Kashmir: Travelling Through Bakarwal Village Part 1
Director: Saeed Mirza
Duration: 00:24:13; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 29.016; Saturation: 0.075; Lightness: 0.245; Volume: 0.107; Cuts per Minute: 1.568; Words per Minute: 81.790
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 segment, the crew stops at a nomadic settlement on their way to Srinagar. These people are "bakarwals" or shepherds who travel continually between the plains and the snowy mountain paths of Ladakh, camping temporarily in makeshift tents with their sheep, goats, and other animals. Theirs is a fragile existence: at the mercy of the elements, of course, but also, caught between the militants and the army in the ongoing turbulence in Kashmir. Over a meal of parathas and "namkeen chai," Mirza and the crew have an in-depth conversation with the "bakarwals" and with one in particular: Basharat Ali. Basharat is an articulate and very expressive young man, and the conversation becomes a philosophical discussion on the nomadic way of life at a time of great political and social upheaval. Years later, in his book "Ammi: Letters to a Democratic Mother," Mirza remembers this conversation and calls Basharat "the poet of the high mountains."
A convoy of jeeps winds down the mountain roads.Mirza and the crew are looking for the "bakarwal" village, a small settlement of nomadic shepherds. Spotting some tents, they pull up by the side of the road.
The crew finds a spot with a good view of the camp. Framed through the car window, we see a little village down below in the middle of a clearing. The crew sets up their equipment.
SM: Who's making tea for us? What's your name? What kind of tea will you make?
Man: We'll make "namkeen chai" for you.
SM: "Namkeen chai?" Is that good tea?
Man: Yes, its very good tea.
SM: Ok. What's your name?
Man: Basharat Ali.
SM: What? Isharat Hassan?
Crew member: No, Basharat Ali.
SM: Oh, Basharat Ali? My name's Saeed.
Basharat: Why don't you come down here?
SM: Yes, we'll come and talk to you. Our whole unit has come here from Bombay to talk to you.
Saeed Mirza (SM) calls out to a group of men from the village, gathered in the clearing below.
SM introduces the crew to Basharat and the other villagers. One by one, each crew member comes forward and waves. SM briefly mentions each person's name, and where they're from. The crew seems to be, and is consciously presented as, emblematic of national "diversity." After introductions, they prepare to go down the mountainside to the village.
Basharat and the men (waving): Ok, come on down.
SM: See the cameraman, standing on top of the car? His name is Jangle, he's from Bhopal. And the one with the mike is Ravi, he's from Bombay. And this is Sumit, from Lucknow.
Shyamal (waves): And I'm from Bengal.
SM: He's from Bengal. And this is my wife, coming towards us, her name is Jennifer, from Bombay. This is Shai, also from Bombay. And Shaina, from Bombay. Now we're coming down there.
Shyamal: You didn't introduce him.
Sm: Oh, what's your name?
Shyamal: No, introduce him to them.
SM: Oh, and this is Ghulam Ali, he's one of you.
Basharat: Yes, yes.
The camera shows us some of the surroundings. The village is surrounded on all sides by tall trees, which seem to soar into the sky. The village is actually an assortment of makeshift tents, at the center of a small clearing. A rooster crows, a bird calls out.
The camera pans across the faces of a group of men- turbanned, bearded- as they watch our crew descend into the camp. While the nomads stride easily, the city-dwellers betray their discomfort with the muddy, slippery downhill path. They hold on to each other and walk gingerly, or else they scramble down hurriedly. We hear snatches of conversation in the background.
Jennifer: Oh, this is slippery.
SM: Jangle, be careful coming down.
They enter the village which, as we can now see, is a collection of maybe ten tents. A black dog barks fiercely as a group of men accompany our crew inside. One of the men pretends to throw a stone at the dog to quiet him down, but the dog keeps barking and growling. The camera shows us bits of the surroundings: the tall trees, the thickly wooded mountainside.
Bits of conversation:
SM: And who's Sajjad Ali? Oh we left him behind...
Basharat: Yes we put them up wherever we go, on the mountains, even in the snow-its fine.
SM: Who makes them?
Basharat: Our women...they're very strong and durable.
SM: Very nice. How long does it take to make them?
Basharat: Two months or so.
In the little village, men, women, and children look on curiously as our crew set up in Basharat's tent. We can hear Basharat talking in the background. A group of women sit around an earthen stove, cooking, A little girl begins to cry. They look up as the camera focuses on them: some look straight into the camera while others quickly look away.
Basharat: Wherever we go, even in the mountains, we put up these tents in the snow and pass our time.
Jennifer (examining the blankets laid out in front of them): Did your wife make these?
Basharat: Yes, yes. This one is made by my mother, who's now in Ladakh with the sheep and goat.
SM: and you know where she is? Its quite far, isn't it?
Isharat: Yes. Every week one man from there comes here with news, and a man goes from here to there with the news.
Jennifer, By themselves?
SM: How far is it?
Basharat: From here...roughly 400-500 km.
