A tribe of very
young cartoonists is finding its own comic idiom to portray Kashmir’s
From medieval times,
Kashmiris have turned to humour and satire to deal with oppressive rulers
and, later, callous politicians, bureaucrats, soldiers and militants. They
gave vent to their feelings through the local folk theatre, Baandeh Paether,
in which a jester praised the villain’s tyrannical ways to make him
The conflict in Kashmir
took its toll. It saw the jesters and the Kashmiri sense of humour drown
in an ocean of despair. Humour now lived in a four-inch box on the front
page of a leading Urdu newspaper, Srinagar Times. Its brilliant cartoonist,
Bashir Ahmad Bashir brought a smile to the lips while the news pages detailed
deaths, arrests and killings. By the mid-nineties journalism was a career
in Kashmir; newspaper publication rose.
Today, most newspapers
published in Srinagar have a cartoonist. That is not unusual. The age
of the cartoonists is. They are boys in their early 20s – like Zahid
Hussein, who was a 12-year-old in 1990 when the armed militancy started.
Coming from a family of papier mache artists, he grew up with brushes
and colours. As a child he watched Mickey and Donald and copied TV images.
At school, he bartered drawings for chocolates and pocket money, making
“portraits to drawings of the digestive system for my schoolmates.”
The war in his adolescence
changed everything. He began drawing bunkers, armoured cars, militants
and soldiers, and scenes of crackdowns. But there were no artistic dreams.
He went on to study chemistry, physics and mathematics at Islamia College,
Srinagar. When his first year exam was cancelled after an encounter outside
the examination centre, he thought, “I will lose a year.”
Then a friend told him about admissions at the Srinagar College of Music
and Fine Arts. He had found his way.
By 2001, Hussein
was majoring in sculpture, and his sketches had matured. Then his teacher
and famous Kashmiri painter, Masood Hussain, suggested cartooning. “I
did not have much political sense but found work at a local daily. Soon
after that I moved to a newly established newspaper Kashmir Images,”
says Hussein, who has been the staff cartoonist there for three years
now. His cartoons are boxes full of black humour.
Initially, the young
artist’s editors, colleagues and friends found him too cynical.
“They thought my cartoons were full of bitterness and grief,”
he sighs. A thousand cartoons later, he is confident of his artistic responses
to the conflict in Kashmir. “I am doing the right thing. It is only
natural to convey the despair when you see it all around you,” he
The boys are growing
up. Boys like Malik Sajad, a 17-year-old who just passed the 12th standard
board examinations from SP. School in Srinagar. He does not stroll on
the banks of Dal Lake with a pretty girl, or loiter with classmates at
the city centre, Lal Chowk. He walks into the newsroom of the Valley’s
largest selling daily, Greater Kashmir, everyday. He talks to editors,
pores over news reports. With a pencil he scribbles on sheets before walking
back home on bunkered roads. In the morning, news hungry Kashmiris devour
the newspaper’s headlines and stop to register the cartoon Inside
Outside, mocking the grimmest realities of society and politics in Kashmir.
Few know his age. “Thank you,” he says in his boyish voice,
if you compliment him on his creations.
Sajad walked into the
newsroom of the daily, Greater Kashmir, he was a was a Class X student.
But the paper welcomed him
ago, when Sajad walked into the newsroom of Greater Kashmir, he was a
Class X student. But the newspaper was welcoming. And Sajad’s lived
experience gave him the confidence to take up the job. “Kashmir
is what I have lived, what I know. So there was no problem,” he
says. He felt cartooning was the best way to grow as a socially relevant
artist because “as a newspaper cartoonist you have to come up with
something new everyday.”
the main bread earner of the family, is a coppersmith. He is not familiar
with any books on his art. “I used to see Sudhir Tailang’s
cartoons apart from others in the Delhi newspapers. In Kashmir we had
Bashir’s cartoons.” The problem was improving his craft. But
he found a mentor through the Internet: The New Yorker. “I try to
learn from them and better myself,” he says. There are many more
youngsters like Hussein and Sajad in the newsrooms of vernacular papers
in Srinagar, trying to get it right, trying to get it witty, and trying
to make it acerbic. Some day Kashmir might find its own Steinberg, its
own Marjane Satrapi. For the boys have grown up.