It is not a book; an architecture of sorts. An architecture where labor undergirds love and discipline holds the weight of purpose. It’s like the tiered roof of a typical Kashmiri Ziyarat where each layer falls on the other ‘like the stanzas of a poem.’ May be it’s like an album artistically arranged to make the sense of time and space; different stages of development distinctly placed, yet each calmly fading into another to create a unitary pattern called life. The movement from monumental to colonial to post-colonial, then to modern and post-modern gives the feeling of an upward walk in a terraced Mughal garden. Reaching atop, the garden opens up to the beholder with all its elemental richness and an overwhelming expanse. Like in a Mughal garden, the elements in this book are so invitingly placed that gazing away from one is as difficult as is resisting the temptation to see the other.
As an entrance to the museum of beauty the jacket of this book is devastatingly attractive. One feels like transported to the bank of river Jhelum right opposite the Khanqah-e-Mu’alla. The water is exceedingly charming; the Khanqah appears like homely spiritual. The houses in the vicinity of Khanqah are so huddled as if standing in awe of the person with whom the place is identified. Then if you peep over the shoulder of the Khanqah, fort looks like a son hiding behind the loving, yet domineering, person of a father; feeling defended, though diminished. Probably it symbolizes the relation between power and spirituality in Islam. And the snow covered, sun draped, blue canopied mountain – it’s a fusion of beauty and majesty. As if God has arranged a special event of light and color to commemorate some chosen moment.
And now the title of the book that spreads like a caption to this picture. Here an anecdote would do. The great Persian poet Saib came to Kashmir. Talking to his contemporary in Kashmir our own Ghani- Saib made a wish. If only a verse of Ghani could be mine I would trade off my entire collection – Deevan. The verse was:
Daam Har Rang Zameen Bood Giriftar Shudaim
Apocryphal or not, but the point is this. Like the net and the ground mixing into each other to appear one – deceptively, the title of the book and the photograph emerge like a single picture – perceptively. And this single picture carries the force of the entire book that waits you inside the cover.
The wealth of the city ‘SRINAGAR’ is all for you; have it, and keep it. Keep it, to have it. The book tells us how rich we have been, pointedly dropping the message that how ungrateful, at the same time, we are.
INTACH- J&K Chapter has accomplished a huge task by producing the 2 volume document, titled Shehr-e-Kashmir under its project of mapping the Cultural Resources of Srinagar City. The bare detail of the 2 volume work is that it traces the making of this city by documenting the architecture dotting the City.
The book begins with a tone of mourning. In the Introduction, M Saleem Beg, Convener, INTACH J&K Chapter raises a lament:
Our journey into the modern times reflects a lack of sensitivity towards our rich heritage and the City is losing its character at a very fast pace.
Dividing the City into four zones the mapping has been done painstakingly. The photographs of houses, monuments, workplaces, community spaces, lofty spires, imposing exteriors, and captivating interiors are placed so brilliantly that it does a running commentary on the making of this city. The details accompanying these photographs are understandable to even a layman, allowing a common reader the pleasure of reading some of the finest architectural details, besides relishing the aesthetics of layout. That the book deserves a place on everyone’s shelf goes only without saying.
Doing the job in a place like Kashmir with such a focus and discipline can deservedly lay the basis for ‘an integrated urban development plan’ where heritage informs projects ensuring ‘people-centered and ecologically appropriate form of development.’
A sense of exhaustion is displayed after accomplishing this fantastic project by hooking this onto the ‘legislative and administrative measures.’ Though no disagreements on this – absolutely none. The legislative and administrative measures are compulsively needed to guard the wealth of this City; to really turn it into a ‘global reference’. But the point, more real and moving, is about ‘awakening and consolidation of public opinion.’ Looking at how the City is controlled and how its exterior is mutilated ‘as if by design- the awakening has to produce a public movement. That movement can actually push for those structural changes needed to expect administrative and legislative initiative. This book can go a long way in creating the movement to make Srinagar the city of its own people.
If this book can inspire some other individuals and institutions to take up projects that animate the story of our City, it can strengthen the foundations of our being. It is not always that governments can do the documentation. Individuals and groups can produce encyclopedias.
One last point not to be missed. The article by Romi Khosla entails a debate. It’s provocative, though the provocation is very subtle. The author might not be actually up to what the text finally does. Saying that ‘Kashmir is located within the cultural context of the Indian sub-continent’, refuses to read like a general statement when it’s accompanied by an argumentative detail disapproving any ‘effort to invent authenticity and purity.’ There might not be anything like ‘pure unadulterated Kashmiri Architecture’, but there must be something unmistakably Kashmiri in all the diverse forms of architecture spread in the cities and towns of Kashmir. Subsuming that distinction into a vagueness called Indian sub-continent creates a problematic in Kashmir. Historical and geographical overlaps in Kashmir must be approached in ways that disallow two ugly things to make a presence. One, the beautiful themes like Difference, Accommodation, Diversity, and Democracy must not appear suspect. Two, themes like Pure, Authentic, Fundamental, and Identity – which belong to the realm of Passion, Emotion, Crisis, and Inquiry – must not morph into fascism and violence.
Thank God, Shehr-i-Kashmir does none.
Mehmood ur Rashid is a writer based in Kashmir.