On December 20, 2015, an unidentified Kashmiri wearing a pheran, who identified himself only as “Kashmiri Cabbage Walker”, was seen walking a cabbage on a metallic roller/cart pulled by a leash in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, in front of Kashmiri civilians and Indian armed personnel, who were ‘patrolling’ the site as usual. On December 23, he released a statement via Kashmir Reader about his motives. He claimed to be doing an art performance, adapted from Chinese artist Han Bing’s decade-old “Walking the Cabbage” performance, to protest militarisation by rendering it as absurd, abnormal and unacceptable to the Kashmiri people. In his statement, he claimed, “Some people in Kashmir are willing to walk cabbages on leashes and consider it a part of their everyday practice, as something normal, but what they will never accept is the military occupation as part of normalcy and as a part of Kashmir”. On February 2, 2016, an unidentified Kashmiri also dressed in a pheran with his head covered with a scarf was seen roaming around Srinagar, walking Kashmiri haakh (collard greens) on a wooden cart pulled by a rope. Photos have emerged on social media showing him walking his haakh on a leash around the Bund area, where protest graffiti can be seen painted on the walls. In order to explain his motives and his ‘absurd’ act of walking haakh on the streets of Kashmir, he has issued the following statement under the condition of anonymity:
My name is Kashmiri Cabbage Walker, but now I am also the Kashmiri Haakh Walker. I can be the walker of the Kashmiri muuj, the Kashmiri ealuw, and any other Kashmiri produce that grows in my land. And if needed, I will be such a walker time and again to reiterate the same point: we Kashmiris are willing to normalise and accept as ‘normalcy’ walking our Kashmiri vegetables and produce on our streets, as absurd as that may seem, but we will never accept militarisation and occupation as normal, since it is far more absurd than walking haakh on a rope. It is most abnormal and has no claim whatsoever on being considered normal by our standards of justice, truth and freedom to live as we wish. This second performance expands on the first one to take on a Kashmiri homegrown flavor that, in my view, expresses the sentiments of Kashmiris.
My Kashmiri engineer associate and I have built a Kashmiri hagurr (wooden toy cart) to walk Kashmiri haakh pulled by a Kashmiri razz (rope) at various locations in Srinagar. For those from the younger generation of Kashmiris who don’t remember what a hagurr is, in the old days, a hagurr was a toy cart Kashmiri children used to ride for fun and many of them used to build it themselves, out of wood, with wheels attached, and other assembled parts. The hagurr has been passed on from generation to generation as an object of our innocence and our time at play, and since my seemingly ‘absurd’ and ‘childlike’ art performance has that innocent infantile feel to it, I thought it was a perfect match to introduce a native element from our collective childhood and walk a staple of our diet, Koshur haakh.
The other reason for developing a hagurr (pronounced ‘hagud’ in certain parts of Kashmir) was to establish technological cooperation between Kashmir and another nation, in this case China, from where the original custom-designed roller/cart and metal chain leash were imported for the first Walking the Cabbage performance in Srinagar. This was possible due to Han Bing, who helped us by providing his Made in China prototype so we could come up with our own Kashmiri version. And given the historical relationship between the haguur and child-play, we decided to achieve the same exact functionality found in Han Bing’s model with our own improvisation.
The point of the performance is to protest war, occupation, militarisation even while at play, even in a seemingly absurd and infantile manner. I had the good fortune of relying on a photographer and photojournalist friend who decided to document the whole performance. In fact, given his wide experience in working in a war zone, we were able to navigate our own streets more cautiously and avoid retaliation from Indian armed forces for our seemingly absurd and childish art performance.
We first went along the Bund where protest graffiti has been painted on walls. Then we went to the new Abdullah Bridge where we were not allowed at first, and that is precisely when having a skilled photojournalist from a conflict zone to guide us came in handy, who convinced the armed forces present there that we were, in fact, doing nothing harmful and that it was our right to circulate around the space with our haakh on a leash as ordinary Kashmiris civilians and that I was an artist doing an art performance. At a certain point we found it odd that even in a childish and absurd act of walking haakh on a hagurr we had to ask for ‘right of passage’ in public space in our own homeland. This was another clear indication of the extent to which basic freedom is curbed in Kashmir. Even the innocuously basic ‘right to walk’ peacefully in service of a vegetable that wants to roam our streets is questioned and held under scrutiny in Kashmir. We should not have to ask for permission to inhabit our own space as ordinary civilians and that too from an alien force.
Either way, after that (almost expected) disruption to our ‘right to circulate’, we went to Zero Bridge and then near the TRC. We finally landed in front of the PDP head office, a site of betrayal of our interests and misrepresentation of our priorities that has intended to normalise itself as a representative of the people’s will when it is exactly the opposite. We wished to disrupt this normalisation too. The photographer friend chose specific angles, places, distances depicting sites of occupation, with the barbed wire that you see in all sorts of places, with the graffiti on the walls that express resistance, with the architecture and “structures of violence” in a subtle way. We avoided the authorities as the previous art performance at Lal Chowk on Dec 20was done in front of armed personnel and served its purpose.
In some of the photographs, the photographer chose to use the pronounced “meronym” as a resource. A meronym is an artistic device “that denotes part of something but which is used to refer to the whole of it.” For example, the butt of a rifle and jackboots can represent a soldier, military presence and most war and conflict. Thus, we used barbed wire in the foreground and me in the background disrupting the tyrannical consistency of the wire. In such photographs, I stopped being the protagonist, and the protagonist, or rather protagonist-antagonist, became the barb-wire itself, as it is symbolic of the “structures of violence” in place since before some of us were even born. My performance and walk was a disruption of its permanence and presence in the photo, and for me it is not absurd that I am in the photograph, but rather that the absurd element is the barbed wire as a symbol of occupation (as it does not belong in Kashmir and never has).
We are not certain yet if this “Walking the Cabbage” or any other vegetable art performance will continue to emerge, but each time it does it will produce a unique perspective of the experience of war and conflict through the Kashmiri body and landscape, by means of its absurdity, infantile quality and innocence.
—Written by the artist/associates