Sunday, Aug 14, 2022
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How The Exodus Shaped Two Kashmiri Artists And Their Friendship

Acclaimed artists Delhi-NCR-based Veer Munshi and Srinagar-based Masood Hussain speak about their friendship and art practices that they managed to sustain beyond the Kashmiri Pandit exodus of 1990 

'Shrapnel' by Veer Munshi (acrylic on handmade paper, 2010)
'Shrapnel' by Veer Munshi (acrylic on handmade paper, 2010)

Two artists, both contemporaries and close friends; one remained in Kashmir, the other made Delhi-NCR his home but didn't miss a chance to revisit his native land – the one he had to leave hastily during the Kashmiri Pandit exodus of 1990. Nevertheless, the friendship between acclaimed artists Delhi-NCR-based Veer Munshi and Srinagar-based Masood Hussain continues to stand the test of time. “Before the conflict, we had lots of art activities in Kashmir. Today, I feel incomplete without my Pandit brothers. Veer still visits me, and despite everything, we try our best to continue interacting. I have been painting on the conflict for years, and have still not come out of this phase. I always thought there were better days ahead. But the situation in Kashmir, the fate of Article 370 repeal... it's all very confusing now,” says Hussain. Both artists have produced powerful works around death, separation, the quest for home, abandonment, and loss. Both completed their formal education in art outside Kashmir: Munshi studied at Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) Baroda, while Hussain was at JJ School of Art.

Munshi calls himself “the outsider-insider of Kashmir because I have lived there, know the place so well, but no longer live there”. After studying art in Baroda for six years, returned only to leave it permanently. “Before the exodus, we had cohesiveness and a composite culture. Then the exodus happened in 1990, and I was part of it. That trauma with coming to a bigger city and facing its bigger challenges… It felt very therapeutic to just paint about the exodus. Since then I keep revisiting the theme.” Munshi had organised two art shows to “bring back all Kashmiri Pandit artists who left Kashmir”. Cajoling people to return was difficult, says Munshi, but then didn’t want to leave after they reached. “When they met colleagues after so many years, emotions were high… What an experience it was! Radical/fringe elements will prey on people as long as they stay separately. The only solution is to unite.”

'Along the Jhelum side' by Masood Hussain
'Along the Jhelum side' by Masood Hussain

Meanwhile Hussain pines for a future where peace is restored. “For the last 30-32 years, I have been painting about turmoil, and I am just fed up with it. Painting is a medium to connect with our brothers scattered all over the world. I have done so many watercolour paintings of the downtown areas where our Pandit brothers used to live. Now it’s just empty homes, isolated roads here. In the painting, Look Behind the Canvas, I had painted three generations, and one portrait was of my daughter. But seeing the turmoil we were in I ended up slashing that painting. I still have it and want someone to stitch it. Once a Pandit friend of mine told me, ‘we left Kashmir and have somehow managed to give our children a better future, but you are still there, suffering and your children suffer’. This is exactly what it is. There’s not just one particular community that suffered… all of us are suffering. Every issue has a solution, and we must solve this problem so our brothers can return.”

In the initial days of his exile to Delhi-NCR, Munshi managed to find accommodation at a Lalit Kala guest house near Mandi House, which lent beds on a five-day roster, after which they had to vacate the space. “We would just roam in the nearby parks for days to kill time in waiting for the next admission slot. Finally, somebody from Lalit Kala asked me to make a painting. When I told them I didn’t have any money, they paid an advance, and for the first time in months I enjoyed a chicken dish at Gomti Guest House.” This painting turned out to be Terrorist on Floating Land, where floating land became a metaphor, a comment that terrorists cannot exist in a land of sufis and rishis. “That painting taught me everything. In the beginning, I thought I’ll make pretty pictures and sell them. I just wanted to survive and was not concerned with the political situation. When that plan didn’t work, I did this kind of political work. It released me from some of my trauma. So I thought of painting like this till my mind felt settled.”

In 2010, Munshi visited Kashmir, and got caught in a stone-pelting incident. “I saw chaos and heard many boys had been killed. The next day, I saw a lot of rubble on the scene, which led to my Shrapnel series. I did it for my emotional release, but wondered what next? What is the solution to this? The Kashmir story has layers after layers. Politically, economically, socially… we get driven back to our cocoon as we were. I must say Hussain’s work about his downtown landscapes felt very nostalgic because it connects to my roots. People, who are far off, in America or the West, feel it more because I believe once the root is cut the fruit becomes rotten. They are searching for that rootedness. We have lost identity, our homes, this composite culture, and to regain it Kashmiris have to work on this idea of living together in Kashmir.”

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