We had arrived in Kashmir after a rather arduous drive from Delhi with at least half the journey on a series of dirt tracks, complements of a company called SOMA. It seems that they have managed to set the standard for incompetent road building, supplying the states of Haryana and Punjab with millions of tonnes of mud, around six poor Biharis digging and re filling the same hole and thousands of ‘inconvenience regretted’ and the slightly more apt ‘SOMA, building the future’ signs, how significant.
The idea was to drive a friend’s car up for him and then make a small film on bees/honey. A little while ago, European Union decided to ban the import of Indian honey, the reason being too many heavy metals in what should be some of the most pure honey in the world. The reason it seems is that the fruit and nut growers of Kashmir have taken to, as have many other farmers throughout India, spraying toxic cocktails of pesticides over their trees. So the bees in India, as around the rest of the world are in crisis, and still we are unable to see the warning signs flashing in our faces, we just buy Australian honey… and then its all OK.
As it turned out that the beekeeper was not there in that Kashmir village. The villagers told us he would arrive in the next couple of months and was now at least 300km away, down south. It was a bit of a blow to our trip, I had really set my heart on making a small film on a farmer and his relationship with his bees and his environment. It will have to wait, maybe later in the year, maybe in the Sunderbans.
Then the first few days were all about trying to work out where to go and what to focus on. We ended up walking through the village and meeting children who took us to their homes and their schools, while their mothers were tilling the corn fields and their fathers took Indian and foreign tourists for short trips along the valley on their emaciated ponies.
We decided to wander the mountains, first along the river and then venturing further up into the more remote areas of pastoral and agricultural activity. This I think is what Kashmir is really about and this is what Kashmir is about to loose. Gujjar communities are a truly nomadic people who still practice pastoral and shifting culture, moving their lives and their animals as the seasons change. Their dry stone huts, clinging to the mountainsides oozed smoke from the rafters as they prepared a constant supply of flat bread and salt tea, it was almost impossible to work as my eyes smarted.
Their openness and hospitality was what we had begun to really miss after our few days in the valley where everything, and I mean everything, revolves around money.
We met a farmer called Ishmail, a man I had met a couple of years ago. Him and his family moved as all Gujjars do to different altitudes depending on the season. He had just got back from Leh and some labouring work and we sat and talked about making a small film on him and his culture, about their changing environment and culture. I wanted to document him talking about their lives revolving around nature and changing seasons in these remote areas and how the advent of tourism and the so-called development had changed their lives. We agreed to meet the following day but when we arrived we were told he had left… as we walked away we saw him hiding behind a tree.
I think someone may have said something… we were from the government or something like that. It is the usual story… and then it’s all over.
We headed further up the mountain and met an amazing man by the name of Daud. Lived up high in a small community of Gujjars, wanted to talk and did so in such a philosophical way that we arranged to meet him the next day.
When we arrived and set up, as so often, he just froze, repeated our questions and just gave us the most amazing smiles, but it just wasn’t enough for even a two-minute film.
In desperation we moved from hut to hut, talking to different families until we finally met Yousuf.
He wanted to talk so much but once again found it a little difficult to express all that he had told us before we turned the camera on. What he did talk about was how their communities had lived over the past decades, the harsh but stress free life of praying and their relationship with their environment.
I hope we have got something, we have just got back to Delhi and now have to start trawling through the interviews, try to put a small film together, more visual and just an essence of his life and thoughts. We will start tomorrow and get it up as soon as possible, then post it. I just hope we do him and his community justice.