Project Bismillah is a path breaking calendar that calls on Indians to bring Kashmir back to life.
The last few months has seen the spotlight thrust on Kashmir with political developments and the abolition of Article 370. However the ethereal beauty of India’s most beautiful state is undeniable. A fabulously stimulating calendar by Kolkata-based travel aficionado Deboshree Ganguly and world renowned journalist and photographer Kounteya Sinha called ‘Project Bismillah’ pays homage to this very fact. Bismillah means ‘In God’s Name I Begin’ and shares a powerful message through a fascinating repertoire of photographs.
Project Bismillah is a project of love. “It is my love for Kashmir and Ladakh – its people, its customs and its unparalleled beauty. I decided to name it such after a man who lives in my favourite hotel in Gulmarg – Pine Palace Platinum. When Article 370 was revoked, everyone started worrying about Kashmir. I am not questioning the government’s decision through this calendar. Whatever they have in mind must be for Kashmir’s good. But you will notice how we always avoid a place to travel which has even the slightest of disturbances. This salient call through the calendar is to the common Indians – don’t forget Kashmir and Ladakh. Make sure you continue with your plans to travel there for holidays with your family. I ask the world not just to worry about them from far away but embrace them by going there,” says Sinha. Deboshree Ganguly adds, “I have been planning to travel the world with an explorer like Kounteya Sinha for a very long time. I follow his path breaking work very closely – the way he finds the most intricate of details of a place and its people, always going places off the map. He was running a photography residency for some young photographers, teaching them not just how to photograph a place but how to also understand its nuances. I was mesmerized with what I saw. Thanks to the residency, I got access to places that are off the map, got access to families in Kashmir and Ladakh and understood the deep philosophy and warmth with which they lead their lives, how happy they are with so little, how content they are – irrespective of their surroundings which is all about violence. It is not just a beautiful place but is also a land of beautiful people.”
The calendar comes at a time when the world is uncertain of Kashmir’s future, with India deeply divided debating what could be Kashmir’s and Ladakh’s fate post the government’s decision to revoke Article 370, a constitutional provision that granted them special status. “However I put the onus on the people of India to better Kashmir’s economic and cultural fate. Instead of avoiding a place of conflict, Deboshree and I have asked India and the world to start visiting the region. I have loved Kashmir and Ladakh deeply. I am not willing to leave it alone. This body of work is to remind the world what unimaginable beauty runs through the veins of Kashmir and Ladakh. It is to ask people to return to this paradise now – to give it back its much-needed sense of identity, dignity and empowerment. Our return will be a vehicle both to rebuild its economy and society. It will show them we care,” adds Sinha.
Interestingly, the calendar begins from October 2019 and not the traditional January 2020. It has 16 powerful images in it with incredibly interesting lines and is a mix of landscape and its people. The month of January 2020 for example is a photograph of nine year old Ashfa who never misses out on her dose of music before leaving for school – the only diversion from a life immersed in isolation and silence. So the photograph shows her holding a very old transistor. The February 2020 photographs shows a shepherd carrying the weakest of his flock of sheep on his back, like a father and a son – as he traversed mountains and valleys only to find the best expanse of juicy land for his flock he called family. The March 2020 photograph shows how 5.30 am looks every day at Kashmir’s floating vegetable market – 120 minutes of fierce gladiatorial collisions, restricted only to their vocal chords. April 2020 has a little girl peeping through that tiny hole on a cloth on her verandah – half afraid, half inquisitive – her world limited to that tiny round view finder. The stunning photo for August 2020 is of the ethereal Pangong Lake – the endless sea of molten turquoise was fickle – unable to make up its mind – oscillating from azure to sapphire, cobalt to cerulean – all in a matter of minutes. “Kashmir as a society is conservative. Though very friendly, they are wary of people photographing their homes and the women and hence it will always slightly sensitive to capture their lives. But Kounteya had a special knack of entering the world of those women and homes with so much of genuine warmth, respect and love that they agreed. He genuinely cares for those people and he makes everyone care for them too. This calendar is Kounteya and my genuine effort to make the world come here and love the paradise on earth on their own,” concludes Ganguly.
This story first appeared in Sakal Times dated Oct 8, 2019 here: