Kashmir - A Meeting with the Bhand Troupe of Akingam
Duration: 00:31:39; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 33.972; Saturation: 0.131; Lightness: 0.303; Volume: 0.065; Cuts per Minute: 9.478; Words per Minute: 58.291
Summary: Two interviewers in Akingam, interview a troupe of Bhands. The interview takes place in a sylvan orchard. Sounds of the highway, passing trucks can be heard.
There is, throughout the interview, a sense of a deep contained bitterness/sadness at the situation, evident in the somewhat withdrawn faces, and the sometimes elliptical answers of the interviewees. At the same time, theirs is a craft of social commentary, and even in this very extreme situation, they do sometimes make a funny joke about the situation that is not always bitter. The difference of life experience renders the interviewer’s questions (inevitably?) simplistic? The well researched interviewer sometimes seek complete statements of socio political facts he already knows, or tries to understand what he has known, in the light of these personal histories. The interviewer tries to pick up from a lead about the emptied houses of the Pandit Bhands, to lead the talk up to particular facets of that situation- the greater prosperity of the Pandits, for instance, the possible ill treatment of the Muslims. The interviewee points instead towards a sense of shared previous histories, and is silent about anything beyond. A certain circumspection exists in the answers as many questions are seen, in this landscape, as being charged questions.
It is a landscape of suppression and many kinds of continuing injustices, many kinds of feeling implicated even, which has affected personal lives. The words of the conversation seem to float on clouds of the same.
At the same time, there is a very ready hospitality, and warmth even, like there is no feeling of resentment towards the interviewers, there is even the desire to have that difficult conversation. Everyone is sitting out in the open, in a very gently beautiful setting… it is a setting, we are told, that the people are deprived of freely using now. Their routines have become circumscribed a lot within the walls of their home.
Vehicle runs past shops with goods hanging at the doorways, past houses with walls of thin bricks, typical of the landscape. We see the countryside soon, and then again, some more brick buildings flanking the road. Like we have left one place and come to another.
Craggy mountain, camera pans down, and in the far distance we can see small figures of men working
Metallic sounds, sounds of a man's voice just making sounds that keep time with the strenuous rhythm of work.
The sun bears down.
A closer shot, we see an old man and he is probably straining under work.
A sense of the particular labour required to live in these regions. Possibly a government commission/an army commission to build a road, clear a route?
They manage to dislodge a stone, it falls down and out of frame. The older man looks down and then, with his foot, dislodges and throws down another loose stone and then looks down, saying something in Kashmiri.
Sounds of a truck as the men carry on, attacking other stones.
One man works with a pick axe, at the ground, two men and work on a slightly lower level of ground, with another implement.
Camera composes a shot coming down the craggy face of the hillside, past the men at work, to where the large dislodged boulder has fallen, on the floor of the hill.
Another piece of rock is broken out of the rock face, pushed to the edge and pushed overboard.
Camera pans from where some men are working at a lower level, looking like they are standing waist deep in the rock face before us. Across a straggle of a tree with a few surprises of fresh green and pink leaves on it, to where another small group is at work.
An orchard. Camera moves across a group of four men walking in, and stays with a man in a white cap, it finally leaves him to pan across to where there are rows of trees. A woman walks into the frame, a bolster hanging over each arm. The men watch her, a sheet is spread on the ground and the camera stays on the still face of the older man with the white cap.
No sound throughout this shot.
Camera zooms out, older man with still face, a white cap on his head, stands still, and at his feet lays a sheet and the bolsters.
He looks away and points, camera zooms in, no sound, camera starts moving out again.
He points another way, his hand spans the land, his fingers pointing, he seems to be indicating something and his face looks troubled.
Camera pans, deer in distance, blossoms on tree. Camera unsteady.
Camera pans to man's face to get focus, white blossoms overhead.
Interviewer starts a question, stops because of woman's voice, man holds out hand to ask her to be silent.
Question: The land that you have here- where is it, you were saying?
