Kashmir: Conversation with Fishermen on Dal Lake
Director: Saeed Mirza
Duration: 00:25:52; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 95.637; Saturation: 0.026; Lightness: 0.237; Volume: 0.173; Cuts per Minute: 1.237; Words per Minute: 76.761
Summary: In 1997, Saeed Mirza and his film crew traveled the length and breadth of India to make “A tryst with the people of India,” a documentary that marked fifty years of Indian independence. What has “independence” and “freedom” really meant for ordinary people across the country? How have they experienced modern India’s “tryst with destiny?” Mirza hoped to get the people’s perspectives on fifty years of freedom through conversations with a wide range of people across the country. As part of this trip, Mirza and his crew also traveled through Jammu and Kashmir, talking to a range of people from Jammu to the high mountains of Ladakh.
In this part, Mirza and his crew are at the famed Dal Lake in Srinagar. The lake is famous for its idyllic beauty, its flora and fauna, the houseboats and shikaras that float on it. At the time that the crew travel to Dal Lake though, tourism and all other industries have suffered because of the turmoil of the early 1990s. And as the crew find out, the predominant mood here seems to be characterized by fear and despair. They first stop at a small fishing village and try and talk to some of the fisherfolk. While they are friendly enough, though, it is clear that these people are not ready to open up about their lives, definitey not to strangers with cameras. And then, a little further on Dal Lake, Mirza and the crew talk to their boatmen, two young men named Javed and Parvez. They are more willing to talk than the fishermen, certainly, but they talk of a fear, the kind of fear that makes people too afraid to say anything at all. And, of a kind of suffering that’s almost incommunicable. “Its too hard…if you were Kashmiri, you wouldn’t be able to answer these questions either.” Says 19 year old Javed, their tour guide on Dal Lake.
Fisherman (FM) : Yes, that's absolutely true. Our fathers and grandfathers were also doing this work. This is what we do every day.
SM: And you earn enough?
Man: What to say. Even if we don't its not as if we can do something else…
SM: What do you think about the situation in Kashmir today?
Man: Its under some control only because of the army. But not without the army.
Saeed Mirza and the crew stop and talk to a small fishing community at Dal lake. They talk to one of the men, who sits outside his home, surrounded by a group of men and children.
Dal lake, Srinagar
SM: So how is the situation in Kashmir now?
Man: For the last eight years, it hasn't been good. Its become a little more normal now, slowly.
SM: Are you happy about that?
Man: Yes, I'm happy.
The camera pulls back to reveal the children sitting on the steps around our main speaker (henceforth, FM). Some of them watch, some are busy playing. The camera pans across their small house: we see a woman at the window, looking out.
As the camera focuses on the woman at the window, we see that she is holding a child in her arms. The camera moves back to FM, who is distracted by the attention-seeking children.
Crew (Shyamal): The water in Dal Lake has become very bad, hasn't it?
Man: Yes, the water is bad that's why there are no fish here. There are fish up ahead.
Shyamal: The water is good up ahead?
Fisherman: Yes…the water is very dirty here, all the dirty water from the city is dumped here.
Shyamal: That's not good for the children is it?
FM: They don't drink this water.
Shyamal: But they touch it, play with it…
The kids bother you a lot don't they?
FM: Well, you have to watch them. Or else they might fall into the water…
Now the boat is dangerous, the water has also become dangerous, what do we do.
SM: All the trouble that's been happening in Kashmir for the last 7-8 years—has this affected your family?
FM: No it hasn't affected our family, I have to tell the truth. There's been some impact on our work, but not on our people…
(Another man says something in Kashmiri)
FM: If I lie, I have to answer to God. To be honest, it has affected our business, our livelihood. Not in any other ways.
We focus on FM as SM asks him about how the situation in Kashmir has affected his family. Two men stand and watch behind him; the children are restless.
Crew: What do you want for Kashmir?
SM(repeats): What do you want for Kashmir?
FM: Us? Well…we want what all the people want.
SM: And what is it you want?
FM: What the common person wants, what everyone wants. I don't know what the people want.
SM (repeats): What do you want?
FM:But whatever everyone wants, what all the big people want.
SM: You're not speaking from your heart. You're not telling me what's actually in your heart. And I'm a friend.
FM: People want…happiness, to be in a good situation. The Muslims want…freedom, they want Islam.
SM: What about peace?
FM 2: Salaam Aleikum
SM: Aleikum Salaam.
FM: We're poor people, we have nothing to do with politics, we don't have anything to say about it.
SM tries to probe into his views on the situation in Kashmir. It is obvious, though, that FM is not willing to open up. He is very guarded in his responses.
FM finally admits that he does not want to talk about politics or the state of governance. The children come and go, and he takes a little boy into his arms. But what does an ordinary worker like him have to say about politics, he asks.
