Swasti Acharya presents a series of photographs that she produced seven years ago, in June of 2013. The series “Before the Lockdown” retrieves, as photographs often do, what is set to be lost or displaced in one way or another (as memory or as something else). In such images, the eternity of a time past reverberates in visuals of everyday life, beyond the limits of enforced change and beyond a controlled liminality that has continuously besieged Kashmir, as if it were some sort of a “liminal space” made such for its own inhabitants (if one is to be reminded of the martial reality that exists beyond such innocent and unassuming visual framing). In more ways than one, Acharya’s visuals of Kashmir elucidate how photography is an art where “capturing” and “retrieving” can be harmonious and not disruptive as far as image-making is concerned, and that too through the unfamiliar lens of an unaccustomed outsider who goes back in time to recover visuals of something that tomorrow might not remain the same or might altogether have been forcefully transformed into something else. This series is published with a note by the young photographer along with relevant captions that go beyond any editorial framing and interpretations presented in this editorial introduction.
Before the Lockdown
Images from Kashmir, June 2013
I was reading Malik Sajad’s articulate graphic novel, Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir, when a notification on my phone disclosed the winners of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography. Whether it is the picture of 6-year-old Muneefa Nazir whose right eye is visibly wounded; the masked man, mid-jump, facing an armoured police-van; or the vigilant soldier in his camo uniform looking through a pair of binoculars near the India-Pakistan border. These photographs taken by Mukhtar Khan, Channi Anand, and Dar Yasin (and many others alike) tell stories of Kashmir that have become increasingly inescapable, particularly since its most recent siege in August 2019 with a full-on media, press, television, internet and telephonic lockdown in place.
The nationwide Covid-19 Lockdown and plummeting ‘productivity’ levels have, naturally, bestowed upon hours to reminisce for quite a few of us living in other places not plagued by war and conflict. This lockdown has been compared (and contested) to that in Kashmir via debates, articles, op-eds, and even memes. Perhaps the condition of being restricted from moving about, from going outside freely without the threat of an imminent danger somehow can convey what Kashmiris have been feeling for decades. My purpose here is not to delve into that and neither am I qualified to do so. Instead, as August 5 approaches us and we mark a year of what it brought, my attempt is to take you through these scenes from Kashmir in a very specific time before the subsequent ‘lockdown(s)’ and after others, in June of 2013.
Birds in flight taking the evening route home.
Pensive and waiting.
A man, his healthy cow, and no mob.
Life around a Matador ‘choti bus’.
In Pahalgam, gazing Gujjars and grazing greens.
Being the youngest means not having to row the boat!
A ride home from school in the rain (and some drama in the background).
Two ladies, 'mid-gupshup', and an umbrella on-board the Dal Lake.
Of achhoo!-s and pastel hues: the hands that row the shikara also tend to the blues.
Lady at the window.
The balloon-man behind the sheep.
‘And there is a light, don’t let it go out.’
All smiles as a lady prepares to sow the season’s paddy.
A bird soars above the Jama Masjid.
A man waits at the neighbourhood kandur waan (baker’s shop).
Passers-by on the road outside Hazratbal Dargah Sharif.
In Gulmarg, a man smokes a cigarette.
A shopkeeper on the Dal Lake anticipating boats with potential shoppers.
Three ladies form a triangle.
A Kashmir House Sparrow on the ledge of a house boat.
Time for school.
Staring into depth in Pheran and plaid.
Tag, you’re it!
Buyers in the floating vegetable market.
The stories I see emerging from Kashmir at the present compelled me to rummage my hard disk for photographs I took when I was fifteen and try to address a question I am grappling with at the age of twenty-two:
“What was life before this post-August 5th pandemic lockdown within a lockdown for those in Kashmir?”
A selection of such photos from June 2013 compose this "Before the Lockdown" series that attempts to retrieve an answer.