Srinagar: The air smells of paint in the house of 46-year-old Mohammad Rafiq in the outskirts of Srinagar. Rafiq’s room itself is filled with sprinkled colours, paints, brushes, paintings, and canvases with half-made paintings.
Rafiq’s says that his home, a traditional Kashmiri house, was built the “same way he draws pictures on canvas.”
Whenever Rafiq has an urge to draw, there is a brief movement of the paintbrush on the canvas but then he instantly drops the brush. Distraught, he leaves his room, goes to the verandah, and lights up a cigarette. “This has been my routine for the past few months. I am not able to concentrate anymore. I have become depressed and am on anti-psychotic drugs,” Rafiq said when I visited him.
Ever since the summer uprising of 2016 broke out in Kashmir, Rafiq has been unable to draw. “I wanted to give vent to my feelings but I could not, due to the fear of the government. I wanted to show to the world the sufferings of people through my work, but I could not,” Rafiq said.
“You can call me a coward but only I know what I went through in 2010 when I landed in a police station for drawing pictures that had offended the government,” Rafiq said.
In the summer of 2010, Rafiq, like thousands of Kashmiris, had expressed his protest against the killings that took place that year, except that the means of protest had been his paintbrush. For that, Rafiq spent a week in a police station. “It was a series of paintings depicting the pain of Kashmir and they condemned the atrocities of the government. Hence I landed in the police station,” Rafiq said.
Since then, Rafiq stopped drawing anything that he felt the government would not like. But the summer uprising of 2016 made him feel a sense of duty and he tried to start painting the grim picture of Kashmir again. “There was a voice trying to push me to draw, but then there was another, saner voice, continuously reminding me of the 2010 episode. That episode had a serious impact on my family. I did not want them to suffer like they did in 2010,” Rafiq said.
He said he was warned by police to not indulge in “anti-national” activities or he would have to face “dire consequences”. “I was threatened to not draw anything that is anti-India or anti-government,” Rafiq recalled.
With his own safety and the safety of his family at stake, Rafiq had decided to not publish or share his work with anyone. “In the best interest of myself and my family, I decided to quit drawing things that would not be liked by authorities. In a span of some time I stopped painting. You can say I was afraid, but you know how it is in Kashmir. They can kill anyone and get away with murder,” Rafiq said.
Dr Waris Qadri, a psychiatrist who has been treating Rafiq, said that his patient is battling between his conscience and his passion. He said that Rafiq first visited him in the month of August, at the peak of the anti-India protests. “He told me of his condition and asked my opinion. I told him to act safe. He controlled his urge and compromised with his passion,” Dr Waris said.
Dr Waris recalled that Rafiq had in the first meeting complained of lack of sleep and a series of panic attacks. “He had problems with his sleep, which clearly was due to over-thinking, and the panic attacks were due to fear. The inability to decide how he should act led to excessive anxiety,” Dr Waris said.
Rafiq’s condition is now much better, Dr Waris said. “He is responding well, but you never know with depression patients; they can relapse at any time. It could happen with Rafiq if he continues to curb his passion.”
With the onset of winter, Rafiq has grown more depressed. “Everything looks gloomy to me now. For the past six months I have not been able to sleep properly. My health has been affected and my conscience is cursing me,” Rafiq said. “More than anything else I am concerned about my young children, who have been distressed due to my poor health. I am always lost in thoughts, thinking of their future which seems bleak now.”
Rafiq blames the government for his troubles. “Going by what the Mehbooba Mufti government did to quell the protests, there was no doubt that they would have harmed me. I blame the Indian puppets of Kashmir for my depression,” he said, adding that he had no “hopes of justice left from this world.” “May nobody suffer as I have suffered. People may judge me and say that I should have been brave, but believe me, depression makes everything bow before it. It has killed the artist in me. May God kill those who have done this to me,” he said.
As he finishes smoking and re-enters his room, Rafiq looks at an incomplete painting and starts to cry. “I have forgotten how to paint. I have forsaken my passion. May they rot in hell for ruining my life,” he says with moist eyes.