Photography ….. living life ….understanding life..
365 days 24 X 7 , Jammu & Kashmir
Photography at Basera-e-Tabassum
My association with BWF began, as an answer to my prayer for the children of Kashmir. I was in Kashmir in 2000 on assignment, photographing for a book called “Going to School in India” conceived and written by Lisa Heydlauff. The book talks about various ways an Indian child goes to school, their mode of transport, food, lessons and so on… across India. We went to Kashmir too. My heart ached as I walked silently through the streets of Kashmir, burdened by the melancholy, angered by my own apathy and inaction. I watched the children, photographed them.. . and left Kashmir with a sharp pain in my heart. I could not figure out what to do with that pain except for praying for the children of Kashmir for the next six years.
I met Bharati and Adhik in 2006 in Pune through my friend’s, friend’s mother. As if to see if I was serious about volunteering for the cause, they asked me to come to Kashmir and see the project with my own eyes. In August 2006 I went to Basera-eTabassum in Kupwara.
I desperately wanted to do something to help them protect their sense of expression, freedom and normalcy – which was – all but lost.
Art, as a tool, I felt was indispensible in this situation. At the time we were not in a position to hire a professional to teach the children. So I just decided to go ahead and do it myself. I knew nothing other than music and photography which I could teach. Photography clearly was the best choice at the time.
The journey began on a fine sunny morning with clear blue skies of October 2008. I sat together to understand how an image comes into existence. I wanted them to understand this fusion, this freedom and this power.
To once again clarify the underlying reason behind this, please allow me to quote Keshav Malik, an Indian poet, critic, arts scholar, and curator – “Why art? Why exhibitions? And to this question, a voice in me replies: Because though few people are destined to become practicing artists, all have something of the artist in them. Their lives can be infinitely enriched if only, they can be given sufficient experience of the arts and encouraged to make a constructive adventure of the use of their eyes. Such an adventure, stimulated and given direction by contact with arts, can be enormously life giving and add to individual’s all round enjoyment of life, and also raise his value as a member of the community.”
We started in October 2008. Travelling on the web of roads through the interiors of Kashmir, the little gang photographed the valley just as they were seeing it. There was not even slightest adulteration in this process. I did not teach them anything other than things like – how to hold the camera so it can be steadier. In 2009 five of the Basera photographers won national awards in an open contest held by National Council of Educational Research and Training, Delhi. In 2010 an exhibition of their work was hosted by and held at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library at Teen Murti Bhavan in Delhi. It was inaugurated by Dr. Mrs. Kiran Bedi and viewed by over a thousand visitors. A small film made on the journey of these photographers during this expedition was screened at the venue and was appreciated for the experience it gave to the viewers. The children stayed on the campus at NMML for 10 days and had the opportunity of interacting with many people of excellent calibre who were gracious enough to take out time to see the works of these little stars. Various educational activities such as communication workshop and a visit to the Independence Day parade were a part of this programme sponsored by NMML.
Encouraged by all this, we have now set out to create a book and a travelling exhibition. The main purpose behind this book and the exhibition is to give the children an opportunity to explore and express freely, tell their stories and grow as individuals through this experience – an opportunity that’s not available in Kashmir through mainstream schooling.
The second part of the endeavour is to take this book, exhibition and the film to people of the world. This is intended to share the spirit of living a proactive life even in the most difficult situations and even more so because it’s an honest struggle by the girls from one of the world’s hottest conflict zones. Discussions and symposiums to discuss and share the practical solutions to our challenges in the path of living contributive lives would be the focus of these forums.
This book will be photographed, written and by the children. Ofcourse there will be guidance from me and the designer and anyone who can share an inspiring tale. The basic approach is that each of them (four or six of them) is choosing a topic that is dear to them. For example Ishrat is choosing her mother as her topic. So Kashmir gets documented through the eyes of these children in their own intimate contexts. These are also their own stories told by them through images and words.
Where the project has reached now?
Recently one of our donors has graciously donated three cameras but with no accessories and that’s a little bit of a limitation for the girls. Another reason was that I need to make regular trips to Kashmir and I got caught in the trap of running out of money and then working to make enough to spare for the project and then spending it on a trip, shooting with them and then again running out of it. This year the gap has been big. It is definitely my fault that I have not been able to spare sufficient money to be able to make regular trips. The frequency of my trips needs to be atleast one trip every 45 days lasting about 4 to 5 days during which I can review, discuss, brainstorm and give them assignments for the next one month. The initial hand holding period is nearly over now but the girls are obviously inexperienced when it comes to making a book. It will be unfair to expect them to do it on their own. I also need to take the designer with me there every once in a while and have her sit with the girls and design a page with pictures shot by them. When the girls see the pages emerging with images shot by them on them, I am sure their excitement will go up 100 notches. I know this from the time when I saw their eyes as they first walked into the venue where the exhibition of their works was put up at Teen Murti Bhavan in Delhi. They were totally blown.
Where do I need help?
I need someone to partner with me in this struggle by buying me flight tickets when I totally run out of money on my own. The girls also need some accessories such as good quality camera bags and an extra lens.
Looking for a publisher and someone to fund the gaps when I run out of breath. I have me and a designer who is brilliant and loving. She will ready to go all out.
They have shot over 3 thousand images already and now ready to go full throttle but it’s because of my limitation it has come to a grinding halt.
I am not giving up…….and the journey continues..