Jennifer: By foot? Or on horseback?
Basharat: They have to take a car to the Kashmir Valley and then it's a three -day journey by foot.
Shyamal: Just take basic ambience then we'll cut.
Basharat: Just as you people like driving by car, we enjoy walking around everywhere. We can walk morning till night, all night, no problem, we will not feel tired.
Shyamal (holding the blankets out in the light): The color of these look even better in the light here.
Basharat: Yes yes, no problem. I'm sitting back here because of everyone else, I can also move a little forward (into the light).
(They all move a little towards the tent opening).
Shyamal: No, no, we've come to your home.
Basharat: Its not like that, this is your home too.
Shyamal: Come forward a little...bhabhiji come here.
Basharat: Sister, come forward, all this is for you. Come see.
Shyamal: The light here looks even better, come forward.
Basharat: No, it will be difficult for sir.
SM: I'm absolutely fine here.
SM: You tell me, you tell me.
They're in Basharat's tent. Saeed and Jennifer Mirza sit on one side of Basharat, while Shyamal sits on the other. A few colorful woolen blankets are laid out on the floor in front of them, partly as a reflector as the tent is dark. Kids peer through the back of the tent. They try to position everyone so that they get the best possible light.
Basharat tries to explain the difference of choice, between those who move like they do, between cities and those who choose to live in the city. He talks about their love of walking, and how they can walk for days and nights..for instance the messengers who walk between the Valley and Ladakh, where his mother currently lives.
Basharat explains why his people have not been able to make "progress," and how the militancy has affected them. As Basharat talks, the camera focuses on a turbaned, bearded man outside the tent. A group of children stand and watch the proceedings.
Basharat talks of their preferred nomadic way of life, but how it is vulnerable. It has no sincere leadership or representation and meanwhile, it is caught between the militants and the security agencies in a dragnet of suspicion.
SM: You were telling me that your people have not been able to progress, have remained where they are. What are the reasons for this?
Basharat: The reason for that is, all communities advanced themselves, but...
SM: Yes, go ahead.
Basharat: After 1947, our people came here, from Afghanistan-we are the Khan clan. These people did not like to settle in the cities because they did not like living in cities. So they lived in the jungle, rearing dogs, sheep, goat, horses. And it was okay, living like that in the mountains. But in these last 7-8 years, the militancy has had a great impact on our lives, our livelihood. First the militants threaten us. And then the security forces come here and ask us questions, use force, suspect us of harboring the militants. They have finished us off. And you ask us why we have not been able to make progress-we had noone to protect us or stand up for our interests, provide us with any benefits. We have no leader who can represent us, be our advocate and improve our conditions. And even if we have had leaders, they've settled in the city, built houses for themselves, and looked after their own interests. They did not think of the poor.
Basharat: Our people have suffered great blows. Look at us, our children are uneducated, all of us are uneducated.
SM: If you want to study, if you want your kids to be educated, how will that happen? For if you wander around all the time, how will the kids go to school?
Basharat: The govt. has ways. Some people in our community have passed the matric exams.
SM: How did they pass the matric? I've heard that there are schools that travel along with you. Is that true.
Basharat: Yes. But they gave us mobile schools and hired teachers from Jammu and Bombay. And teachers from Jammu, Bombay, from cities, how will they be willing to travel along with us goatsherds? They can't live our kind of life for even one night because they're different, city folk used to a different way of life. Our life is in the jungles. And its in the media that these people have mobile schools, they're being educated. But there are no benefits for us, we don't even know what the teacher looks like!
Shyamal: The teachers remain in the cities?
Basharat: Yes, of course. Where do they come here?
Crew (probably Shaina): Couldn't you have teachers from your own community?
Basharat: Yes, there are some. We have tried to educate a few of your young people, some have passed the matric-like this boy has just passed the matric exams, this one standing right here.
SM: You have? What's your name?
Boy: Khadim Hussein.
We focus on the conversation between Basharat and Saeed Mirza. Basharat talks about the problems of education: the government provided mobile schools, but hired teachers from the cities who never showd up. .
Basharat: Sir, we went to the Chief Minister. For us, that's really a big deal, just like for you, reaching us here in the high mountains is a big deal. With much difficulty, we went to the chief minister and told him our situation. With a lot of trouble some of us had passed the matric. Get us some jobs, we said, make us doctors, or make us teachers, it will be of some use then. He listened to us. I guess he may have written a letter to some director or the other, who put the file at the bottom of a pile somewhere. It's probably still just lying there.
Sir, we want this, the govt doesnt have to give us jobs, we don't have to educated and we have no real desire to live in the city. But we should have our livelihood, be able to carry on with our work, our occupation. . But what the govt. has done is the land, which has been ours for generations, since our forefather's time, they're now closing it off and putting barbed wire around it. This was our grazing area, where our sheep and goat feed. If this land is closed off, where will they eat? They will die. And when they die, our livelihood is gone. Our lives, the childrens' future, everything is finished.
