For a day or two, the air in and around Srinagar might almost seem devoid of the memories of tear gas and stones and conflict. The faces and the bodies with them, pushing against each other, pulling away from each other, might, for a moment, not look like painful by-products of a generation long conflict, oppression and melancholy. For a moment, it might almost feel like peace.
The twilight rays of the sun might tear through the residual afternoon clouds from the rains which might have washed the newly macadamized roads here. You might derive happiness from that: wet macadamized roads. I do. Before bouncing off the sparkling roads, the men and the women and the children might make holes in the blanket of light. Black holes on gray roads. Might.
In the afternoon of the day before Eid, if you start from Ameera Kadal, preferably atop an Orange Mazda bus (you might want to make sure you are not spotted mounted on a bus by an army man), this is what it might ideally look like. Beautifully panoramic.
“Get off the f****g bus, or you will get us beaten up,” the conductor of the bus might shout. You might be able to get a few good pictures, pause, breathe in the sudden rise in altitude, skedaddle off, and feel like a momentary celebrity. A fool on the hill. You might feel slightly dizzy at this height. People are not seen atop buses anymore.
When you walk a few steps, after having been at such a vantage point, you might get nudged from the side by an artisan making a living. These people really know how to greet you. He might say something along the lines of clicking his picture and making it to the front page of the next edition.
After fighting off a few kids wanting to be a part of the black and white world in your circular lens, you might capture the life of a street vendor a day before you can’t. Wallets, and shoes, and crockery.
Here is what it might look like.
If you end up clicking, you might even end up lying to him. “The next edition will be in your name”. Both of you might laugh because both of you might know you are lying.
At the end of the bridge, you might need to pick from one of the many bustling lanes, selling all imaginable things.
Inky pinky ponky.
You might get the one on the right.
You might pick the one on the left.
Like streams of high definition rice flowing through the fingers of a happy farmer in one of those Incredible India videos (despite the suicides), you might see people flowing through these three veins, picking shiny things for the next day.
Most small shops thriving while some might have seen eventual dilapidation. If you get on your knees, turn your neck a good 90 degree, you might see something that might look something like this.
In their prime, Anarkali Plazas might have done nice. Thats what plazas do. They do nice. At least they seem to do nice. This one might have disintegrated rather gracelessly.
The moment you get off your knee, you might spot a woman surrounded by a lot of little ladies. Grandmothers and their fairy stories. You never know.
Pre-Eid Henna rituals. Little hands, little faces.
You might walk up to her and contemplate consent, wondering if brilliant world of candid photography would make up for the excused ethics. You never know.
“Do you mind if I take a picture?”
Awkward smile. Teeth. Nod.
You might end up staying for a while, watching mud-look-alike making art on the flesh of a five year old. Intricate floral patterns, all for a few bucks. Alley artists.
If you might be with someone who might know the alleys and the shops at the back of her hand, you might get to walk up a certain snaky staircase, through a kingdom of women, brush through 3 feet wide hallways and find more forms of life.
On the staircase, though, you might, in a hurry, admire the defocused look of half alive mannequins. Click. Whirr. Click.
Blurred photos of mannequins before Eid, dressed in fancy dresses, look something like this.
Through the second floor sufi alley of a plaza that didn’t die, you might bump into a hundred and a fifty little girls, little women, bargaining, feigning expertise, buying the most rectangular piece of colored cotton.
“Boo!”, a little girl might say, getting her nose scratched by her mother. Henna on nose isn’t art yet.
The streams of people might delta out in the open again, this time more sparse. Red colors of the streets, against the blue-gray skies, looking something like this.
The late evening rush-hour, once a day.
The daylight might turn off, and you might want to head home, through inner streets of outer Lalchowk.
At every turn, you might see something like this.
(Concept: Afshan Rashid)
(Sabreena Bhat contributed in this feature)