There is so much negative publicity about Kashmir that even for an enterprising daring soul it would be hard to muddle through. The malicious defamation creates a stereotype. They are ‘fundamentalists’, they harbor ‘terrorist’ tendencies’, they are ‘intolerant’. They are immersed in ‘crude conservative passions’. There you cannot enjoy anything save shutter downs and sloganeering. It is stones and bricks, not laptops and pens that young people there are fawned at. The people there are seduced in ‘anti-national activities’.
When people are dwarfed and vilified with such ferocity, when reality on the ground is castrated under the cross-hairs of hegemonic hubris, when opium-injected news are beamed through every whirling particle in the space, when not on the merits but on the rating rants studios sell their products, when lies are manufactured as an industry, how can an outsider have a daunting urge to have a romance with ‘the bride full of blushes’( that Thomas More once compared our capital city Srinagar with)?
If one, purged off his mind purity –thanks to media propaganda– still embarks on the terrain of his obstinacy, imagine the soul-shattering apprehensions, the spectacle of the forbidden tree. From every blade of grass he would sight a frightening snake stalking on him. The innocuous invitation from a Kashmiri associated with a travel agency he would sniff as a decoy to entrap. Against the fare complexion from us, he would read many dark shades of ‘terrorism’.
This is not I am writing a fiction. It is the power of media that demonizes a community and creates fear. That can burrow through even gene matrix and evolve it into a new creation of his likes. Chantella Flores, a young lady from South Africa, was nursing these kind of fitful thoughts before she stepped on the tarmac of Srinagar airport. It was a different Kashmir, far from what was projected through news channels—some of which won’t feel relieved unless energized in Kashmir bashing. An internationally-acclaimed photographer and recipient of Canon South Africa award for inspiring women, Flores stayed in Kashmir for three weeks and ‘didn’t face any problems’. In her own country, she has been—as she says—victim of ‘gun culture’ on more than one occasion. Against sense of feeling insecure in her native country, where, as she says, women like her ‘ don’t walk in the streets, because it is so unsafe’, she walked through the streets in the Srinagar’s old town (Shehr-e-Khas), without any fear. The intricate and ornate architecture of the buildings impressed her. The breath-taking landscape of Dal lake and Mughal gardens and handful of ‘prideful image’ in the close ambience with nature, she was overwhelmed with. But it was the ‘kind, caring and hospitable’ people that made her ‘ feel at home’. She could not believe that after what she was fed with by the reports about Kashmir, she would believe that there are such ‘highly educated’ youth, speaking ‘ fluent’ English and brimming with ‘high ambitions for future’. After travelling to 57 countries, the warm welcome, love and generosity of Kashmiris Flores—who is a regular contributor to ‘The National Geographics Your Shot’—acknowledges that it was rare of the rarest things to be in company with people of Kashmir. ‘I felt I had arrived at home’, she bows in salute to the hospitability of Kashmiris (Arif Shafi Wani, GK, December 4, 2018).
It is daring people like Chantella Flores who, notwithstanding all such fears that media conjured up into her, ventured to visit Kashmir and have an honest appreciation of the situation and people derided by the savagery media plays in name of freedom of expression. Had Flores allowed herself to be mislead by narrative of lies in relation to Kashmir coverage, not only she would have ended in being quite ignorant of what actual is happening in Kashmir and its people are stereotyped, the rust (of ignorance) in her would have deepened with every coming day. And who knows how far off the virus of disinformation and denunciation would have reached from her. After all it is a chain reaction. The lies and distortions go on multiplying. It is good the chain broke at her. And she provided/proved a chink in the armor of the nefarious propaganda aimed to smear Kashmir and its people in jaundiced mirrors. But how many stumble at the truth curtained behind iron walls. Very little. Many are consumed by the negative coverage of Kashmir. Still those who rise to the occasion and show courage in slamming through the Goblin version of happening, are not allowed to enter Kashmir. Not only this, even documentaries and movies that present somewhat a dissenting view against the government’s propaganda blitzkrieg are censured or its directors and producers forced to give up in never-ending circles of attendance. ‘ No Fathers in Kashmir’, a latest Kashmir centric movie by Ashwin is battling for survival. He was forced to lament: ‘ We have become a country which does not want to hear the truth. We want to hear the cacophony from prime time news channels, which is a sad part. When self-correction is not happening, somebody has to come forward and do his bit in telling the truth’ (GK, November 23, 2018).
Anyways, truth always prevails and has the knack to penetrate through all barriers of lies. In one bit in truth- telling Himalyan lies finally have to melt. That is historical and universal truth.