There’s a strange thing going on in the streets of Srinagar for the last few months. A Kashmiri artist wearing a pheran (traditional gown-like garment worn in winters) and his face hidden, has become a centre of amusement and curiosity among the pedestrians.
It’s not his appearance that is attracting attention, but his companion.
The artist walks with a cabbage and collard greens on a small roller-cart on a leash, navigating among puzzled pedestrians and armed forces.
Nobody knows much about the artist, but there’s a Facebook account in his name. He says he is inspired by a Chinese artist Han Bing, who pioneered the cabbage project around the world 15 years ago. Today, it’s quite a rage in China.
In an email interview with ScoopWhoop, the Kashmiri Cabbage Walker, on the condition of anonymity, answered everything you want to know about his act.
SW: What is this cabbage campaign all about?
KCW: I don’t really have a campaign. But the intention is to raise awareness on fundamental issues such as demilitarization, de-occupation, decolonization and even de-nuclearization in South Asia at multiple levels.
The formula is quite simple: you observe what is being ‘normalized’ as something that is ‘expected’ to be accepted as a standard or a widely accepted condition and then you walk a vegetable to counter such claims and assumptions in a hilarious and apparently ‘absurd’ act of walking a vegetable on a leash.
SW: What do you want to convey by doing this?
KCW: I wish to normalize the so-called “absurdity” of walking a cabbage on a leash. I wish for it to be seen as a ‘normal’ act throughout the world. I wish to claim that those who claim to have sense and logic are the absurd ones because we have seen where their sense and logic has led us. This is neither my performance nor my art, it is of Han Bing.
SW: Why do you rely on ‘absurdity’ to explain your point?
KCW: It is because absurdity is readily available and packaged as ‘normalcy’ everywhere I look. I feel that that sort of absurdity packaged as ‘normalcy’ needs to be shown a mirror so that it can recognize itself for what it is.
We live in a conflicted world where those who claim to have power and authority wish to have the last word on the lives of ordinary civilians and, in doing so, the basic fundamental right to life is being denied, not to mention basic freedoms being negated as well. So in all this, let’s just ask: who really is being absurd here?
SW: Who are you talking to with this project? Is it the militarized state apparatus or the residents of Kashmir?
KCW: I am trying to address my common sense. This is just a ‘reality check’ for me and thus far I have come to the conclusion that my walking a cabbage on a Kashmiri street has far more sense than the ‘reality’ imposed on Kashmir under war, conflict and militarization.
But on a serious note, I am trying to connect with the Kashmiri people and make them laugh in an articulate manner at all sorts of impositions, as laughter is quite a remarkable gesture of resistance especially when pain and suffering are at the core of living in a zone of conflict.
SW: How has being a Kashmiri, in a political sense, shaped your work?
KCW: It is a borrowed art performance and anybody in the entire world can walk the cabbage for whatever purpose they see fit.
This has little to do with me being a Kashmiri, it has more to do with me being a human being who demands basic fundamental rights from powers who live under the illusion that they are the ones who grant such inalienable rights. So I don’t particularly understand what is so “political” about Walking the Cabbage.
SW: How do people on the streets react to your act? Please share some experiences with us.
KCW: I have heard all sorts of things on the street when I walk the cabbage: “yi ha chu angrez, wuchu, angrez taiyn chi laagan pheran waiyn te toi banan chiw madern” (He’s an Englishman. See, even Englishmen are wearing pherans these days and you have become modern!).
This whole performance on the streets of Kashmir is also an indicator of how the Kashmiri public perceives such things. I had one man tell me “Kashmir has seen it all, this (performance) too is part of Kashmir…there are people here who have been subject to such violence and trauma, that sometimes some of them do things that are out of the norm like walking desolately barefoot on the streets in rags talking in unintelligible speech, we show compassion to such people….you too must be one of those.”
SW: There’s a long history of state’s curbing and crackdown on dissent in Jammu and Kashmir. How do you deal with a possibility of any reprisal?
KCW: There are others doing the Walking the Cabbage art performance in Kashmir and we are all one collective entity known as the Kashmiri Cabbage Walker on social media and in the press. I tried to create a collective identity to get across a message on a variety of issues related to war and conflict (and I am just beginning).
Now, if a Kashmiri Cabbage Walker is “taken in” by the authorities for walking a cabbage or another vegetable on the streets of Kashmir and for talking about why she/he/they are doing so, I will be forced to make my identity known, which I want to avoid since the whole premise of the art project is to be unidentifiable so that attention can be directed towards the messages we convey through these art performances.
Perhaps if the authorities are bothered by my cabbage walking antics, they can provide a manual or rule book on what and what not to do and say through art, and hope still somehow to call the in-between war-zone of Kashmir a part of “democracy.”
Feature image source: Kashmiri Cabbage Walker/Shahid Tantray