Reclaiming Kasheer through Zalgur

by Ananya Jahanara Kabir
On the 16th of June, 2013, a new group made its appearance on facebook. Called ‘The Kashmir Bicycle Movement’, it ‘aims to reclaim streets of Kashmir for people, displace cars and restore pride in riding bicycles’. The Movement is the brainchild of Kashmiri scholar and environmental activist Gowhar Fazili, whose interest in environmental activism dates back at least to the early 2000s. On my first research visit to Srinagar in 2003, Gowhar spoke to me about the plastic bags littering the surface of the Dal Lake even as I plied him with questions about the psychological fallout of the ongoing conflict. I remember feeling vaguely confused by the cross-purposes our conversation seemed to be at: ‘I am concerned about soldiers, and this person is obsessing about plastic bags? ’ A similar sense of bewilderment overcame me on an occasion a few years later, when we—Gowhar and I— perused together albums of colonial-era photographs of Kashmir held at the Alkazi archives in Delhi. I was looking for evidence of how the colonial camera converted Kashmir into what I had begun to call ‘the territory of desire’. Gowhar’s eyes were straying to an image of a magnificent barasingha deer incongruously tethered in the garden of some colonial bungalow.

Ultimately, I did use that image in my book, Territory of Desire, because—and no doubt thanks at least in part to Gowhar– I was slowly learning to see the conflict through what we may term an ecocritical lens. This critical perspective was not overtly deployed in my book, as it was only taking shape subconsciously in my mind as an analytical tool. Nevertheless, a live conflict demands that our academic perspectives keep evolving. At the same time, a conflict that has been born out of desire for a space defined as possessing unique natural beauty is a priori enmeshed in discourses about the appreciation, depreciation, management, enjoyment as well as responsibility towards nature. Already in 2007, as I completed my book, I was aware that attempts to reclaim Kashmiri landscape by Kashmiris was a powerful way to rethink the much-used but not often clarified concept of azadi (sovereignty, freedom). When, in 2010, we were hit by the kani jung or ‘stone throwing war’, it seemed to me that picking up a piece of Kashmiri land in the form of a stone and hurling it back to the occupiers was a highly efficient way of using the environment as the tools for resistance.

Arguably, stone throwing, like guns and bombs, does not take us out of a cycle of violence and, however we may appreciate it as an indigenous and efficient mode of resistance, it cannot become a blueprint for a sustainable future for the Valley and a harmonious rethinking of relations between self and other, Valley-dweller and outsider. This is where the Kashmir Bicycle Movement comes in. On the day it announced its presence on facebook it offered a number of statements regarding its raison d’etre, which quickly revealed itself as a modus operandi for resisting not just modernity’s encroachment on ‘slow time’ as a more fulfilling way of life, but also the encroachment of the conflict on a Kashmiri’s relationship to Kashmir [photo Kashbike 10] In this way the Kashmir Bicycle Movement offered an illuminating glimpse into the mobilization of environmentalist and ecocritical discourses into tools of resistance and Kashmiri self-fashioning. During the past month its facebook page has been very actively maintained and managed, conveying, in the process, a sense of freshness of purpose and possibilities. It has also been derailed from its purpose by political violence in the Valley, with its last post (at the time of writing) on the 19th of July announcing the cancellation of a much-anticipated bicycle ride through downtown Srinagar.

This essay will analyze the activity on the facebook page of the Kashmir Bicycle Movement (henceforth KBM) during its euphoric first few weeks of existence and reassess the significance of its apparent capitulation to events that brand the Valley of Kashmir as an occupied space. One has to appreciate a venture arising out of a radical populist imperative that reveals how sensitivity to our relationship with place (in the most basic sense of the term) is the most sustainable (in all senses of the term) approach to breaking through the effects of conflict. This micro-political initiative which soon intervened into the micro-urban transmits a potential for change that can (and indeed, must) survive the brutalization of life in a long-term conflict zone and the Indian occupation of both Kashmiri mind and territory. The body is the ultimate weapon for resistance, as Achille Mbembe reminded us in his essay ‘Necropolitics’, but it is not only in death that sovereignty can be most effectively asserted by the occupied subject. Feeling the breeze on one’s body, seeing the landscape through the ‘cycling pace’, in short—enjoying oneself— may be a more sustainable alternative. Yet this is a corporeal statement mediated through a virtual medium. Thus inter alia I will also demonstrate how facebook now functions as a portal for the Kashmir resistance movement by allowing play with the commonsense binary between embodiment and disembodiment.