Man: The house is that side… the land is that way.
Interviewer: What do you grow there?
(Long silence, maybe the interviewer has not understood. He lets it pass)
Interviewer: And these trees that can be seen so far on- is the land only till Akingam, or even further?
Man: Yes, Starting from our house, all the way till here. Till this last house…
Man speaks in Kashmiri to someone off screen. He says it is sad, the absence of the Bhat Bhands, their empty houses.
Man: That is where the Bhat Bhands lived, it feels very sad, very empty(without them)
Interviewer 2: That day in Ainon, that maskara/comic performer, your elder, who performed for us…? Where is his house?
Man: … that way…the one with the beard? He lives that way.
Camera moves over the trees, pulls out of a short tree laden with white blossoms, white butterflies flutter around.
One of the middle aged men, who seems to be some kind of authoritative figure, talks of the way traditional artists, in this case Bhands, have their own neighbourhoods. He is indicating the neighbourhoods around, and also talking of the disappearance of neighbourhoods, the rents in the social fabric. He talks of the current absence of the other communities from the landscape and the real loss, the gap it has left.
Interviewer 2: And the other crew members of the Bhagat, are they spread out... or?
Older man: No, they are not all here. Out here, there are- one, two… three, four, five… Five of us are here. The others … This is a mohalla- a neighbourhood?
Older man: Yes, it is a mohalla.
Other middle aged man: There are two three such mohallas here, but the people are living in different places. Now in Akingam there is only one (such) neighbourhood, this Bhagat neighbourhood. As for those who are in Mojipura, there are three mohallas there. The rest are here in (unclear)… those are on the road. Those artists are linked to our theatre. The other women from Bozgaam, they are also with us.
Questioner 2: But in Akingam there is only one?
Middle aged man: Yes, in Akingam there is only one neighbourhood.
Questioner 2: And that has four/five families?
Middle aged man: Yes, five families
Questioner: It is a very beautiful place, Akingam?
Middle aged man: (smiles)…Beautiful it is…
Questioner: Really, of all the places we have seen so far, I liked seeing this.
Middle aged man: Beautiful… it was beautiful before, before 1990.
Questioner 2: Has it reduced, is it less green? It is not to do with green?
Middle aged man: One kind of flower cannot make a garden it needs many kinds of flowers.
Middle aged man: Whether it is Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian…in this manner.
Middle aged man: We have a temple here, a Shiva Parvati temple
Middle aged man: Our programs used to happen there most of the time… earlier
Here Ram Navmi is also celebrated a lot.
Interviewer: Where is that temple?
Middle aged man: The temple is adjacent. There is a camp there now.
Questioner: An army camp- in the temple?
Middle aged man: No, adjacent.
Questioner: So, do you go to the temple?
Middle aged man: No, how can we? Questioner: Who goes?
Middle aged man: Since 1990
..Nobody. Now it is in given to them. Now even we don't know what is there, these days. Because that area is in their hands these days.
Middle aged man: Yes, meaning, in the hands of the paramilitary forces. Their bunkers are up there.
Interviewer: We heard that there was firing here last night?
Middle aged man: This was last evening itself, when I was sitting here last evening... six militants were going this way
Questioner: You can recognize who is a militant?
Middle aged man: No.
Questioner: By looking?
Middle aged man: By seeing- well… they have luggage, they have weapons… their gait, their stance are all particular
Older man with cap: Like this…
Interviewer: So, you just have a (unclear), nothing else
Older man with cap: Yes
Interviewer 1: That is also a weapon, is it not?
Older man: Yes
Middle aged man: Peace- Aman- wins, we are with Aman. That is all, we don't want anything else
Interviewer: Your brother was with us in (unclear) he talked a lot with us…
He was saying that out here there is a lot of- on your movement there is a lot of…
Middle aged man: Pressure.
Interviewer: So when your group has to meet, or…Can you do rehearsals?
Middle aged man: Reherseals can be done by us, but at home, can't in the open.