SM: I've seen that when I talk to people in Kashmir, they're very cautious about what they say. They are very quiet, keep to themselves. How has this happened?
FM: If you ask us about our business, we can talk. But not about politics, we have nothing to say.
SM: You will not say anything about politics?
FM: No, we won't talk about the state of politics. You ask us about our everyday business, what's happening with our work, we can tell you.
SM: But not about politics?
FM: no not about politics.
SM: But business is linked to politics isn't it?
FM: Its separate. Politics is one thing, business is another thing. Yes, politics might affect your work, but thinking about politics, talking about it, being political, is different. We're workers, laborers, what do we have to say about politics?
SM continues to talk about the situation in Kashmir. The other men watch as FM talks. Though they smile and are friendly, they are all, also, very, very guarded. FM explains why.
SM: A little while ago I met a gentleman. He said that there used to be so much laughter in Kashmir, so much joy. Now, there is much less laughter.
FM: If that's what they have to say, they must be right.
FM: The last eight years the situation has become worse, I don't have to say that, the whole world knows it. But how have we got through all these eight years? There's a way of acting, of talking. If one party comes, we keep quiet; if the other comes we also keep quiet.
SM: I know this.
FM: You know it.
FM continues to explain as the other men and children look on. There is an extended period of silence.
SM: But think of it this way, I have a friend who has come to listen to what you have to say.
FM:If the militants come, we have to go along with them, what they have to say. If the army…if the Indians come then we have to go along with them. If both come, if one of them comes, it is like this.
SM: Its true
SM (to crew) Silence. Just take shots.
SM now asks their boatmen to translate what FM is saying, as he is more comfortable in Kashmiri. The camera focuses on a little girl, who sits and watches at a little distance from the group. A three way conversation now ensues.
(SM asks the boatmen to translate)
SM (to FM): You talk to them in Kashmiri, and they will translate for us,,,no no, I am talking to Javed, please come here.
Javed (translates): He's saying that if you come here and do an interview, if you can do something to help, they will be very grateful.
SM: But you have to tell me first what your problems are, I want to know, I'm trying to record it, but you people are quiet.
FM: Your question is this, the govt. says everyday that it wants to help poor people (then continues in Kashmiri)
Javed (translates): He's saying the govt. says that it will help poor people, but in actuality it does nothing.
SM: I'm asking not just about you, what are the major problems the people of Kashmir face?
FM: That I can't tell you. I can't talk about the broader problems that people face.
The three way conversation continues, with FM speaking sometimes in Urdu/Hindi. Sometimes in Kashmiri
SM tries to ask them again about the problems they face, but again, they refuse to talk about politics and fall silent. The children get restless and start becoming noisy.
SM: Kids, kids, please just be a little quiet.
Javed (translates): he's saying that they've gone to the govt. asking for jobs for their kid,s but the govt. has done nothing.
SM: You're asking the govt. for jobs?
FM: Yes, we ask, but we don't get.
SM: But the jobs are with the Indian govt, right?
FM: We're not asking for people with no education,but for people who have been educated, have passed the matric…we ask but we don't get.
SM: You are a worker. I have seen that in Kashmir there is a big army presence, there's the BSF, CRPF, the militants are also here, what do you feel about all this?
(FM and Javed talk in Kashmiri)
FM: This is a political issue, now you're asking me about politics, we don't have anything to say about it.
FM 2: We're workers just doing our work, raising our kids, we don't have anything to say about this.
SM: Ok, ok.
Javed (translates): He's saying they are poor people—there are big, rich people who will be able to answer such questions.
FM: We might make 50, 60 or 100 Rs , it doesn't make a big difference to us. The big people with big businesses, it might have made a difference to them.
(They speak in Kashmiri)
SM: What's happening, sir?
The camera focuses on the group as the conversation continues. A younger man sits on the steps, the children surround FM.
SM and the crew are still not able to make the fishermen open up. They say their goodbyes and leave. Their shikaras move away slowly from the little fishing colony.
SM: It looks like few people are really willing to open up and speak from the heart.
Javed (translates): He says that noone in Kashmir will do that. Noone here can speak from their heart. Everyone is scared.
(There is some silence and they talk in Kashmiri).
SM: Thank you so much, sir. Let's go.
The crew move on, rowing along on the lake. They pass a boat carrying all kinds of household provisions: mostly, kitchen objects, like cups, saucers, bowls, various kinds of containers. Music plays in the background.
The crew row up the lake in their shikaras. The water looks mossy, green and deep, and surrounded by trees and shrubs on both sides. It suddenly seems very quiet. They pass another tourist boat.
SM: Why don't people in Kashmir talk about what's really in their hearts?
Parvez: Everyone wants to live. What if they say anything wrong? Even if we're just taking around, if we say anything, we might get killed. And then our brothers may also take up arms. That's why people are quiet. Because everybody wants to live. This is why noone will talk openly—they are scared. Now if we say anything about the army, they will come here, catch us, arrest us. If we talk about the militants, they will kill us. And we all love life, want to live. So just ask questions that we can answer.
