall! The wall was painted in a shade of pistachio and the wooden crane remained quietly fixed in its flying motion ... what
Sometimes unmindfully I would look at it and think of my troubles. In those days my troubles would mostly be either the Pythagoras theorem or the drawing of a cross section of a flower that had a complex botanical name, which had to be completed for the ninth standard life sciences workbook submission in the next 48 hours!
Years rolled by arid then one day when professional engagements had started happening I chanced upon another wooden crane that looked like a carbon copy of what I had at home many years ago. This crane which I accidentally found in the shelf of a curia shop in New Delhi's Janpath area,
was carved beautifully and varnished too. The long settled dust on it made the varnished texture uneven. I bought what I had stepped in for and also decided to pick up the wooden crane.
I called my mother that evening and asked her about the wooden crane at home. Apparently it got misplaced during a paint job at home. It occurred to me that I should ask her the story behind our 'lost' crane. To put things in a nutshell, the wooden crane was a gift from an aunt who had visited Kashmir three decades ago and on her return had brought my mother sundry gifts-a Kashmir shawl, some walnuts and this crane made of wood, neat y packed in a cardboard box. My mother did mention that evening of many amongst her friends and family having visited the Valley and then suddenly almost out of blue she blurted out that she too wished to see Kashmir before she was too old to travel. That came as a bit of a surprise as my mother was never a keen traveller.
The new wooden crane from Janpath came home with me. There was something unique about this wooden cut-out. It looked so real and animated that even my adult mind sometimes thought that it would pop out of the wall and fly out of the window. It was a feeling I never had during my Pythagoras days! I regretted not having really noticed the flying crane from my school days before it got misplaced.
The crane somehow created a build-up of anticipation and wonder about Kashmir and I realised I had a strong urge to visit the place. I waited for an opportunity and then one day my work brought me to Kashmir. I landed at Srinagar airport on a pleasant and crisp October morning. From my research, I was aware of some well-known facts about Kashmir.
The Pashmina shawls and the rolling green meadows of Gulmarg, of the Kashmiri carpets-each piece a sheer work of art; beautiful handicrafts that were a part of society and legacy. I knew about Kashmir's rich economic and cultural history as a significant part of the discourse related to the
Silk Route, of Emperor Jahangir being in love with the Valley and Henry Cartier Bresson a legendary French photographer visiting the Valley to record its life and people in the last century. I also gathered facts that were more public and common knowledge-about the movies of the 1960s, 70s
and 80s which had been shot in Kashmir, that it snows heavily in winter, that the people are rice eaters and their houses look as beautiful as they do and least to say, their world famous apples and walnuts.
With this essential packet of information I started my relationship with Kashmir. There wasn't any guide for me and my relationship started from scratch. I was lucky that my imagination was not laced by cinematic projections of Kashmir and nor by the media inputs. Yet there was a
large sized blob of fantasy which I was keen to check out once I landed in Srinagar.
My first trip of 10 days was in a professional capacity and I was back after a brief stint. Few apparent things and moments got imprinted like the first encounter with goshtaba, which I now know is locally called goshtaabe,
a delicacy of mutton being pounded into meatball and cooked in yogurt, and the culture of handmade breads. Also, the unforgettable softness of the autumn light that seemed unreally textured and mellow of which I had no earlier memory other than in the novels of Franz Kafka. I settled back in my daily life but Kashmir by then had created a pull in me and I knew I would go back.
In the many trips that followed in the next few years, Kashmir and I got to know each other intimately. The Valley revealed itself to me slowly as an intriguing, complex, warm and beautiful phenomenon. It conveyed to me the unmistakable signs of its layered existence; one needed to embark
upon a lifetime's journey to explore. These were everlasting memories and experiences.
I remember walking down an old ramshackle wooden bridge that allowed only two people at a time with no side rails to it. This was in a village called Kralpora and I was on the lookout for a carpet weaver whom I still haven't met after repeated visits. Mehtaba Begum of Kanihama, who cultivated her own small plot of land and grew mustard and collard greens in
her farm, is pretty much bright in my memory. She was 73 years old and left me awestruck with her sheer courage to tackle life as much as the snow laden ranges of Yusmarg awed me when I first had a glance of them. Then there
was Parveena who treated me with warmth and offered me the first cup of 'kahwe in my life'! And Shaheen with whom I walked that wooden bridge and who taught me to pin up a scarf the way the women of Kashmir did.
