A few days back, I had watched “In the Shade of Fallen Chinar“, a movie about the resistance in Kashmir, based on the planks of culture and education, and subsequently listened to the song “Chol Hama Roshay” performed by artist-activist Ali Saffudin, who is currently studying Mass Communication at Kashmir University. I immediately felt like asking him all the questions I had in mind till date about Kashmiri activists, especially the middle class, the upper-middle-class intellectuals who have taken up activism, much like those in India. However, in far more a radical manner than we can imagine, given the terrible, inhumane and brutal conditions that continue to torment the people there.
Then again, I was talking to someone who is a student and hence, extremely sensible. In fact, while doing this interview, I felt like I was interacting with an established European intellectual or activist – unlike the Indians who fall into this category, who are mostly snobbish, the Europeans are really down to earth and easy to communicate with. I had a beautiful experience interviewing Ali Saffudin, which I would like to share with everyone with the hope that this draws a real picture of Kashmir.
Titas Biswas (TB): How did you get introduced to music? Was it love at first sight?
Ali Saffudin (AS): I’ve loved music since childhood, but in my 10th standard when I started listening to rock music of the ’70s and ’80s, I was blown away by the power it possessed. Hearing every song was like reading a novel, every song was an experience. That is when I fell in love with the guitar and realised how powerful that instrument can be when used with the right feel.b
AS: Profession is something you earn money from, I’ve not earnd money from my music, but as far as putting in efforts go I don’t see that I expect the outcome in monetary terms. I am studying Mass Communication in Kashmir University and that I hope will help me on the professional front. But music is what my life revolves around and I’ll stick with it forever. I hope I find other decent means to earn money.
TB: Your singing style seems to be inspired from the concept of Hard Rock at points. Who are your favourite Hard Rock artists?
AS: Rock and Roll has been a school for me, listening to Rock and Roll is like educating myself, I’ve been inspired by all the various eras of rock music and the cultural impact it has had. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Queen, Black Sabbath, Bob Marley, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, The Doors, these artists have written songs which matter, which have defined a generation. And that always excited me, the craft of song writing.
TB: In future, would you like to be versatile about what you want to sing?
AS: As far as influences go, the indie music scene from Pakistan has also been a huge influence. Their music had the Rock and Roll spirit and indigenous feel as well. That’s when I realised that your roots are important to your music and I started listening to a lot of Kashmiri music.One should know the sound of his land, it is essential.
AS: After entering Kashmir University for my Masters in Mass Communication I realised that my generation of Kashmiri kids could never evade the conflict. Kashmir is not an integral part of India.We were the ’90s kids, raised in curfewed nights, under brutal army suppression. That took a toll on every kid. The Kashmir conflict resonates in every Kashmiri’s lifestyle. Every now and then we end up staring a discussion about the conflict in Kashmir. When you have that kind of consciousness and you belong to an oppressed state, resistance becomes a necessity.
TB: So in ‘In The Shade of Fallen Chinar’, we get to see how dynamic the student resistance can be. How are the students organising themselves throughout?
The way I look at music, it’s an extension of one’s personality and ideology. I write a song about resistance, a song against oppression, people of Kashmir connect to that. It’s a beautiful form of expression, it also serves as a source of documentation. Right kind of music can provide impetus to the resistance and become a catalyst for understanding all sorts of things like unity, community, culture and peace. The basic factor which induces the conflict is that the Indian state doesn’t acknowledge the fact Kashmir is a disputed territory and that the people of Kashmir have been denied the right to self-determination.
TB: Politically (in the universal sense), what would you like to describe yourself as?
AS: As far as political ideologies go, I don’t restrict my mind and thoughts to a particular political framework—say a Marxist or liberal or nationalist. I don’t want my ideology to get restricted. You have to see the reality by yourself and assess for yourself, then base your political point of view on reality and truth. One should be a free thinker rather than label your mind with a certain brand of ideology.
AS: I think of my compositions as my children, which are born after making love to music. That came out weird (laughs). All my compositions are precious and cater to different feelings and moods and melodies. Some are meticulously crafted, some come like a blessing from above. Some compositions I want to resonate with rage, some I want to be soothing and peaceful. All my compositions are precious to me.
TB: How difficult is life for activists? Do you fear anything might happen anytime?
AS: If you think about fear only then you really experience fear. The joy of making music for a cause is so immense that I don’t think about such repercussions.
AS: Many people make the mistake of thinking that the resistance is driven by hate. The driving force for any form of resistance is love, I love my motherland and I don’t want to see it torn apart by turmoil and suppression. You should try to understand and see what a person is standing ‘FOR’ rather than seeing what a person is standing ‘AGAINST’.