SM: This is what I was asking…Javed, is this the truth?
Javed: Yes sir, he's speaking the truth.
Parvez: At one time, we all used to earn well. Everyone was happy. Now things have changed, there is so much poverty. Those people you met, they were crying inside. But they won't say anything. For the army might come and say, what are you doing, why are you saying this? Go do your work.
They stop for a while on the water. SM talks to the two boatmen who have been guiding them around the lake. We see SM, Jennifer, and Shyamal in their shikara while Parvez and Javed sit in another boat across from them,
Parvez continues to talk. SM is silent, for the most part. It looks like a bright, sunny day on the lake but the mood, overwhelmingly, is gloomy.
Parvez: If you ask us something, we will answer to the best of our ability.
(SM is silent).
Parvez: We want things to be alright in Kashmir. We want that there should be peace and love amongst us. This is what we want. We don't want fighting…some have lost their sisters, other sisters have been raped. Some have lost two brothers, or one, sisters, fathers. Who's going to tell you what's in their hearts? There is so much sadness here. Everyone is suffering. And then there are no jobs, even if you go looking. If we ask the govt. for jobs, they say they will do this, they will do that, but they do nothing.
SM: Are you scared of us? No?
(Parvez shakes his head, no).
SM: Are you frightened of me Javed?
Javed: No sir, not at all. Why should I be frightened?
Sm: No frightened of us, because we're recording…I'm just asking, I don't know. You're young, that's why I'm asking. You're a young man, so I get worried, why should young people be frightened? It makes me feel strange, it worries me.
Crew: This is your country.
SM: You're from here, it seems so strange that you're scared.
Javed: We know what we've been through. If you were Kashmiri, perhaps you too wouldn't have been able to answer this question. Noone can speak from their hearts. Its too hard.
The camera moves quickly from Parvez to the crew, and then to Javed. SM talks about how the fear and suspicion that Kashmiris feel is deeply disturbing.
Parvez: The youth have a lot of problems here. There's the problem of poverty. And so many have died—someone's sister, someone's brother, someone's father. We just want peace, we want that things should be ok. Nothing else. Why would we want trouble? If things are ok that will be better for us. Now what do we make, we might make 200, 300 Rs. During the monsoons, we just sit around, earning nothing. And if we go to the govt. asking for help, for jobs they say come tomorrow morning, come day after, we will help you, we will do this—but they do nothing.
It is true that things have got a little better. With the grace of God things will become better.
The conversation on the shikaras continues. Parvez talks; Javed is silent.
SM: Yes things will get better, because it can't go on like this. I'm saying this, though I don't know how things will get better. I just know things have to get better. I don't know when, but things will get better.
Parvez: With the grace of god, things will improve.
People in Kashmir just want it to get better, that's all. They just want to be able to work, earn, feed their children. Even the kids suffer from tension. Before the trouble started they could wander around the place, now the army doesn't even allow that. This is a big problem.
We just want things to be alright. If we get some help because of you, that will be good. We want customers to come like they did before.
The green trees and the water surrounding Parvez and Javed look picturesque, but the story they tell is one of suffering.
Parvez: If we say something good, then maybe it will help us…
SM (to Javed): How far have you studied?
Javed: Bcom ist year.
SM: Bcom ist year.
What do you want to do Javed?
SM: I want to study, finish college. And then, some job, govt. service. I don't want to be in the tourist business.
SM: Why not?
Javed: What's the use? In the last 7-8 years we have suffered a lot. A lot.
Jennifer: How long have you been working?
Javed: With tourists? 12 years.
Jennifer: And you're 19 years old?
SM: So you've been studying and working?
Javed: Over here when a kid is 10-12 years old, they're put in the tourist business.
We focus on Parvez, and then Javed, as they sit on their boat. The camera shifts to Javed as SM and Jennifer begin to ask him questions about his work and ambitions.
Javed: This work has been coming down through the generations. But no more. There's no certainty in this line of work anymore.
Shyamal: I learnt two Urdu words today—"dhaishat?' and "siyasat."
SM: He says he's learnt two Urdu words today—"daisat" and "siyasat." I explained it to him, "daisat" means "dar" and "khop." "Siyasat" means politics.
Shyamal: He taught me the real meaning, but in your expression and from your eyes I understood the real meaning….its wrong.
SM: Should we go? Come, let's go back to the hotel.
We might take some shots on the way.
Jennifer: What's this other boy's name?
SM: What's your name:
Sm: Let's go.
The conversation with Javed and Parvez winds down and SM and the crew decide to head back to the hotel. The camera pulls out from Javed's face to reveal the crew—the cameraman and the sound person holding up the mike, in another shikara. They get ready to leave.