Interviewer: You mean you cannot stand in the garden/orchard and rehearse?
Middle aged man: Can do it on the sly.
Interviewer: Only on the sly?
Middle aged man: Yes, you are here right now. But no one knows what is happening. If someone was to come to know, by the evening… Allah knows what might happen by the evening
By the evening, we cannot say anything/talk of this.
But we have nothing to do with anyone
When we don't disturb anyone's work, why should our work is disturbed?
The middle aged man talks of how the local temple of Shiva, Parvati, where they once performed during Nav Ratri, is now taken over by the military, out of bounds for the Muslim bhands… therefore, in the given situation, for all civilians.
The interviewer asks about an incident of firing the previous night, the man says, yes, there was firing, moreover, that he saw six militants pass by him the previous evening. On the somewhat naïve and inevitable enquiry about how he recognized them as militants, he begins to list the visual signs. The older man breaks into a short impromptu performance of a militant's walk, using his own encased musical instrument as the 'gun', evoking laughter.
The middle aged man in the troupe skirts a question about what side they are on by saying they are with peace. Or perhaps he gives what is his genuinely felt opinion in the situation.
They talk of restrictions on open air reherseals, for instance, this very orchard is out of bounds. For instance if someone was to know of this interview itself, by evening, all hell would break loose.
Older man in white cap: No one has bothered us… never.
Interviewer: We were coming on the highway some time ago; such a long convoy was on it… So they were not allowing private vehicles to overtake them
They would hit with a stick.
Middle aged man: Yeah that.
Interviewer 1: We had said we would come by nine, that is how we got late- we had left by a quarter to eight.
Middle aged man: The convoy comes out in the morning, 8 a.m. onwards convoy is out
Till 9, 9.30, 10.
Interviewer: We were shocked (unclear) – I have not seen so much army in my life.
Middle aged man: You must be coming for your own work, but in the city…
Other man: Tea??
Middle aged man: You come to the city, but here, if you want to go to Kokernag, or some other place, you cannot go everyday, because something or the other happens. It is risky.
The first time you came here, I had gone to meet my uncle. There was firing at night, I left early morning at 6, first I saw blood, then I saw a militant, lying on the road, dead, the army had killed him, don't know where he had come from, I was alone on the road, no one was out, then I also ran in fear, for two kilometers and jumped onto a vehicle there. We never know when leaving in the morning, will we be back in the evening?
Nothing can be done about this.
Interviewer: You feel scared?
Middle aged man: Very scared. Here, after six, the house is locked, after six no one is let in. Just sitting inside, what is there to do… children are there, wife is there and we are sitting at home that is it… In fact, even today, there was firing at night, don't know why or how, from where, but it carried on all night.
In the morning, we got up, peered out of the windows to look around carefully, before we opened the door.
Interviewer: This has become a habit?
Middle aged man: That is so, in 1990, from then to 1993, 1994, it was not that much. The pressure of the army or paramilitary force was not so much
Now there is more pressure… that time anyone could go anywhere, whoever wanted to go wherever… there were no camps then… there were no camps.
The older man repeats what people often say/hope for in these difficult circumstances-
That they bother no one so no one has bothered them.
The middle aged man discusses the presence of the army, with the interviewer.
He talks of how it is more difficult in areas away from the city; movement is the risk for the civilian.
He narrates an incident when he witnessed violence when he had gone on a casual visit to his uncles'.
He talks of how people stay indoors once evening sets in… how this limited movement, this sense of fear, have all become habits. There is wryness to his expression and to his words. He folds his hands across his chest as he talks.
He talks of how army presence and pressure has increased since the early nineties.
Interviewer: You said there is this Shiva Bhagwati temple that side of the road, so is that they don't let you do performances there?
Middle aged man: No performance was done by the Hindus there, when the Ramnavmi mela would be on…when the Hindus are no longer here, then who will organize the fair, out there?
Interviewer: So in Akingam there is no Hindu house?