The bicycle vs. the convoy truck
On the 16th of June, the first day of its facebook existence, KBM installed as its profile photo a Kashmiri man, clad in a pheran, his face covered with a scarf presumably against the cold, cycling. The man cycles through a deep fog; his eyes looking back at us seem wary and furtive. The background is pierced by a pair of headlights that could well belong to an army vehicle, for nothing else seems out and about on the street. This menacing sense of a heavy vehicle—or indeed, a series of them—is echoed by the page’s cover photo, an image of deep double tracks etched on a snow-covered tarmac road.
Hence these photos do double work: on the one hand they signal the coexistence of signs of the modern (the vehicular) and the timeless (here signaled equally by the pre-colonial pheran, still worn today, and the pine trees lining the road, heavy with snow). The man on the bicycle, in this environment, reminds us of the neo-traditional contours of postcolonial cultural production that Anthony Appiah talked about in his famous parsing of the sculpture, ‘Yoruba man on bicycle’. On the other hand, Kashmir is no ordinary postcolonial space. The photos both insert Kashmir in a shared space of South-south neo-traditional modernity and lift it out, through the absent presence of the army trucks, to an extraordinary space of conflict.

The vulnerability of the bicycle against the looming army convoy is captured in a poignant blogpost by Maqbool Majid, entitled ‘memories of a convoy’. KBM posted a link to this blogpost from 2011 on the 26th of June, 2013. The writer’s recollection of a cherished birthday gift– a bicycle– is deliberately invoked only in order to reveal its brutal crushing by an act of effortless violence by an Indian soldier in an army convoy which passes the cycling boy. ‘My father had gifted me a new cycle on my 16th birthday’, the post begins. ‘I was totally in love with it, often taking it out for aimless cycling trips. That afternoon, after a rather boring day in school, I was returning home on my newly acquired cycle. The leaves were rustling with joy. A cool breeze blew across my face. ’ The scene of innocence is shattered by the time we reach the end of the post: despite his utmost caution in avoiding the attention of the convoy, his very presence on the road seems to have constituted a provocation. The post makes painful reading: the blow struck him by a soldier’s baton, the cruel smile on the face of the soldier, and the physical branding of the boy. Even though the weal across his back may have faded with time, he has come of age.

‘And every time I heard that whistle’, concludes the blogpost, ‘signaling the imminent arrival of another convoy behind me, the memories would return, haunting me. ’ The convoy also haunts the imagination of the poet Agha Shahid Ali, appearing in the first poem, ‘Farewell’, of his memorable collection, The Country without a Post Office:

Army convoys all night like desert caravans:
In the smoking oil of dimmed headlights, time dissolved- all
Winter- its crushed fennel.
We can’t ask them: Are you done with the world?

Maybe not, but the poet’s act of resistance was to reassemble the convoy into a Kashmiri lifeworld defined by the image of desert caravans, mediated through Urdu poetry, and the smell of crushed fennel tempering oil, characteristic of Kashmiri cuisine: soul food of two kinds. Whether blog or poem, these responses by Kashmiris to life under occupation turn to the small acts of the everyday to re-possess ordinary life. It is the same philosophy, of returning to the small acts of the everyday, which allows KBM to reclaim the cycle back as part of Kashmiri resistance to the convoy and the larger machinery of which it is part.

