Alluring Kashmir

Shujaat Bukhari on a coffee table book that pays ?rich tribute to Kashmir's natural beauty and cultural diversity

Alluring Kashmir
Celebrated French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson had set a benchmark for photography for Kashmir. His pictures of Kashmir from the 1940s are still the best known to depict the beauty and the culture of the region. A befitting tribute in black and white, his pictures are still hung on walls as masterpieces. One of his pictures showing Kashmiri women praying at the Hazrat Bal shrine is still unbeatable. Black and white is a thing of the past in this age of colour and technology and to depict any beautiful place such as Kashmir is a real challenge for a photographer. For ace photographers like Bresson, competition was non-existent but today, for that matter, every individual is a photographer holding a smart phone. That, however, does not take away from the distinction that a professional photographer will have.

Alluring Kashmir: The Inner Spirit
Pages : 342
Published : 2017
Publishers : Niyogi Books
Price : Rs 1,995

Kashmir will always be a challenge for a photographer. However, a passionate one will always make the difference. That is how Alluring Kashmir: The Inner Spirit was made possible. Essentially a pictorial journey through Kashmir, the book has been authored by Irfan Nabi and Nilosree Biswas, the former being from Kashmir and the latter from Mumbai. This blend has perhaps played an important role in making the book a perfect tribute to Kashmir and its beauty. It is like a compendium that moves from one shade of this cultural and natural marvel to another. This 342-page book is published by Niyogi Books and has the fine printing that would be worthy of the quality of the photographs. The authors have weaved together the detailed text about various places and the pictures in the best way possible, making it a coffee table book which, at the same time, serves as a chronicle that could be used by those keen to know about Kashmir’s cultural diversity and some of its history.

In the past two decades or more, Kashmir has been introduced to the audience only through the pictures that tell a gory tale of events linked to political turmoil. The books that have been written in this period are more focused on the history, politics and competing narratives that have dominated popular perceptions of the region. While such aspects of Kashmir’s reality – pictures of the daily grind of violence and human rights violations – are crucial in of themselves and certainly cannot be ignored, what Kashmir offers besides tragedy has been either completely sidelined or left to be told by government agencies. Documentaries based on the official narratives of one or the other state tourism department have been the sole representation of the culture, art and the ethos that Kashmir has been proud of for centuries. It is only to be expected, after all, that when it comes to two feuding states, a twisted narrative becomes the hallmark in a place that is ridden with conflict.
"I see it as a book replica of a lovely trinket box filled with beautiful jewelry" writes Nilosree Biswas

In that backdrop, this book provides a perfect package that is full of beauty and narration. Though a physical visit is indispensable, the book can be used to compensate somewhat for that if someone is not able to visit Kashmir. The authors have provided a brief history of important and historical sites such as the Awantipora Temple, Hari Parbat Fort, Mughal gardens, Sugandhesha Temple, Parihaspora, the Tomb of Zain-ul-Abidin’s mother and the mosque of Akhund Mulla Shah. Similarly the spiritual stream passes through the shared history of Hazrat Bal shrine, Ziarat Charar-e-Sharif, Dastgeer Sahib, Churches, Gurudwara Shri Chati Padshahi, Hazrat Makhdoom Sahib, Shah Hamdan Sahib, Sharika Devi Temple and other places of interest. Describing Kashmir as a magical land, they brilliantly focus on carpet-weaving, copper-work, paper-mache, shawl-weaving, walnut wood-carving and willow weaving. The famed Kashmiri cuisine, language, dialect, architecture and music help it to be a fairly complete index of a place that is otherwise difficult to cover sufficiently in a book.

The role of personal interaction, not only with visiting tourists but also the locals who are active in different trades, has made this book more interesting. Compelling and magical pictures take one through a beautiful journey.

“I see it as a book replica of a lovely trinket box filled with beautiful jewelry — the photographs with their subtle, delicate hues and a classic, eternal appeal,” writes Nilosree in the first pages. She herself had a fabulous journey as documentary filmmaker and this book is the outcome of her “intense passion and love for Kashmir”. Her documentary Broken Memory, Shining Dust was an official selection at the 65th Cannes International Film Festival. It is now a part of academic library collections including those at Harvard, Columbia, the School of Oriental and African Studies, the University of London and the permanent archives of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (the Oscar Library).

Irfan has been a celebrated photographer and his photographs have been exhibited at ‘Picturing Asia’ at the International Institute for Asian Studies at Leiden in the Netherlands in 2015 and ‘Food: Our Global Kitchen’ at the National Geographic Museum, Washington DC, in 2014. They have been published and acclaimed by the National Geographic and Guardian Travel’s online portals. Irfan remains connected with filmmaking, script-writing and still-imaging, having just completed a public service film on pedestrian rights in Mumbai. An avid reader, Irfan loves painting and is a self-taught chef. His Kashmiri origins have helped him to piece together a locally flavoured narrative for this book. “This is a compilation of a narrative of Kashmir interweaving images and text in an attempt to take the reader on a journey of Kashmir, portrayed not only as a beautiful destination but also providing an engaging insight and understanding of the local culture, the people and the travelers to the Valley” says Irfan about the book.

But for the historical inputs to different stories, the authors are not wrong in saying that it is a story told in the form of a local narrative. So far the descriptions of Kashmir’s culture have been seen more ‘authentic’ or otherwise, depending on what foreigners have written. It is not that Kashmiris have not penned any books locally, but this book is indeed different in nature and presentation. It is a real tribute to the inner spirit of Kashmir.

The book was released at the World Book Fair this year.