In rapper Ahmer's 'apolitical' potent verses lie truths about Kashmir that must be told
Ahmer's music speaks to and for the people of Kashmir — for the people in Srinagar's Downtown, for his family members who suffered abuse and death
Ahmer is an emerging rapper from the Valley who, impacted by the conflict-riddled violence, has resorted to hip-hop as a means to oppugn narratives
The imagery of violence in Kashmir is a driving force for Ahmer
In Kashmir, families don’t talk about their shaheed in front of the children. Not that there is any stigma attached, there is actually a lot of reverence — for all those who have died fighting the State. But they often feel that their stories are too potent to be told to children, for they're the kind of stories that can influence young minds to tread a similar path. No matter how dear the cause, the thought of losing a loved one is far too painful.
“We didn’t talk much about my uncle in our family. Neither during dinner table conversations, nor during morning chai discussions. But you could easily discern that his absence was a void that no one was comfortable talking about,” says Ahmer Javed. Ahmer is an emerging rapper from the Valley who, impacted by the conflict-riddled violence, has resorted to hip-hop as a means to oppugn narratives — “narratives of falsehood,” he calls them.
His uncle Aijaz Ahmed Dar lost his life in an encounter with security forces in the early 90s. Dar had picked up the gun after the rigged elections in the state, that saw hundreds of youth swarm to the other side of the border to ‘avenge’ humiliation inflicted by the Indian State. "He kept fighting, but he had to die." Ahmer rapped for him two-and-a-half decades later.
Tell that Uncle
I put my heart out for this
I’m praying to God
All for this
It’s been too hard
“My track is a conversation with him. I always wanted to talk to him. It is an attempt to reach out to him, wherever he is,” Ahmer says.
But Ahmer's art isn't just about the pain of losing his uncle. “Nor is it about putting out some sort of a political message... People believe what they choose to believe. I know my rap is going to change very little. But I want to vent out my emotions. I am apolitical, but I can’t be indifferent,” he says.
Ahmer was born and raised in Srinagar, in Rajbagh — a riverside neighbourhood on the extension of the banks of the Jhelum. As it passes through Srinagar, the river is tranquil and slowly flowing by, quite unlike the life of people who inhabit the area around its banks. “You know what life is like there, don’t you?” he asks me, “It is still better in Rajbagh. You don’t know what the youth of Downtown have to go through.”
But I do. I come from Downtown. I let him continue, though.
“When they abrogated Article 370, I was at home. I saw certain things — ugly things. I wrote about them, I will rap about them. That’s it. I am not affiliated with any party and I don’t vouch for any side. I don’t have any (political) inclinations.”
Throughout the conversation, Ahmer asserts that his art is personal and has no political connotations — perhaps the only way to ensure your shop won’t be shut these days. Both the conversation and his hip-hop performances, however, suggest otherwise. Isn't the personal political, and isn't the political personal?
Shehran ti Gaaman manz, bamb ti bambaeri
Gham ti manmaeni, khoon ti waraeni
Zulm-o-sitam ti wujaeri
Asih ni yi Qabool, Yatih ni chalaan kah asool
(In the cities and villages, there’s bomb and bombardment
Sorrow and arbitrariness, bloodshed and destruction
Oppression and disvalue
This we will never accept — their lack of regard for principles)
One of Ahmer's earliest memories is of his brother getting beaten up at the hands of security forces while buying milk on a curfew day. “He was beaten badly with lathis. It was very difficult for me to even look at him. On that fateful day I felt a metamorphosis taking place within me. But I don’t want that to be defining moment of my life. I have actually been very lucky and have seen very little of the deadly conflict, as compared to others.”
Considering the nature and extent of the conflict in Kashmir, it is not surprising that visual imagery of it that has got embedded in the minds of people who witness it. This imagery is a driving force for Ahmer. “I may have never faced anything myself, but I listen to the painful tales of others. I can see through them. I want to rap through the prism of their minds.”
It was not until July this year that Ahmer found a medium to do so. In Kashmir, he used to make a lot of music and put it out on social media and YouTube. But it wasn’t taking the form he visualised. “There aren't many studios, not quality ones. And the atmosphere isn't conducive to talk about things as they are, either.” Things changed after he moved out of the (erstwhile) state. In Delhi, in collaboration with producer Sez On The Beat, Ahmer released his debut album, Little Kid, Big Dreams via the independent hip-hop label Azadi Records. Azadi Records is into politically conscious music — exactly what Ahmer needed. “Luckily, I found a label that was different from others that are purely commercial. My aim was never really commercial," he says.
I ask if he has inhibitions about live performances, where attendees may take offence to the lyrics of his songs. Could this amount to a threat to his life? “Isn’t it [speaking the truth] something one could even sacrifice their life for?” Ahmer asks me in response.
Isn’t it political, I wonder.
Ahmer’s ‘apolitical’-yet-political eight-track debut album offers a glimpse into the murk that is called life in the Valley.
Kahan se ata mein? Sabse darrawni jagah se
Insaaf hi mana hai, gunhegaari mein mazza hai yahan
Tu talve chaate toh bada hai, sach paale toh saza hai
(Where do I come from? The most dangerous place on this planet
Justice, they deny it, violations bring them joy here,
If you're a bootlicker, you stay relevant, if you support the truth, you’re a criminal)
Right from the start, Ahmer had determined that he needed to devote an entire album solely to Kashmir. “I have put out this album to make people aware. I wouldn't say it has changed people's views, but at least some of them now know about the nuances of the conflict. Usually, it is simplified narratives that are seen.”
Since he feels the need to keep his art pristine and removed from the influence of others, Ahmer doesn’t follow any contemporary Kashmiri poets or singers who have tried to tell tales of pain and anger through art, like him. “I have read and listened to very few such Kashmiri poets and singers, but I know the sentiment behind such art is the same.” This reminds me of Tolstoy’s famous words: "Art is not, as some metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of God; it is not, as some aesthetical psychologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored up energy; it is not the expression of man's emotions by external signs; it is not production of pleasing objects; and above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings."
Like Ahmer, many contemporary musicians from the Valley have tried to use art as a means to resist in the recent past. Some are still present, some have left, and some were forced to leave. Roshan Illahi, aka MC Kash, often credited as being the first ‘protest’ rapper from Kashmir who sang ‘I Protest’ during the 2010 Kashmir unrest was witness to his studio being vandalised by the police. Ahmer is aware of the possible repercussions of his music. “In this atmosphere, you can expect anything,” he says.
“Ab Allah pe hai sab.” (I have left it all to Allah)
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