‘Have you ever come across an old man on the roads of Srinagar? ’ Thus starts the first post made by KBM on its facebook page wall. This man ‘Qawwam-u-din’ (or Kamaluddeen), rapidly assumes mythic proportions— very old then, probably a ‘hundred years old’ now, and ‘with a long white beard that was peculiarly pointed and twisted on the end’, he ‘used to pedal around slowly on his bicycle, wearing his achkan and topi when I was a child and proud owner of a small cycle myself. Local networks of rumor keep him alive: ‘I am told he still goes about on his cycle, though his speed is further reduced. ’ This infinitesimally slow pedaler becomes a beacon of hope for the child turned adolescent in 1980s Kashmir:

Through those nightmarish years of militancy — winter and summer he kept riding on his bicycle unfazed. Though I am told he did not live very far from our home, his distances were of a different order… for he had been sighted riding in other districts of Kashmir too — as far from my place as Khannabal (50 kms) and Bandipora (16th June 2013).

Riding through the roads traversed now traversed by military vehicles, he became a symbol for the conversion of the normal into the miraculous, and, today, ‘he, and people like him are the inspiration for this page’ (16th June 2013).

The example of Qawwam-u-din, whom Gowhar names as inspiration for KBM elsewhere as well, galvanized the first day of KBM’s facebook existence, but a cascade of other posts revealed various inter-related catalysts. The succinct ‘Buy bicycles and start riding them’ (16th June 2013) was followed by a reminder of utopian town planning that later became far more cavalier. But most importantly, KBM relates how ‘Today I rode a cycle after a long time. I rode about 3 kms to and fro from Soura and bought some medicine. Such distances should not require cars. ’ The short cycle ride in the present takes KBM back to the past, more than twenty years ago, when he had last ridden a bike through Kashmir: ‘As kids we used to cycle around and steal apples and swim in a small rivulet. As I grew older, once a dear friend of mine and I took a thirty-five kilometer circuit through the paddy-fields and wilderness, past the water bodies and hills, through the lake with our cycles in a boat and back home. We only ate tsochiweir and drank lassi on the way and we managed it fine. ’

But these memories are not merely those of a carefree adolescence. The wall post continues: ‘The year was 1990, the army was all around but we were oblivious of it and did not care two hoots. ’ If ‘that day will remain etched on my mind for ever’, then it is because, to the adult seeking new paths of resistance, the memory of cycling through the ‘paddy-fields, wilderness, water bodies and hills’ despite the Indian army’s presence is a powerful stimulus for action in the present. On 16th June, KBM proposed to ‘reclaim’ specific tracks as cycle routes, e.g. ‘the Pipe Bund that bifurcates Dal Lake from Naidyar Old Bridge to Nishat, explained in a later post as ‘the first fresh water pipe to Srinagar city from the Maharaja’s time’. In 2003, Gowhar had insisted that I walk down the Pipe Bund to Nishat as a means of understanding the lake dwelling community. KBM’s proposed ‘recce mission’ of the Pipe Bund to reassess the condition of the inner parts of the Dal voices an individual’s desire to reconnect with favorite parts of the city which have become remote even in the past decade. KBM allows the personal act of recollection/ reclamation to gain wider relevance. Contemplation on the efficacy of cycles predicates pollution and militarization as contiguous menaces: through cycling one can ‘take back’ roads from cars and trucks as well as convoys, ‘which cannot move on cycle tracks’. Not only will there be ‘fewer deaths’, but ‘we will be healthier as a people. ’

Weeds, reeds, wild greens and water horses
Walking on the Pipe Bund in 2003 on Gowhar’s instigation, I had come upon a whole range of activities that linked the lake dwelling communities to their immediate environment: from raising chickens and cultivating water vegetables on the floating gardens, also celebrated by Agha Shahid Ali, to weaving reed mats for ensuring warmer floors and homes as winter sets in. Children were walking to school and people were ferrying gas cylinders for kitchens in the same space. Existing in an amphibian zone in the shadow of the Zabarvan Mountains, the vernacular lifeworlds that the Pipe Bund traverses preserve a near-mythic continuity of normalcy in abnormal times. The normalcy is perceived by us under the sign of nature that has been the mode whereby ‘Kashmir’ has been consumed and appropriated since Thomas Moore wrote Lallla Rookh, but focusing on the Hanji (lake dwelling) community is one way of re-appropriating and transforming the gaze. The oft-photographed sublime shifts into quotidian gear; nature now inheres in the vegetables, water weeds and compost whereby the lake dwellers interact with their surroundings, shaping them and being shaped by them in turn.

