In the contemporary Kashmir of the artist and the poet, a counter-aesthetic has been developed to resist against the glamorous and synthetically beautified portrayal of the land as an idyllic Bollywood destination for tourists. One of the precursors has been a series of works (“There is more to…[‘paradise’ than meets the eye]”) produced by artist, designer and political cartoonist Suhail H. Naqshbandi. There are other examples to such artistic productions in circulation, with paintings and contemporary artworks depicting the rural environs and the cityscape being obstructed from their usual serenity by excrescent imagery of militaristic objects invading the frame from a particular angle or corner.
In the case of Omair Bhat’s poem “Growing tulips…”, we find a “match made in heaven” when it comes to the evident dialogical manner in which the poem reads in perfect metaphorical and allusive harmony with Naqshbandi’s ‘image as response’ to the ‘touristification’ of Kashmir’s tulip garden. Needless to say, Naqshbandi’s series merits deeper critical commentary of its own. Meanwhile, Bhat’s poem reinvigorates through the power of the verse that counter-aesthetic employed by Naqshbandi in his image-making. The two works, the textual and the visual, complement each other ad infinitum et ultra or at least till a touristic aesthetic continues to be employed to cover up the traces of a structural violence that runs deep within the land, far away from the superficial glamour and paradisaical allure that Kashmir accumulates from the oblivious and willfully oblivious tourist and visitor.
As an added bonus, Bhat (re)innovates on the idea of the title of the poem as its first verse, requiring the suspension of certain editorial conventions and demanding more attention from readers, from the uneven cadence of the first line to the last. Naqshbandi’s work does something similar, running vertically and in opposition to the horizontally placed billboard ads that run freely throughout Kashmir’s roads and highways. For this reason, the poem and the image are displayed side by side in vertical opposition to the horizontally aligned landscape depictions that Kashmiris are all too familiar with, especially in ads. As both works show, in this particular case, their parallel vertical scale allows for a greater depth required for the process of excavation, whether that entails the retrieval of a greater meaning or the uncovering of an interred truth.
over graves in Kashmir must be
a way of acknowledging
happiness at the prospect of having
boys, as young as seven,
murdered mercilessly on the streets
each summer, a guillotine
ritual, executed with perfection, paying
attention to the last detail,
especially in the cover-up.
Then timing tulip-blooming so well, conspiring
against a memory of blood
it would seem fairly plausible to call Kashmir
a paradise. Lost. As dead as
stone. But, just when it rains relentlessly off
season, the graves are skinned
to the bare bones of boys buried underneath
unearthing the history of more than
half a century-old oppression, still thriving
in its pure violent manifestation.
"There is more to "paradise" than meets the eye by Suhail Naqshbandi