These moments are real for me and they are the building bricks of the bridge that I have with the Valley. Each project helps me sense Kashmir more deeply, feel its pulse. The realities that I see each time, people I engage with, help me draw my understandings. They are my own perspectives and
perceptions of Kashmir.
Over many seasons I have learnt that one needs to keep coming back to Kashmir to keep it alive in one's memory. Unlike many other places in the world that can be possibly analysed and understood through academic rhetoric, Kashmir is all about being there and having an access to its people. At the end it is the people who make Kashmir, people like Riyaz, Fayaz, Abdul Gaffars, Iram and Kousar and many more who I have encountered and chanced upon.
Therefore this March when the possibility of going back emerged I was happy to say the least! I knew that it was time to sense, feel, and absorb the flavour, textures and smells of Kashmir again.
Kashmir is the trinket box that I treasure, in which my experiences are stored like jewellery. Each time that I collect one, my collection grows and I know that I have many more to gather.
Alluring Kashmir: The Inner Spirit is essentially a book of beautiful photographs supported by an informative yet lucid travel narrative, attempting to touch a few vital chords of life's quiet music that plays in the Valley against the backdrop of nature's plentiful wonders. I s e it as a book replica of a lovely trinket box filled with beautiful jewellery-the photographs with their subtle, delicate hues and a classic, eternal appeal. Co-authored with my collaborator Irfan Nabi, it is a slice of the traditional and quiet undercurrent of daily life that flows through the sylvan woods and grassy meadows of the Valley, much like its numerous rivers and streams. Our joint experiences have been laid bare for our readers to enjoy
As an 11-year-old I trudged through the white snow and
blackish slush in leather shoes peculiarly called gola shoes, the tiny feet feeling the blows of the intense cold. A seemingly adequate winter school uniform of a navy blue blazer, grey high-neck sweater, thick grey pants and woollen gloves provided little relief My younger brother walker
a little distance behind me. A mistimed step and landing in a puddle of ice cold water, with the socks getting wet would ensure the feet being in, freezer for the whole day. One would spot jog for warmth.
This was early December in the year 1981 and yet the cold was intense. The thought that I had in my apparently evolving mind was, 'Why would anyone want to leave home in such weather and that too at 8:30 am?' Reaching the bus stop on time was a priority, the 10-minute wall in that weather was a torture, missing the school bus was no option as it almost meant missing school and getting pulled up at home. At the bus stop from the corner of my eye I could see some foreigners gathered around the local baker buying bread, hot and fresh from the oven. This group was very
excitedly talking amongst themselves and had big bags flung over their shoulders. They showed no signs of the world being such a harsh place What also made me curious was the complete understanding between the baker and these tourists! How on earth did the conversation between them
flow so easily?
As the bus wound its way towards school, picking up students and teachers along, one could see people on bicycles with fresh vegetables wrapped in a jute bag tied to the cycle carrier at the back by a discarded black cycle rubber tube, another bag of vegetables amazingly balanced in
front. Some carried w at appeared to be multicoloured shawls stacked neatly and wrapped in a white cloth. Big buses with office goers, the activity in the shops and on the streets signalled the start of a day. At some locations one would see a few parked buses and taxis surrounded by
people from other parts of India. A large group travelling together would presumably be members of the same family with three to four elders and an equal number of kids and younger people. They would often be engaged in a very animated snowball fight. The local taxi or bus drivers would wait, watching all of this with a smile, while enjoying a cup of chai or puffing at a cigarette passed from one to another. I would again wonder about the symbiotic relationship between the tourists, the drivers and the place.