The kitchen garden of Kashmir is a mode of resistance to political and cultural hegemonies. Agha Ashraf Ali, the father of the poet Shahid, cultivates the indigenous Kashmiri greens, haak, in his garden; maybe one day we will find an unpublished poem on haak by Shahid. In the realm of the published word, Mirza Waheed’s novel, The Collaborator, imbues the mother’s kitchen garden with an enormous significance that makes it one of the novel’s emotional centers. And, apart from fact and fiction, the garden’s delights are mobilized by Gowhar Fazili himself in a facebook note entitled ‘edibles of another time’, which moves between the now-familiar poles of childhood memories and adult hunger for resistance. As a child, he foraged in his parents’ back garden, not only for the sour things beloved of subcontinental children, but also, at the behest of adults, for ‘hand, obeji, sotsal, nunar, lisse’— wild leafy greens to be cooked for dinner. As an adult, he wonders if ‘the secret lives of his niece and nephew’ continues these traditions despite the onslaught of tetra-packed snacks, but this universal encroachment of modernity is nuanced by the specificity of life in a conflict zone: ‘why is this important? Because it was such joy and possibly among important survival skills inherited from our ancestors. It may even be important for resistance. During long drawn Jagmohanian curfews in [the] early nineties that sometimes spanned over months, we fell back on hand. ’

‘Edibles from another time’ was published on 15th July 2013, a month after the facebook birth of KBM. This temporal proximity confirms kitchen garden and bicycle as presenting, to the Kashmiri activist, contiguous strategies of resistance through resorting to the vernacular stratum of existence. The vernacularity can be homegrown (the vegetables) or indigenized (the cycle). What is important is that both categories of vernacular objects offer the alienated Kashmiri the possibility of re-connecting to nature through exposing the body to joy—whether the joy of foraging or the joy or cycling. Both activities involve putting the body back in contact with nature, regaining the carefree world of the child, and expending the body’s physical energies in order to sustain the activity, which, by its very definition, cannot be a one-off or momentary engagement. Indeed this is the mode of existence celebrated by the kafi from upper Sindh, ‘Ghoom charkha ghoom’ (spin, spinning wheel, spin), that exists in several memorable interpretations from Pathaney Khan and Abida Parveen to Junoon. Here, the repetitive act of carding cotton becomes a pathway to mystic self-realization which is nevertheless firmly rooted to the habitus of the region whose accent we hear in the song’s lyrics: these declare the hum of myriad spinning wheels as arising from the five rivers of the Punjab itself.

As vernacular activities rooted in a mystic-bodily continuum, foraging and cycling can take the Kashmiri even further: they connect up to a rhizomatic matrix that runs alongside/ underneath the takeover of the everyday by the Indian army. Participating in these activities, the Kashmiri subject can reenter previously closed-off pathways denied by the military presence in Kashmir and exacerbated by the seductions of modern life. Neither are these solitary acts: they are to be undertaken in the company of friends and family, and the words chanted and recovered on the tongue have to be in the vernacular of the Valley otherwise buried under the weight of Urdu, English and Hindi (each representing different histories of hegemony). Not surprisingly, within a few days of its existence, KBM announced on facebook the first of eight planned Zalgur events: long cycle rides in groups, through specific routes in the Valley. Zalgur, fittingly, is the Koshur word for ‘cycle’, and research prompted by my questioning has revealed the word as having been transferred to the rather humdrum bicycle from the realm of myth and legend: the zalgur was a mythical water horse in Kashmiri folktales. An earlier act of irradiating the quotidian realm is thus used for a new attempt at re-enchantment. Zalgur conveys resistance through serious play.

