Art & Entertainment

A Lyrical Journey: A Kashmiri Artist's Subconscious Connection with Music And Strife

Understanding the subconscious connection between music and life in Kashmir

Photo: Imadclicks
Musical Reflections Ali Saffudin Photo: Imadclicks

In his book The Motorcycle Diaries, Che Guevara writes a beautiful sentence describing the elements of a journey—it is certain that every journey will have a departure and an arrival and the part in the middle is where the story lies.

I was born in Kashmir in the nineties and that was the beginning of my journey as a Kashmiri. By the time I was a teenager, Kashmir had witnessed many episodes of mass uprisings—the notable ones were in 2010 and 2018. It is reflected in my art. I believe that deep inside, there’s a very strong subconscious connection between music and Kashmir. Hence, every bit of music I made in my life has had a reflection of Kashmir in it.

Like a palaeolithic man whose basic needs were either gathering food or finding shelter and nothing else, my teenage years were driven by the simple urge of either listening to a wide range of music or to gather as much knowledge about Kashmir as possible and make myself politically aware. Something triggered this. An incident in 2008.

I was in 10th standard and was returning home from tuition. A few men were protesting and there were security personnel. I, being very naïve, was convinced that because I had a student ID card hanging on my neck, I could be a bystander and would not face the wrath of the forces charging at the protesters.

Within minutes, I found the crowd had dispersed and a bunch of security personnel were charging towards me. They gave me a lesson in history that no book would have taught me. It was a lesson taught with batons and fierce kicks. Getting beaten up by men in uniform on the streets of Kashmir is like seeing paan masala spit stains on the walls of Delhi. They are ugly, but they are everywhere. You can’t even count them.


While I limped back home, an old man from a shop shouted with a grin on his face and said: “Brace yourself, young man! We have to face this for a long, long time.” I was very angry. Not sure at who. The next week that I spent bedridden with bruises helped me calm down a bit. I listened to a lot of rock music. My grandfather came to see me often, and we would have long chats about Kashmir.

These days, Kashmir is silent. Silence has always been a mode of survival for people in Kashmir. But the present silence is not an act of subjugation or surrender. Rather, it is a tactical move adopted by the masses who have a very good understanding of politics.

Just like my music. When I think of my music, it has always been in contradiction to the practice of silence, but as I evolved, I understood that silence is an essential part of my music. It won’t be wrong to say that at times I would like my music to feed this silence.

I have reached the understanding that post-August 5, 2019, we have chosen to remain silent.

I believe that in our sub-continent, the role of music has essentially been to woo its consumers. But in Kashmir, it was slightly different. Most revered poets were known to be saints. They roamed around the streets and in the wilderness, practising and preaching the art of “emancipation”. These poets claimed that there was no King mightier than the Almighty. They spoke of worldly detachment and tried to answer existential questions. They refused to acknowledge anyone else as their authority and several poets even went to the extent of questioning divine judgement.

There is this particular thought that many Kashmiri Sufi poets have touched upon. It’s called “Dum Dyun Haqqas”, which roughly means the practice of making your conscience aware of the truth and submerging it in silence. Kashmir, from my musical perspective, is either at times a two-minute fiercely paced punk rock bomb track that boils your blood or an eleven-minute-long prog rock track that puts you in deep thought of contemplation, but it will never be a Bollywood masala number like Bumbro.

Now coming back to the journey part, I have been told that 1992, the year I was born, was a highly turbulent year. A full-blown uprising—known as Tehreek by the locals—that first started in 1987, had managed to survive until 1992 and beyond. The word Tehreek is very interesting as it literally translates to motion or movement. I can say that as I was born in the nineties, I somehow became a part of this movement.

More than 15 years before I was born, a guy named Maqbool Bhat was hanged in 1984. They said he was an enemy of the State who advocated separatism. No major mass protests were carried out back then in 1984 and the people of Kashmir chose to stay silent on the brand of separatist ideology pioneered by Bhat. But in the 1990s, when I was growing up, Kashmir drowned in a whirlpool of the separatist movement, something that Bhat had always rejoiced.

Only a highly naive person can say that there was no strong resentment for the State, especially after the 90s. One might come up with theories that it was purely indigenous or orchestrated from the other side of the border, but it was a strong sentiment that persisted. I, as a passenger on this journey called Tehreek, saw its various phases. There were peak waves that underwent descents and resurgence.


Now, here I am, in 2024, sitting and contemplating the two aspects of my journey. I know for sure that I was part of a journey, a journey in which one whole generation, willingly or unwillingly, took part.

The rulers of my Homeland, the State, so to say, have proclaimed that this journey has ended, and I would not take the risk of questioning the State. If they say that the movement once known as Tehreek has ended, I will nod, and would not want to disagree.

In Che’s words, the journey has reached its destination, but one question clouds my mind—is this the desired destination? What do you do when your heart is not in the direction your State is pointing towards? What do you do when disagreeing or having an alternative opinion from the mainstream is just not an option anymore? I used to think that post-August 5, 2019, we were silenced, but now I have reached the understanding that we have chosen to remain silent.


I like debates. I like speaking up and putting forward my point and explaining it, but I cannot do that with a man who only speaks French or any other language alien to me. To establish a conversation, let alone to debate, in such a situation would be extremely difficult as there won’t be a common ground.

Now, imagine a case where I would have to agree to all of the things said by this Frenchman despite the fact that we cannot communicate and come to a common ground of exchange of thought. I would not take the risk of calling this French-speaking guy with utmost disregard towards my understanding a dictator, but I would choose the option of remaining silent. Although undesired, it’s still a better option.


Silence has mostly been perceived as an alternative to not having any answers. But it’s much more than that. It’s a tool to speculate and introspect. The only objection I have with silence is that it shouldn’t persist as a catalyst for negligence, ignorance and Amnesia.

(Views expressed are personal)

(This appeared in the print as 'A Lyrical Journey')