Young boys, older men listen intently as Basharat speaks. Basharat explains that what they really want, above all else, is that they should be able to carry on with their livelihoods. But theur way of life and their livelihood are increasingly under threat as the government has closed off much of the forest.. A group of little boys chat amongst themselves, then look into the camera. Then the camera pans slowly back into the tent where we see Basharat talking.
Basharat shows SM his rifle, and explains how it is necessary because they have to defend themselves against wild animals, who often attack at night.
SM: Now I'm going to sit there because if I sit here we can't see your face properly.
(He shifts position).
Basharat: With this, I have killed around "reech" (translate) and many tigers as well.
SM: Don't tell that to Menaka Gandhi-you know Maneka Gandhi, the leader. She has other opinions about this.
Basharat: Yes sir.
SM: Don't telll her about this.
Basharat: No, its not like that. If there are attacks on us at night, if wild animals attack our kids, our goats, we have to open fire just to defend ourselves, save our lives. We've killed comparatively few. And the jungle is full of "reech" and tigers. Without this we can't live or work, its as simple as that.
SM (to the woman): Did you make this? ...This one?
Basharat: Hey...are you getting the tea or not? Hurry up.
Shyamal: Where do you get these colors from? From the trees and plants?
Basharat: No, no we get it from the market.
SM (to woman): How do you like wandering around in the mountains with the kids?
Woman: Good, I like it.
SM: Don't you people get tired?
Crew: SILENCE PLEASE
SM: Don't you get tired, wandering around, setting up camp somewhere in the middle of a jungle?
Woman: No, we've been doing this since childhood, that's our lives.
Basharat: She's saying, this is the way we live since childhood, we don't get tired.
SM: You wouldn't want to live in the city?
Woman: This is what we're used to.
SM: Its in your blood, is it?
Basharat: yes sir. This is our way of thinking, feeling, our lives. We couldn't live in the bazaar for even one minute.
The camera shows us some of the life of the village. Men come and go. Women talk and laugh. Two little girls talk to each other. Saeed Mirza talks to the woman sitting next to Basharat, his relative.
way of life
SM continues the conversation with the woman, as Basharat translates when necessary. This is the life they're used to, explains the women, and even their children aren't used to any other way. They can't sit in schools for they would much rather wander in the mountains. As they talk, the camera gives us more glimpses of village life.
SM: how many kids do you have?
SM: 7? They don't go to school? You don't want them to go?
Woman: yes, we do.
SM: you do? Then why not send them?
Woman: They're with their mother.
Basharat: They're also in the mountains with the sheep and goat - in Ladhakh kargil where ur going, in the Himalayas.
SM: If you do want them to study, if they're roaming around in the mountains how will they study.
Woman: They're not used to any other way.
Basharat: Did you understand that?
SM: Oh that is their way of life, habit, They're not used to any other way?
Basharat: Yes sir.
Basharat: We don't get any benefits from the govt. at all, sir.
SM: They will probably say this: that you never stay put in one place, you don't settle anywhere, so how will they take care of you? You tell me, I'm not a govt man, I'm an ordinary man,
Basharat: Yes sir, yes sir, I understand.
SM: You tell me. Now if I say to you, that your kids should be educated, and you think so too, but how are schools supposed to function?
way of life
Basharat: Living and wandering around in the mountains, with God in our hearts, that's our life. If we stay put in one place, even here, we feel like we're in jail. Because on the mountains we can wander around in the snow, go anywhere we please in the cool fresh air, the fresh water, all different kinds of herbs and different kinds of flowers. What kind of life is it to just sit still in one place-here you slip a little and there you fall? Riding on horseback, that's life. What life is better than this in this world? Even for a badshah in America or Bombay or from Hindustan however grand their lives their lives are not equal to one person on the mountainside..all we are saying is our lives our livelihoods should be stable, they should remain as they are. Our places should not be closed off, our land shd be open, our livelhihoods shd carry on just as it always has. We're not prepared to get anything from the govt. Even if we're uneducated that's fine. Because we sleep in peace at night and in the morning wake up and go into the mountains. That's the beautiful life, the good life. What life is more than that better than that?
SM: I agree that there is no life better than that. I seriously agree with that, believe that.
Basharat: That's what I think
SM, No that's what I think too
Isharat: Theres no other life like this in the world. It's a life of complete freedom...Far far up in the mountains go where you please in the cold sweet air and sweet water (ASK: chisme), medicinal water that God has created for us, if we drink it a thousand diseases are cured. We never take any medicines for we have no need of them/. From these jaribootiyan the water is made and that's what our animals eat as well. And when we take their milk of make ghee it is this herbal/medicinal ghee that we're taking. This is why we have no illness in your bodies.
Despite the many problems they face, the life of the nomads is in many ways the best possible life, as Basharat eloquently explains. It is a life of freedom, a life of exhilarating independence in the midst of natural beauty. SM agrees: there can be no life better than this. The camera pans across some faces, focusing in particular on the face of a young woman.
way of life