Home >mint-lounge >features >Photo Essay: The other side of turmoil

School girls in Sopore playing cricket during recess; a father and his daughter walking on a deserted road; a barber shop with walls covered with Bollywood posters; a couple sitting in a shaded area in a park—these are some of the images of Kashmir captured by New Delhi-based photographer Shome Basu.

His book, Shades Of Kashmir, which was released earlier this month, is an attempt to document the everyday life of people in a region that has seen much conflict and where the army is omnipresent. The 176 black and white pictures are divided into four sections—landscape, daily life, people and protest.

“People used to ask me why am I shooting, what is my purpose, will I sell these photographs, and I wanted to tell them that all I want to do is to tell your story," says Basu. For instance, when he went to take photographs at the girls’ school in Sopore, he was given only 2 minutes.

“The girls were apprehensive as well as inquisitive when I began photographing them. But as soon as I clicked 5-10 images, they nearly forgot about the camera, and continued their cricket as recess period was about to get over," says Basu.

While capturing the beauty of the place, Basu also draws attention to the turmoil through pictures of security men keeping vigil from a bunker, a young protester crying after being hit by a tear-gas shell, and women crying at the death of a militant. The pictures have been mostly shot from a distance, as if the photographer did not want to be drawn into any “conflict".

“Each of these realities (counter-insurgency, army presence, protests) make Kashmir what it is today. The landscape is breathtaking; the protests are a grim reality. And the people of Kashmir live through it all," says Basu.

“I have always followed what we call the rules of Kashmir, which include coming back to your hotel at 7pm sharp because after that the entire valley shuts down and it can be dangerous to venture out. Also, I always carry my ID card," says Basu. “Life is very fragile in Kashmir. You have to take care," he says.

“Kashmir means different things to different people. For some it is a favourite summer getaway; for some it is a scary place. Through my photographs, I wanted to tell things from a Kashmiri man or woman’s perspective," says Basu.

“I wanted to show the images of daily life, basically to remove this cloud because of which people are scared of going to the valley," says Basu. But then the simple image of a bunch of children boarding the school bus at Lal Chowk in Srinagar in the morning can turn into a protest site by afternoon.

“In the morning it is like Mussoorie, in the afternoon the place resembles Palestine," says Basu.

One picture shows a school boy playing with pigeons in front of the Jama Masjid in downtown Srinagar. This scene could be anywhere in the country—a boy playing in front of the Jama Masjid in Delhi would also look as innocent and carefree as this child. “His parents would be worried that their son is out," says Basu of the child in Srinagar.

“Things change fast in Kashmir. And every house has a story to tell. Kashmiris feel if their child is going out, he or she might not return," he adds.

Every picture captures silent yet resilient people. Sure there are silhouetted pictures of barbed wires, broken glasses, and deserted streets with military vehicles standing guard, but there are also images of young girls giggling over a joke, a forlorn Shiva temple somewhere in the town, a mannequin outside a shop, and children with “Messi" T-shirts playing cricket in the by-lanes.

Basu says despite the curfews, strike calls and crackdowns in the valley, life goes on.

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