Kashmir, in Memory and on Film
by Larry Murray
On September 27, 1987 I arrived in Dehli on the Indian subcontinent for the first time. Based on colorful stories from other travelers, I was headed north for a week in a rented houseboat located on Dal Lake in Kashmir. I had heard that this northern part of India, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas was one of the world’s most idyllic settings. It is so beautiful in fact that it would not be excessive to call it magical.
The only problem was, I quickly learned, the area’s political unrest, a tussle between India and Pakistan to claim the land as its own. Yet it has its own identity and culture, and most of its residents would like to see the battling fade into history.
On the eve of the Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, my travel consultant had arranged a group party on the boat, for me and several other guests, all part of an Arts Boston cultural adventure. To our delight several musicians and dancers arrived with food, drink and an infectious spirit. They had me dancing a whirling dervish until late, and I at last collapsed into bed, drained of energy.
At about 4am, I was awakened by the sounds of gunfire which continued erratically for an hour, sometimes moving closer, sometimes receding. The power was out. The local battle over Kashmir continued until dawn. I had concocted a plan to dive into the lake should the hostilities get to close but this was never necessary. I went back to bed but minutes later The Call to Prayer woke me, and headed out to the open air market. Those I spoke to denied that anything had happened, suggesting that I might have been dreaming.
The people of Lake Dal and the nearby city of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, were concerned that the vital industry of tourism not be disturbed. Despite the scare of that evening, I remember the Lake and its boatmen, the artists and dancers of North India very fondly and yes, you can be daring and rent a boat yourself (Some Examples Here) even in these unsettled times for the area.
“Valley of Saints” a Film About Lake Dal, its People and Problems at Images 2/5
They’ve made a film about the area, part documentary and part romance, and it is about to get screened in Williamstown with its director present. It’s another special event coming to the Images Cinema in Williamstown on February 8 at 5pm. The film is a Sundance Award Winner and gives a good account of this conflicted part of the world.
The event has been organized by the Muslim Student Association of Williams College, who have not only arranged the film screening of “Valley of Saints” but invited its director Musa Syeed to be present on Friday, 2/8 at 5pm. The film will be introduced by Syeed, and the film will be followed by a Q&A with the director. “Valley of Saints” won an Audience Award and an Alfred P. Sloane Feature Film Award at Sundance and is up for an Independent Spirit Award for Cinematography. It’s also the first film shot in the endangered lake communities of Kashmir. Admission is free. Images Cinema is located at 50 Spring Street, Williamstown, MA.
This event is sponsored by the Muslim Student Association, the Chaplains’ Office, the Davis Center, the South Asian Student Association and the Black Student Union.
About the Film“Valley of Saints” tells the story of Gulzar, a young man who earns his living ferrying tourists around the lake but who himself has never left his remote village. When war and poverty threaten, he makes plans to flee to the big city, a sudden curfew suspends all travel and he is trapped, literally as well as figuratively, at the lake. When a beautiful young scientist, Asifa, arrives to study the creeping effects of pollution on the local waters, she hires Gulzar to transport her. Seeing his world through the eyes of an outsider for the first time, his vision of himself, his community, and their respective prospects for the future, is forever transformed.
Gulzar falls for her, rivalry and jealousy threaten his boyhood friendship and their plans of escape. Gulzar must choose between a new life and a new love. The first film set in the endangered lake communities of Kashmir, Valley of Saints blends fiction and documentary to bring audiences inside this unique world.
The film stars Mohammed Afzal, Gulzar Ahmed Bhat and Neelofar Hamid; Not Rated; 1 hour 22 minutes.
The Muslim Student’s Associaton of Williams College
The Muslim Students’ Association at Williams College was founded with the purpose of bringing together Muslim students as well as allies and peers interested in the Islamic faith. One of the main goals of the MSA is educating others about Islam and Muslims in an age where such issues are important. The Muslim Student Association promotes peace and understanding among its members, and of course in the greater community of Williams College.
About Images Cinema
The only one of its kind in Berkshire County, Images Cinema is a year-round non-profit, member-supported community film house that presents a wide range of films that impact filmmaking and our culture. Images continuously seeks to entertain, educate and engage the community with quality programming, while maintaining its dedication to independent film and media. Images Cinema serves organic popcorn, real butter, locally-made baked goods, and naturally sweetened sodas, as well as traditional concessions fare. Images Cinema is supported in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency. Check for up-to-date happenings at http://www.imagescinema.org