One would think arts student Bilal Ahmad would be in a good mood. He earned his graduate degree in August and his jarring, brightly coloured paintings have won numerous national competitions. Yet his recollection of a violent 1993 confrontation in his native Bijbehara reveals a seething soul.
“A big crowd had gathered in the market and they reached a peak, protesting against the security forces,” said Ahmed, 23, who was a young boy watching with his parents at the time. “Suddenly the security forces opened fire,” he said, staring out the window with saucer-wide eyes and quivering lips. “So many people were killed, there was blood everywhere…I was shocked. Shocked. To see all those people shot? I was so shocked and frightened.”
He paused and blinked once, twice, before turning to face his questioner.
“That was when I started to think.”
Rarely seen, occasionally mourned, and on the brink of extinction, the Kashmiri artist is not unlike the mythic snow leopard that supposedly still prowls the Valley’s sheltering mountains. More than twenty years of governmental and societal ignorance, educational disinterest, and a cultural shift away from creativity have endangered all variety of fine arts in Kashmir.
The conflict too has played a part, as pervasive…