On the 22nd June, barely a week after KBM’s first facebook appearance, the first Zalgur event took place. A counter-convoy of zalgurists, including women and children, cycled from Naseem Bagh to Nishat Ishbar, thereby temporarily restoring to the Northern Foreshore Road its original purpose of being a cycle track.kashbike12 The event had been planned at least partially through a dedicated facebook event page. Indeed it might be argued that two Zalgur events took place simultaneously—one in the physical realm and the other in cyberspace, with several of the 110 attendees of the facebook event ‘joining’ out of solidarity or the pull of memorialisation. As one commentator from Montreal, Matteen Rafiqi, said: ‘I wish I could make it in person to honor the memory of my grandpa Ahmadullah Affandi of Bandipore. He biked to work as a teacher and back every day until a small accident in his 70s made it impossible. I will be present in spirit though. ’ But virtual and real were intertwined through the comments facility of facebook, which even prompted participatory interventions and repercussions. Thus, the initial starting time of 9 am proposed by KBM was altered to 7 am in response to a rather sensible comment by Jasim Hamid Malik, ‘Isn’t 9 am too late? Dawn breaks at 4, for God’s sake. ’

The adjustment of Weberian time to natural rhythms signaled a decolonization of the self from occupation not just by post/neo-colonial forces but those of modernity. (Later in the month, as ramzan started, further accommodation was planned for sehri and iftar- this will be discussed later in the essay). As indicated by the comments on Zalgur I’s facebook event page as well as wallposts on the KBM page a day after the event, this inaugural journey was a transformative one for its participants. New spatio-temporal experiences were enabled, which were often a revival of older habits. Thus KBM made repeated use of the phrase, ‘cycle pace’, as a way to admire anew the splendid natural beauty of the Valley. The physical experience of slowing down through cycling scrambles the views assembled first through the colonial panopticon which quickly became absorbed by the postcolonial state’s fantasy machine (Bollywood). This re-constituted gaze, tied to the labor of cycling, was subsequently reproduced on KBM’s facebook page through images of natural beauty juxtaposed with announcements of further Zalgur events, their itineraries, and duration in terms of kilometer lengths.

zalgur v zalgur iv zalgur ii

Rhizomes, small platforms and micro-level change
KBM’s facebook page reveals that seven further Zalgur events were planned, and at least some of these seem to have taken place with enthusiasm and fanfare. In keeping with the porousness of embodiment and disembodiment that I’ve been highlighting, even the promise of these events happening sometime in the not-so-distant future is as momentous as those journeys which did take place. In toto, the planning undertaken for Zalgur events II to VII map out a rhizome of routes and sites fanning outward from Srinagar. [photos zalgur viiia, viiib] From Cheeni Chowk, Islambad to Verinag (Zalgur II), to a return to the Pipe Bund (Zalgur III), and a sustained exploration of the Valley’s water bodies including Manasbal, Ahrarbal Falls and the famed Wular Lake (Zalgur IV, V and VI), the routes stretch from 11 to 66 kilometers and involve swimming and overnight camping. The Zalgur events start looking increasingly ambitious but also increasingly inviting. Photographs of vistas and sites first popularized by the colonial camera reappear on KBM’s page, but in conjunction with images of cyclists, tagged to reveal Kashmiri names, jumping into lakes and pedaling along the roads. The distant sublime is thus domesticated for indigenous enjoyment.kashbike16

The rhizomatic (re-) routing is accompanied by a deliberate attempt to distribute and delegate organizational control, as, accordingly to KBM, ‘a Bicycle Movement can only be localized and decentralized. ’ Whereas on 17th June, the appeal for mass involvement merely invited ‘personal anecdotes, ideas, visuals about cycling in Kashmir’ in order to support the movement, KBM’s later posts reveal strenuous attempts to recruit volunteers from different districts of Kashmir who could ‘autonomously coordinate cycling events’ in their respective regions. By 21st June, coordinators were announced for the districts of Kargil, Sopore, Srinagar, Anantnag and Islamabad, overwriting associations of ‘contentious’ place-names with visions for an ecologically sound future. At the same time, the cyclists’ re-immersion in the local economy was also invited: a photo posted on 17th June of two women buying and selling corn on the lakeside bears the caption: ‘While you cycle, take a corn break by the lake. It costs very little, yet it is priceless. ’
kashbike 5