Reaching school was the best part, often discussing with Shawkat among many childhood friends the ongoing cricket test match being played in West Indies or England. A commentary of these matches would be aired in the evenings here, while we sat huddled in the comfort of
the loose warm Kashmiri cloak - the 'pheran' - and a kallger (a metal pot filled with hot embers and put under clothing to keep the chill at bay). The quality of the transmission of the radio commentary was as uncertain as the weather in Kashmir. Yet many of us would take the transistor to
bed. The announcement of winter vacations would warm our hearts and spirits, always followed by a war cry in the classroom. The winter vacations were no exciting adventure except for not going to school and playing cricket on a damp pitch whenever the weather permitted, even if for half an hour-the earliest memory of a shortened version of the
game. Cricket was played with a 'wooden cricket ball' called be're which left angry blue bruises on the shin if one missed a 'fast' ball. Power cuts were frequent and many an evening would be spent under candlelight and kerosene lamps. A 'fault' in the local electric transformer made matters
worse. The taps getting frozen in winter was no dream situation either. The black and white television sets aired one Hindi movie every Sunday evening and invariably the electricity would go off at the same time. That was my first introduction to Murphy's Law. This for me was home, and
for the visitors, Kashmir.
Spring led to intermittent gorgeous blue skies and sunny days, kite flying, almond blossoms and rejuvenation, with everything coming back to life. It rained buckets too. Summer spelt school picnics, cricket and football. The good old wooden cricket ball was finally replaced by the four-piece leather ball over a transitional period-almost concurrent with India's win at the 1983 cricket World Cup, which may have influenced it. Summer signified orange bar ice (no cream) sold for 50 paisa, following tennis at Wimbledon and tourists swarming all over the Valley; it seemed they followed you everywhere! Autumn mesmerised with its colours and magical light. Walking with friends across the fallen dry chinar leaves would create a sound which was music to the ears and still ring true! And then it was winter again.
My first detailed memories and opportunity to travel began at the age of twelve, accompanying my mother and brother during the winter vacations to Iran where my father worked as a doctor. It suddenly occurred to me then that m role had reversed. I was a visitor whereas the waiter, the shop owner, the people on the streets and in vehicles were the locals. I wanted to know about them and realised that maybe they did too, about us.
Subsequent trips to various cities in India and a few stints of working and living overseas have not altered my sense of wonder and perception. My mind and emotions during travel have been dictated not merely by the locations, but also by the people, their daily lives, the local history, art and culture, language and cuisine and the dynamics of it all conversations
with people have been the most intriguing, engaging and memorable mode of interaction and reliable source of information. Be it Bengaluru, Bali or Kuala Lumpur, my 'gaze' has remained the same.
Alluring Kashmir: The Inner Spirit is a compilation of a narrative interweaving images and text in an attempt to take the reader on a journey of Kashmir, portrayed not only as a beautiful destination but also providing an engaging insight and understanding of the local culture, the people and
the travellers to the Valley. I sincerely hope that the 'photographic details' hold the reader's attention too.
A few words about four of my favourite photographs, which have anecdotes behind their shots. (Ref Facing page)-As much as one photographs Dal Lake, its essence is hard to capture. This particular evening everything seemed familiar except the fisherman's family resting at the banks, enjoying
cups of nuun chai while the ducks from the neighbourhood across the road were busy chatting. I observed them and found these integral elements of the lake blending with the sunset searnlessly. Not wasting a single moment, I grabbed the scene in multiple takes and as soon as my few takes got over the sun dipped below the horizon.
(Ref p. no. 264) I had spent many mornings trying to photograph the marvellous interiors and distinct architecture of Shah-e-Hamadan shrine that resonated serenity and spirituality. This morning I was sitting on the stairs leading to the shrine and noticed a woman in a red veil against
the magnificent details of the entrance of the shrine. I clicked a few times and got the frame 1 wanted but 1 still kept my finger on the shutter of the camera and in a flash of a second the pigeons flew by, creating a visual element of the spiritual soul across the frame.
(Ref p. 132-133)-The most magical and fascinating part of being in Gulmarg is the ever changing light and shadow play. Just as one starts to conceive a visual and tries to frame it, the light condition has already changed and another location on this vast meadow starts unfolding a delightful new script. It can be exciting and distracting at the same time, but I was content with this image. A photographer's dream location during winters, photography in Gulmarg is all about 'chasing light'.
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