A story of loss

In pictures

If you were to ask any photographer, who has documented Kashmir, why they chose this trouble-torn place, the most probable answers would be ‘conflict’ and ‘scenic beauty.’ Rarely ever, will you find a lenswoman who says she went looking for ‘inner peace.’

33-year-old Saadiya Kochar first went to Kashmir in 2007 after she lost her brother in a car accident. Since then, she has literally ‘lived’ with Kashmiris for four years, shared the sorrow of people who have lost brothers, sisters, parents and other relatives and documented their disturbed lives through photography and a film. She is now, exhibiting both at Wonder Wall Gallery in Lado Sarai, finding her pain shared and considerably lessened.

“I have always felt a strange connection with this place inspite of being a non-Kashmiri and a non-Muslim,” says Saadiya. “After my brother’s death, the place almost drew me to it. Starting with Srinagar, I travelled to Pampore, Bailgam, Gulmarg, Yusmarg, Safapura, Kupwara, Shopian, Gangbal and other locales. I can claim that I have travelled the length and breadth of the state.”

She adds, “During my stay there, from 2007 to 2012, I got to see many facets of Kashmir: its natural beauty, breathtaking seasonal changes, architecture and festivals. What most affected me, though, were the people – distressed and hopeless. Muslims, Sikhs and Hindu pundits – all of them - have lost so much – homes, loved ones and socio-economic development. Their loss helped me come to terms with my own loss. That’s how the name of this exhibition also came to be Loss.”

Without a doubt, Saadiya’s photographs are beautiful and thought-provoking. There are pictures of the ethereal Dal and Wullar lakes reflecting colours of dawn. There are shots of Kingfishers preying for fish. A shot of Naseem Bagh, carpeted by fallen Chinar leaves, shows a bicycle propped against a tree, probably left there by a student of Kashmir University of which the garden is a part.

There are also many pictures of festivals in Kashmir. During Urs at Khanqah-e-Moulla shrine – observed on the death anniversary of saint Hamdan - women look particularly glum. Shots of Muharram – observed by Shias specifically – are bloody and gory. Then there are pictures of prayers at Kheerbhavani temple and rituals at the Chatti Patshahi gurdwara on Gurupurab.

A major part of the photographs are protests shot at places like Maisuma and Nawhatta. Saadiya says, “It was very difficult to be a woman standing with a camera in the middle of violent rallies and protests. More than once I was told that I either leave the spot or get killed. Sometimes, I had to run and seek shelter in homes of strangers but the people were kind enough to help me.”

So in a burning environment like that how did she find peace of mind? “It’s true that all of us have our opinions, but sometimes, we do not know enough about the history and culture of a people to pass judgements. On such occasions, it is better to be just a fellow human being and empathise. There is a lot of pain in this world and when you familiarise yourself with them, you realise that your sorrows could be rather small and trivial.”

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