The zalgur as vehicle is thus an ideal agent of molecular change that proceeds through rhizomes and small platforms. By 21st June, it was apparent that alongside the reclaiming of landscape, KBM aimed to bring urban life into the foreground. A photo posted that day of Mohd Shafi, proprietor of Srinagar’s United Cycle Works portrays him as carrying on with commerce—the stuff of living— in the midst of abnormality. Through his open windows we see other shops across the narrow street. kashbike 7Even as KBM remembers ‘having bought my first RMI branded cycle from the same shop when I was a small kid’ it draws Mohd Shafi Saheb into the zalgur rhizome by declaring him to be ‘not just a bicycle shop owner but a cycling enthusiast in his own right’, who, moreover, ‘liked the idea of The Kashmir Bicycle Movement. ’ Subsequently, KBM showcased other small bicycle shops, along with several demotic photos of cycles and cyclists variously at home in urban Kashmir.
kashbike 8
Not only did this strategy reveal that ‘there is a cycle available for every budget’, it encouraged people to establish ‘a personal rapport’ with cycle shop owners. The urge for the small platform made KBM laud even local facilitators or ‘cycle-khaars’ for organically sustaining the vernacular modern zalgur lifestyle: ‘they have traditionally been cycle mechanics or menders, even today we need to go to them for air pumps. Let’s celebrate these skilled workers…! ’ (21st June 2013).

Finally, another consistent use of the zalgur to envisage a new Kashmir is the return of women to the public sphere. [photo kashbike 15] kashbike15One of the first posts by KBM asserted the need to make cycling ‘enjoyable for women’ (16th June 2013), but on the 18th June a reality check awaited: ‘I had naively gone to the University in Hazratbal to fetch my wife on the cycle instead of a car. She refused to hop on saying that it would be fine in any other city, but she finds the misogynistic gaze of Kashmiri men too uncomfortable. It is very sad. We need to fix the male gaze in Kashmir to make women feel more comfortable. Also when enough women start riding bicycles, Kashmiri men will learn to live with it’. The utopian potential of the zalgur rescues KBM from despondency at this juncture as the poster can cycle back to the worlds of his childhood that magically reveal rays of hope in otherwise gender-unfriendly Kashmir: cycling past the house of his childhood friend to relive memories of swimming with him in a ‘gurgling stream’, he notes with pleasure that the house of the friend, now a married man, bears nameplates for both himself and his wife, both doctors. ‘Prosper my friend! ’ Indeed, the same magic zalgur earlier retrieves for KBM the hope that, despite massive urbanization, the apple orchards of Hazratbal still have ‘some green patches left and on those patches there are some residual trees and a couple of kids were still stealing fruit after school’ (18th June 2013).

During the last two weeks of June, then, through reminiscences, photographs and calls to action, KBM elaborated its early statement (17th June) of using the zalgur to reinterpret the quest for azadi through an environmentally conscious mode of action. ‘The movement promotes bicycles and cycling, because it is healthy, ecologically sound and stylistically cool. It brings us closer to people and nature, reduces dependence on money and carbon fuels, does least damage to the environment and gives us a sense of Azadi (freedom). ’ It went on to enumerate its strategies and objectives as to ‘reclaim certain tracks, paths, lanes exclusively for walking and cycling; identify routes that are still fit for cycling and promote their use and protection; carry out mass cycling events and expeditions; build a knowledge base about the history of cycling in Kashmir and its high points; chronicle landmarks, facilities, shops where cycles can be bought, hired or repaired; promote institutional use of cycles in various campuses, like the university, the engineering college etc where cycles may be lent from car parking/ the gate to various departments; lobby for pedestrian and cycle friendly development’, and, most importantly, ‘change attitudes to make people proud of cycling’. The preceding analysis confirms how through facebook, KBM’s objectives unfolded through mutually enhancing interventions in both real and virtual worlds.