Middle aged man: No, not one, adjacent is Acchmal garh (unclear), there are two three houses there. (Unclear) towards Kokernag side, none.
Interviewer: Earlier how many were there?
Middle aged man: Earlier there were twenty, twenty five, thirty houses to a village.
Here up ahead, there are houses, (unclear) houses. They too – Bhand, in all of Kashmir Valley they were the single Hindu Bhand, they worked with us.
Older man: It is their name, the name (unclear) is from them
Interviewer: So like it is written in Walter Lawrence's book on Kashmir, there is one family of Hindu Bhands in Akingam.
Both: Yes, they are called Moree
Because we are actually from the same khandaan… yes, yes… Madhav Moorr aur Kamal Moorr (unclear), these two were brothers…One of them accepted Islam… Madhav Moorr accepted Islam, he is known as Mohammad Bhand. We are his descendants and they are from the name of Kamal Moorr.
His son is Shankar/Shekhar (unclear) Moorr.
Interviewer: You mean in a way your family was also Hindu?
Two men: Yes.
Middle aged man: Yes, for that matter, all of Kashmir was Hindu before. So, we had a relationship with them, earlier… because wherever there were celebrations, we would sing together
And the old historical objects of ours, was with them. They have very big/precious things- well these days; they are not here at all… all that got scattered… Whoever laid his hands on whatever, kept it with him…
Interviewer: Where have they gone?
Some are in Jammu, some are in Udhampur
Older man: Udhampur.
Man: Some in Delhi, some are even in Chandigarh.
Older man: It is a problem, a grave problem… nothing else.
Interviewer: The Pandits who were here earlier, they must be zamindars?
Man: All were zamindars.
Older man re affirms: All were zamindars- landowners- very big zamindars.
Interviewer: So if they had a marriage in the house, would they call you.
Older man (vehemently): Yes!! Of course. If they had, or if there was a wedding, we would go, we perform, play, dance, sing.
Interviewer: Had you performed Pather at their place?
Older man: Yes, we even eat with them.
Interviewer: No, had you performed Pather?
Older man: Yes, perform Pather also.
Interviewer: And then they would give some donation? ...no?
Old man has been shaking his head and smiling in explanation
Older man: See, it is one neighbourhood… It was a shared environment- so we did not take money… old friendships, family… therefore…
Interviewer: So now (they?) work for government, for instance, for the department of culture, or for Doordarshan, or sometimes, for All India Radio, so these give a professional fee… so for how many years has your community been working, taking this king of money payment?
Older Man: Ten fifteen years, it must be..
Middle aged man: Different departments had different rules.
(He mentions one particular instance of a producer who had a programme)- She got money from Chandigarh for that… So that would come as a cheque or draft only.
Or from the radio…or from Doordarshan. For the rest, like the Cultural Academy here, they would only give cash. And the Information (Department?), they would also pay in cash.
Interviewer: No, my question was that- when you work for the government they pay in cash…but if you work for someone in the village, or for the family, chances are you will not just be given cash. You understand, it is a different relationship.
Middle aged man: One gets money in that also. But it has different manners and different calculations. If we go for a wedding and perform, the organizers will have to pay, food, lodging and cash, for the rest, it is called parganjish. Meaning, for example, we have finished at this village, we are going to another village. But there, some give money, some give…
Older man: Shawls.
Middle aged man: Shawls or rice, we collect it all, and then later might sell it. Or we bring it home.
Interviewer: This is what I wanted to ask. Because it is only the government who…
Middle aged man: Absolutely…
Talk of how modes of payment have changed with the shift, for instance, to a democratic government and the bureaucracies that have replaced earlier ways of patronage, where payment was done in different ways- some cash, but perhaps not all the time, instead, grain, shawls, food, etcetra would be given.
all india radio
payment in kind
Older man and middle aged man talk in Kashmiri. (Un- translated.)
An off screen interviewer speaks to them in Kashmiri, they seem to speak of Maqaams.