If there is one shadow that looms dark over the architecture or even the whole geography of Kashmir, it is the ingrained conflict, rooted deep in its foundations. As one dialogue from the movie, Haider, points out, ‘the whole Kashmir is a prison’, we see how every corner of Kashmir houses and hides conflict. Starting from the house of the protagonist, which is a typical Kashmiri house, having a small arched porch opening into a corridor leading to different carpeted rooms with crewel embroidered curtains of beautifully wooden carved windows. However, the wooden attic of this seemingly normal house hides militants, the stairs to attic hidden by a bookshelf, bringing into mind the hidden quarters of Anne Frank in Nazi Germany.
Apart from the house, the other important structure of the village is a school where the mother of the protagonist taught and a mosque. The scenery of this quaint village transforms into a picture of gloom when the military vehicles arrive, lining its rough contoured paths, and people leave their houses standing in front of the school while the mosque reverberates with announcement of search operation. Haider’s house metamorphoses into a mini war-zone, bullets piercing through its beautiful wooden windows and is ultimately razed to ground. It brings to mind countless houses that were burnt in a similar manner; new, old, all reduced to debris of memories. When Haider looks on to what used to be his house, scavenging through the residue, collecting whatever the remnants he could find, it alludes to a Kashmir, that is lost to every Kashmiri.
When Haider was returning to Kashmir, his bus is stopped at a check-point, overlooking the beautiful view of mountains and river, where the camps of army have come up, surrounded by an array of concertina wires. With incessant lockdowns, restrictions and curfews, Srinagar, in fact has become a city of concertina wires. While searching his father, Haider goes from one place to another, from the police stations to the army camps, from courts to even UN quarters, we understand the strenuous process of getting one word about the loved one who had disappeared. We also see characters travelling through Jhelum, a river around which the city was built and the story was weaved, a river on the beds of which the dead await burial, and visiting graveyard that has laid countless nameless to rest. The conflict has consumed countless buildings which have been converted into interrogation and torture centers; hotels, schools, especially cinemas where the only thing to watch is torture or confession.
Another important place shown in the movie is Zaina Kadal Bridge where Haider is called to a meet an important informant. On the bridge, built by Zain-ul-Abideen in the 15th century, not just to connect the two halves of the town but to create a center of trade and interaction, we see Haider being blindfolded upon arrival, taken to narrow alleys guarded by rebels with guns into an attic of a house hidden amongst the crowd of other houses. Places like this, collectively known as downtown, once the heart for trade and culture has become notorious for the persistent disharmony, where stone-pelting and protests usually takes place. The intricate network of lanes and alleys provide path for stone-pelters to escape and hide, the network that armed forces didn’t quite navigate.
In the movie, the bridge provides an incredible view of downtown at the edge of Jhelum, its small ghats, multistoried traditional Kashmiri buildings with cantilevered windows, top of a temple, Khanqah-e-Maula with its multi-tiered turret, and tomb of Budshah’s mother with its semi-circular domes, all reminiscent of once heterogeneous and diverse culture of Kashmir, dissolved now. As one verse by Agha Shahid Ali sums up the lost memory: “In the lake the arms of temples and mosques are locked in each other’s reflections.”
When we talk of Kashmir, we can never separate the conflict that has creeped into the walls of each of its structure. Kashmir is a civilization as old as stone age, ruled by countless glorious kingdoms, a place that mesmerized Amir Khusrau to call it “paradise on earth”. However, like beauty, violence has become a defining factor for Kashmir. The town once fondly called Shehr-e-Khas, heart of the city, is reduced to a place rampant with stone pelting. But, when we talk of conflict, we only care of one thing, preservation of human life, and everything else becomes immaterial. Yet, if we want to construct a new future, we need to conserve and hold on to the structures that stand witness to our past, splendid as well as tumultuous.
Munazah Shakeel is a student pursuing Architecture from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Nuzhat Khan
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.