APNA TIME AAYEGA (translated from Hindi as “My/our time will come”). You see this motto on this red T-shirt as a battle cry of individual resilience. For the common Indian, and particularly the Indian youth, it is a saying that represents the overcoming of struggle to reach a moment of glory—that moment where all the stars align and set the path towards victory. In plain terms, it is a motto of empowerment, and even as that, it has been appropriated—from the street and slum subcultures that brought the Mumbai hip hop scene to the fore—by Bollywood filmmakers and producers looking to tell the next big story through popular cinema.
For Kashmiris, APNA TIME AAYEGA means something else, something that is loaded with sarcasm, as in “apna time aye gaa”…to go to jail. This photo has been produced in response to all the arrests of journalists, activists, and civilians, and acquires a symbolic edge. In particular, because journalists and media professionals handle words and images, and this is word art in a popular form—albeit an appropriation by Bollywood elites trying to capitalize on a 2014 grassroots story of a Muslim boy from Mumbai’s ghettos who overcomes challenges and rises to become a hip hop virtuoso.
Returning to the T-shirt: in the context of Kashmir, its red color resembles the color of the Kashmiri online protest, especially as it has been since 2016. As such, I am wearing this T-shirt because I too wonder after publishing what I and several comrades publish or write about Kashmir whether “apna time [bhi] ayegaa” (“our time too will come”) if and when they knock on our doors. These are not exaggerated thoughts, considering how many journalists, activists, and intellectuals have been targeted through arrests, censorship, and other forms of intimidation leading many others to wonder if they are next. This feeling is shared commonly in Kashmir under the current environment of censorship, especially among the press, and intellectual and creative circles.
This attempt at an online artivism-driven performance hijacks this popular saying from a popular Bollywood film, while (re)appropriating/inverting its meaning as a form of silent protest in the spirit of culture jamming. Those in the Kashmiri community who understand the symbolism behind the color red will also understand the sarcastic tone of the message of “APNA TIME AAYEGA” as it applies to them, particularly under circumstances where so much uncertainty about the future prevails. All this given how August 5th marks a turn in Kashmiri history as the most brazen hijacking of Kashmir’s future towards any sort of desired resolution democratically selected by its people. As a result, this online artivism-driven performance is also an online artivism-driven protest, and a silent one at that, one that can be taken to the streets by simply wearing a red T-shirt and “walking around.”
The T-shirt in the symbolic red color, and the words “APNA TIME AAYEGA” can mean a lot more within the Kashmiri context, with its subverted meaning loaded with bitterness and sarcasm of the Kashmiri kind that far too many in the Himalayan territory are well-acquainted with. As a place that remains the most militarized zone in the world, Kashmir ultimately cannot and will not remain under the shadows of war, engulfed by the impossible situation of being landlocked between three surrounding nuclearized nations.
Whatever is being conducted and normalized under the pretext of national interest and security in Kashmir has—with most certainty—the potential of spilling over into India and into the rest of the world. Whenever journalists, writers, activists, and intellectuals are imprisoned, it does not bode well for the powers who take such ‘remedial’ actions. In fact, in the most extreme cases, of which there are many at present, it reflects the awakening of psychosis so detrimental that it can change the face of entire nations, peoples, and polities.
Any entity, organization, state, or faction that allows for such treatment ultimately seals its fate towards the same end at certain points where there can be no demarcation between the persecutors and the persecuted, because all bounds of decency, ethics, and dignity have been crossed, and in the process, eradicated and erased. In such cases, those who mark others as transgressors, ultimately end up revealing themselves as such, to the point of no return from such permutation into a degraded form unrecognizable to the self. Those who submit others to degradation end up degrading themselves—and the histories of empires and colonizing nations serve as proof of the latter.
With all this taken into consideration, and after reading this “primer”, anytime you spot a red T-shirt with the words “APNA TIME AAYEGA,” whether on the street or on a social media post or platform, you will know what it actually means, and more so if you are Kashmiri or someone who sympathizes with the Kashmiri struggle or someone who recognizes the detrimental shifts and turns post-August 5 that are still in rotation—and that ultimately make APNA TIME AAYEGA a constant and indefinite condition, a possibility not for the better, but for the worse. In such a mode, the white letters printed on a red background are a silent recognition of the looming fear that speaks louder than any warrant, worn on the body and displayed on any chest that doesn’t boast of being 56-inches wide (even if it actually is).
*Compay Lizardi is the nom de plume of an art critic inspired by the literary writings of José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, the famous Mexican journalist-turned-novelist, and writer of the first Latin American novel, who from time to time wrote under the pen name of “el Pensador Mexicano” (translated from Spanish as “The Mexican Thinker”) and whose writing at times was characterized by lengthy sentences loaded with meaning and wisdom.