Matters took another turn soon. On 2nd July we read the following post: ‘Kashmir Bicycle Movement offers deepest condolences to the families of the youth killed by the army in and around Sumbal, Ganderbal, Bandipore – the area we cycled around during ZALGUR IV. It makes me shudder to think that these boys could have been cycling with us. ’ The army’s killings of civilians at Ramban are currently occupying the centre of the discourse on and enactment of Kashmiri resistance, and it had a knock-on effect on KBM. The spectacular reclaiming of downtown scheduled for 9th July, Zalgur VIII, was indefinitely postponed. Its event page, created on the 9th July 2013, had described the itinerary thus: ‘Starting from Nowhatta chowk cyclists will proceed to Khankah-Moalla (Shah Hamdaan) and Maharaj Gunj via Bohri Kadal and then along Naala-e-Maar road to Aali Masjid Near Eid Gah and via Eid Gah – Hawal Link Road, breaching the fort wall through Sangeen Darwaza along Hari Parbat, Makdhoom Sahab Shrine to Kaathi darwaza, Gurduwara Chati Paadshahi and then along Mal Khah back to Nawhatta Chowk. ’ Planning the journey involved discussion on accommodating the cyclists to personal and community rhythms of the month of ramzan— including proposing that people cycle after sehri to offer morning prayers at the Jamia mosque (where women cyclists could avail of the dedicated women’s prayer space) and non-nimazi people guard the cycles outside (10th July 2013). By the 19th July, the volatile situation downtown led KBM to abandon Zalgur VIII in ‘response to the recent killings in Ramban and the consequent disturbances in Srinagar. ’

From clicktivism to cycle-activism: the best gift to Kashmir
Do the concluding sentiments of this post—‘The event will be rescheduled and is most like to happen only after the month of Ramzan. Please keep safe’—constitute but a vain hope? Given facebook’s own tendency to encourage what KBM derides as ‘clicktivism’ (17th July 2013), can KBM’s virtual presence compensate for the continuing vulnerability of Kashmir and Kashmiris to the juggernaut of Indian occupation? Yet looking at the facebook event page for the indefinitely postponed Zalgur VIII, I cannot help respond to two contradictory visual cues. The initial, euphoric event description is overwritten by the notice in capital letters, ‘POSTPONED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE’, but on the event’s cover photo, the panoramic view of the Jamia mosque remains, solid yet precarious monumentalization of an event which was to have happened in the future. kashbike14There is indeed room for philosophical reclaiming of the future perfect (tense).

The rhizomatic cycle-activism proposed and initiated by KBM does constitute a very real intervention into the fluid and unpredictable space of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, particularly its emotional epicenter, the Valley. What I have found remarkable in this movement, which I sincerely hope will be able to mount guerrilla-style cycle forays as and when the time is right again, is its simple elegance. Grab a cycle, feel the breeze in your face and hair, view at your own cycle pace the scenery that has made this space so desired by many and consequently so troubled, share the cycle pace and cycle view with your fellow travelers, and embrace, through the strain on your body, the body’s response to Kashmir. It generates collective fun, but also prompts serious reflection and—more importantly—action: ‘While we deserve all the fun we can have, we should always remember that this group has a larger goal and a commitment towards making Kashmir pedestrian and cyclist friendly regardless of their gender and class and in the process instill collective responsibility towards our home – Kashmir’. The cycle becomes an unlikely yet beautifully appropriate mobile vehicular mode of reclaiming place and identity, and it has been recognized as such by its new converts: as a quote from a newspaper article on the movement declares, ‘this is the best gift one can gift to Kashmir. ’

‘Cycling involves slogging’, declares KBM. ’ It means you have to miss your morning sleep to join your friends at some distance and carry your own burden. Associate with your fellows and make sure they all get to the destination safely. It builds bonds with real people who can then carry out other useful humanitarian or political causes with real love and commitment towards society’ (22nd June 2012). This, to me, is another manifesto for Naya Kashmir.

Ananya Jahanara Kabir is the author of Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir.  She is a faculty member at the Department of English Literature, King’s College London.


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