Since when have maps become so sacrosanct? – Arundhati Roy
Are borders and their readjustments, the only possible vocabulary for Kashmir? If we understand Kashmir as fluid and heterogeneously lived and pay attention to its human and more-than-human bodies -their movements and flows- what analytical and philological opportunity emerge that allow us to deprioritize the state as the sole adjudicator and only complement to life and politics in Kashmir?
Hameeda, a resident of Neelum, Pakistan “administered” Kashmir only uses Jangli payyaz for cooking which she herself collects from Neelum’s mountainscapes. Jangli payyaz, a variety of green onions (translates literally as “wild onions”) are bold in flavor and fragrance. Hameeda dries them in the sun and stores them in little plastic containers for use during winter. She explains:
They have a strong taste and smell and food does not taste the same without them. I dislike the onions you can purchase from the bazaar which are trucked in from Pakistan. They have no flavor and they are grown using harmful fertilizers and chemicals.Jungli payyaz smells of Neelum and tastes like Neelum.
Jungli payyaz are found at dizzying heights and often in difficult to access and dangerous areas such as those prone to landslides – spaces which one would not consider accessing otherwise. Searching forJungli payyaz puts the body at tangible material risk. They grow in small clusters and therefore large tracts of the inaccessible landscape have to be carefully navigated for their sufficient collection.
Andaza, another resident, speaks about Shirley, a variety of mushrooms also found in Neelum’s mountainscape. She describes:
Shirley do not grow everywhere. They grow on specific trees and there is no guarantee that they will re-appear in the same spot they did last season. They are very delicate. I go to the malis with our animals [goats, cows], as they graze, I scan the forest for Shirley. They must be collected within 3 days of appearing. Upon appearing, within 2-3 days they ripen, it is at this point they have to collect or they dry out and are no longer edible.
Shirley are very delicate mushrooms, and women are invested in their protection over repeated trips to the areas where they were initially spotted. Shirley draw the same bodies back to the landscape in relationships of care and anticipation.
Jangli payyaz and Shirley are not only symbolic of the affective ecologies of Neelum (expressions like “they smell of Neelum and taste like Neelum” provide us clues), but they also compel gendered bodies to navigate unchartered and inhospitable landscape or re-open existing ones, contributing to its renewal and expansion. The more-than-human bodies (e.g. mushrooms, onions) generate unique situated intimacies. These affective ecologies are very much tied to the production of illaqa (territory) by drawing residents back to the landscape or opening new spaces for the bodily incursion, such as the remote edges of mountains where the jungle payyaz grows. The very circulation of bodies stitched within the materiality of everyday life such as washing clothes, collecting food, grazing are forms of ambulatory emplacement which disrupt the geopolitical boundedness of territory.
In my work, I argue that if we locate our desires, aspirations and ambitions in the very human and more-than-human bodies the sovereign seeks to constrain, very different understandings of Kashmir may be possible. I draw upon affective ecologies to trace the circulation of Kashmiri bodies in the region’s vast landscapes via “unofficial” routes and routines. These are my attempts to disentangle what it may mean to be Kashmiri from the epistemic violence of the nation-state.
Ideas in this blog post are taken from a forthcoming article by Omer Aijazi titled “Kashmir as movement and multitude” in the Journal of Narrative Politics.