In Times of Conflict, Choice Between a Pen and Stone in Kashmir

Has the unrest impacted the youth in Kashmir as they struggle with their creativity?

5 min read

Artist Mehnaz Gani paints at the Department of Music and Fine Arts, University of Kashmir.
In Times of Conflict, Choice Between a Pen and Stone in Kashmir
Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster than politics.
Victor Pinchuk

Did you ever get that feeling of contentment after you have just finished building a house of clay? Don’t you experience the same feeling after finishing a drawing, painting, poem, or song?

Creativity is a gift associated with several emotions and feelings, one of them being the feeling of being liberated. Creativity is, indeed, a liberating force. I still remember when I first tried my hand at drawing, sketching to be precise.

My father was in deep sleep and I was sitting right beside him scribbling on a piece of paper with my finely sharpened HB pencil. These were not artistic scribbles, more rough than anything, but what came out as the final result was nothing short of amazing, particularly for me and for my father, as he woke up to what would become my first drawing.


'Think of Picking a Pen Rather Than a Stone'

I had drawn a sketch of my father while he was asleep.

Almost 12 years later today, as I take a brisk walk across a small fenced park in my neighbourhood, a little after Fajr prayers have been offered in the local mosque, gripping sights slowly start taking over my senses.

Everything starts to seem serene and soothing, so much so that I almost forget that I live in a conflict zone. For once, the land seems free. I live in God’s own land. And for once, at least in the day, I think more of picking up a pen rather than picking up a stone. Makes me wonder how much the conflict has to do with my creativity.

Author and public speaker, Deepak Chopra says:

Uncertainty is the fertile ground of pure creativity and freedom.

Musician Ovais Ahmad performs at Scholars Boarding School, Harwan, on the International Day of Peace.
Musician Ovais Ahmad performs at Scholars Boarding School, Harwan, on the International Day of Peace.
(Photo: Mu’azzam Bhat/ The Quint)

Freedom to Express Ourselves

I meet a guy in his early 20s. This fine gentleman sports disheveled hair, an unbuttoned shirt over a loose fitting garment below, and is walking around with a guitar case in the lanes of Rainawari, Srinagar.

For him, as far as he can remember, he has always been fascinated with freedom of different kinds, and on top, the freedom of expression. Therefore the guitar.

When asked about the content of his music, he comes up with a quick fire answer, “Azadi” which translates to independence, freedom, and liberty. It is a little hard to digest that the guy enjoys complete freedom of expression in a society like ours, as is evident from the impudent stares that he and his guitar receive while we talk in the narrow streets of downtown Srinagar.

So, when you say you have always been fascinated with freedom, what freedom are you referring to exactly, I asked him.

The answer comes after a few seconds of deliberation. “The freedom to say what you want to say and to do what you want to do,” he replied.

He is quick to add:

We as musicians and artistes have a responsibility to offer good quality music to people. When people listen to our songs, they are investing their time on us; we should try to make an honest effort to ensure we don’t waste that time. And to give them what they deserve, we should have the freedom to talk about whatever we want.

New Generation of Singers in Kashmir

Lately, a new wave of protest has taken over Kashmir. A new generation of singers and rappers are releasing songs that mostly deal with the issue of unrest. Same is the case with this guy.

Heavy sound of electric guitars go well with his husky voice and strong lyrics. And here’s a point – for him, the conflict hasn’t hindered his creativity. In fact, if anything, it has given him a subject to speak on. The conflict, as such, might be acting as a catalyst to his creativity.

In order to exercise creativity, freedom of thought is essential.
Dalai Lama

Has Unrest Hampered the Progress of the Talented?

I meet another girl in her early 20s who is a student of the Department of Fine Arts at Kashmir University. For her, the source of inspiration for her paintings is the freedom of mind. She told me:

When my mind is not preoccupied with anything, when I am really free to think, that’s the time I personally think I paint the best pictures.

When asked if painting can serve as a means of taking one’s mind off things, she says:

Definitely, a lot of people are in it for this very purpose. Painting, just like other forms of artistic and creative expression, offer relief from lot of daily stuff you want to take off your mind.

However, when asked why our state hasn’t been able to produce more creative minds, the answer comes straight out.

Lack of exposure. Many people are not getting an opportunity to showcase the talent they have. Many are shy, and amongst other things, due to the conflict.
Student of the Department of Fine Arts at Kashmir University

Will Chaos Suppress Creativity?

And is it really so?

Has the conflict riddled our minds so much that it blocks our imagination?

Is conflict playing the spoilsport in our lives by trying to clip our wings?

Maybe the conflict has left such a deep impression on our minds that we think of it before we think of anything else, and our creativity takes a back seat.

How far does it stop us from doing what we want to do and what we want to be? Or for that matter, does it act as a catalyst in shaping our mindset, our creativity, and in propelling us forward on the same front?

With these questions in mind, I complete my walk through the park and reach the main road which houses a huge army bunker. Now, do I want to pick up a stone first before I pick up my pen?

People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.
Assata Shakur, activist, Black Liberation Army

(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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