Wednesday, May 5, 2010


There is always a folder on my desktop called "PROJECTS." It's more encouraging than anything realistic, like a folder titled "YOU ARE DOING THINGS."
In 2005 I took a mother-daughter bonding trip to Kashmir with the intention of 1) studying for the GRE and 2) doing "a project."

Project is my favorite word, because it can mean anything. I think of newbies all the time. Science experiments (spurred from Madeleine L'Engle), diaramas (based on nostalgic memories of looking out my parent's bedroom window and wondering, "what's out there...?"), recordings of people that make me wish I didn't have the memory of a goldfish, and self-improvement efforts that in being projects at all make me feel good about myself to the point where I don't have to follow through.

My project in Kashmir in 2005 was to write a meaningful piece on the plight of Kashmiris, accompanied by photographs. I did not come prepared with a list of questions. I assumed I knew what I was supposed to want to know. I asked all the right questions to all the right people. After all I had nothing else to do but drink tea and read Salmon Rushdie. In the end, my aunt who teaches English and could articulate it with all the nuances I was missing, informed me that I didn't really get it. People needed food and jobs. As for Azadi, people hardly talked about it anymore.

Not the case today. Some people say Kashmir is not a war-zone because we don't resort to violence, we adopt non-violent protest. Others, including the Indian media, only refer to the stone-throwing by young boys as the proof that Kashmir needs to be tightly secured. Based on what my own family has had to endure, I'm not sure I can ever say that Kashmir is not a warzone, and my information is not based on articles in the newspaper, its just based on what my family says. Which is biased based on experience, versus being biased based on the particular books or articles one reads.

All I can do is break it into pieces.What is the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? How can we approach the general lack of education about Kashmir and Godwilling it will not resort to the possibility of a parallel to why most Americans now know what Islam is? How do we know what to believe from anyone when there are so many conspiracy theories? I know these aren't the questions that kids my age schooled in international relations or foreign policy would ask, but since I decided to spend five years reading the literary theories of dead white men (and the occasional woman), these are my questions.

I tried to interview my mother yesterday, a list of questions prepared, as we sat through our noon-day yukney (lamb with milk curry and every possible amazing spice you can imagine) bliss. She kept contradicting herself or asking why I cared or asking how should she know?

I don't read all the articles. They all contradict each other. But I talk to my family. I suppose this goes hand in hand with my obsession with oral histories- wanting to record what real people are going through, not just considering the official signings and dealings of complex political situations. I am not saying that this information is not important, but it's just not what I'm interested in. I remember reading about the Muduwannah reform in Morocco a few years ago, and there were countless documentaries on how the actual change in law was 1) protested by many 2) not implemented 3) many didn't even know that there had been any changes.

When it comes to daily life, sometimes the actual law is not what governs the experience of the people. I was curious, so I did what I am totally mediocre at, and asked someone about it.

These are small excerpts- [I "re-spelled" some of this person's words to make them more clear, mostly making it less slang and more understandable to those unfamiliar with English slang spelling. Most things I left as they were.]

"It's almost a month since all this started and our chief minister is holdng an all party meetng tmrw.....guess he was sleepn tll now. The only thng he did waz called in impose curfew."

(Which is still going on).

"...ppl say indians say we kashmiris want to merge wid pakistan but its not true - most of the ppl in kashmir want a autonomous state...evn ppl posting on facebook r under surveilence now..."

I told my mother about my conversations with my family. She doesn't know what facebook is or how I even communicate with them through email, and especially, why I am asking questions about the current conditions. But as things get worse I think she is catching on. For now I am no official reporter, I can only report the situation on the ground as told to me by my family.

Meanwhile mom says, "This is hardship they have to go through. Kya karan? It's not up to us."