It took a young Srinagar-based photojournalist an extensive foot journey spanned over different seasons in different parts of City to capture children in different action. The outcome in ten frames outlines childhood in Kashmir in different expressions.
By Aamina Altaf
I began as a blank-headed wanderer in the happening streets of Srinagar. Despite its mishandled affairs and thawed spirit of yore, the city houses innocence to its core. To feel that essence, one has to fall in love with its battered landscape and rundown structures.
With this same devotional sense, I came out to capture the innocence — the children caught in dogged dispute. And soon, the city offered its own tender frames.
I saw this young girl sitting like a captive behind prison-type window fencing. She beamed no smile, no eager expressions, synonymous with childhood. Her solemn looks only reflected the larger captive reality of her hometown. She sternly stared at the camera eye—as if scoffing at an indifferent world out there.
She seemed to question the dungeon dominance of her birthplace. The sea-depth in her eyes wasn’t childlike. It was the sign of the forced thinking, of the forced circumstances, in the forced atmosphere.
In Srinagar interiors, there stood another kid, lost in his own world. He appeared brooding and glowering over something.
“These kids today have forgotten to smile,” an elderly passerby remarked upon spotting the annoyed kid.
His sibling stood like a guard behind him, wearing a shabby blue and golden dress—a glaring sign of the deprived reality of such lesser privileged children.
Their home tucked in a slum-style city neighbourhood had its own hard realities to proffer. Their clan existence only makes the urban poverty an obvious fact.
In search of more childhood frames, I headed towards old city and stopped near the gates of a Sufi shrine.
A young mendicant mother was lapping her baby inside her pheran. On her right side sat her elder son—too small to understand his deprived fate. He was out to plead for her mother’s case. The troubled innocence does melt hearts and mobilise pockets.
The mother being mother had bought him a plate of Gajar ka halwa. He loved every spoon of it, while remaining lost in his own world—where perhaps, he was wondering over his mother’s street survival.
The kid might end up following his mother’s footsteps, unless helped to become her true support.
With these unsinkable thoughts, I spot this noisy and boisterous kid closer to my home.
He was a pampered lot, holding a toy gun, faking the dissenter bravado. He was a politically-groomed kid—voicing tender emotions through the barrel of his fake firearm.
He raised a familiar pitch — seeking what remains a pending promise of his homeland. Kids of his age love to flaunt their toy guns and imagine all sorts of possibilities.
In another time, another space in Srinagar, this girl child was living true to her childhood.
Carefree and careless, she had drawn blue lines with a ball pen on her face. She seemed to have no remorse. Her running nose and unkempt hair further made her childhood, a textbook one.
Such kids are rare gems. Inorganic growth of Kashmir’s young ones has now reduced them to a green house beings. Unlike this kid, many of them now grow up watching Youtube toons and ShinChang characters on TV.
This is another way of keeping our kids ignorant of their real life surroundings and its harsh truths. No wonder then, why some of them grow up as misfits in their own backyards.
And then, there was this child sitting in the lap of her gipsy mother, who had arrived in Kashmir to earn her living.
Unable to make sense of the world around her, she giggled, whined, whimpered—while her mother continued to earn her day as breadwinner.
Such children know dusty streets and mundane footfall on them as their world, their home. They may not be street smart, but they do understand pedestrian complexities and harsh realities of life.
At his door in Srinagar, a young kid was making sense of the street bustle.
Holding a book and sporting a skullcap, he was perhaps leaving home for Quranic lessons.
Between his outing and seminary, stood the routine rush that he was trying to decipher. He bowed his head in pure innocence, in order to avoid the affectionate gazes of countless eyes on him.
The kid wanted to be leave alone to picture his own world.
Then, there was this musing kid in the park, having no idea of the happenings around her.
Children have grown thoughtful at their tender age in Kashmir, many say. And this kid in the park was a glaring instance of that impression.
Living with a perennial problem in their backyard does seem to have redefined the childhood in Kashmir.
And then, there was this kid in his winter attire, sobbing and whimpering.
He shed a tear or two over the unfulfilled wish — akin to the one which has been welling up his homeland for eons now.
How innocent was his worldview of fighting out the indifferent world, with his flooded eyes!
Images indeed freeze moments and moments make life. And that’s what this childhood framing attempted to do.
But beyond these ten frames, myriad images are awaiting to be captured in Kashmir’s unattended alleys and streets.