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This was my fifth blog entry from the ShantiSalaam tour that I co-organized with Hawah and V:shal in 2006-2007 to promote communcal harmony in South Asia.

8:28 a.m. – Srinagar blew my mind.  We rolled through like a thunderstorm; hosting what our hosts described as the first concert in a generation not hosted by the Indian government; and facilitating a writing & drawing workshop that yielded a fistful of pictures, a roomful of poetry, links between at least three groups doing synergistic work, and a new art & activism group known as "Kashmiri Rennaissance" that'll be meeting once a month for workshops on Saturdays.  We met regional artistic icons (and even performed with a few of them, including a renowned playwright and two notorious Kashmiri singers), local lawyers and social leaders, and central figures in the movement for self-determination who led the shift to non-violence that started in 1994.  Hawah even led a soccer workshop with a local team of diverse (in terms of both social class and age) kids recently organized by Ussman and a charismatic young captain of the team who also sang and danced with us at our show. 

We encountered ridiculous media attention, including TV coverage (though we've not yet seen the spots) by both CNN and NDTV (a national network), as well as a widely-watched local station that did a 1-hour feature on us, in addition to print coverage by The Greater Kashmir.  We also randomly met an Executive Editor for The Kashmir Times while waiting in the airport for our flight to Jammu, to whom we'll try reaching out again later.

One of the highlights of the trip, for me, was a jam session with Ussman and Younis in our hotel room on Wednesday night.  We got some perspectives from each of them (including some harrowing tales from Younis about various experiences in his past) before busting out a beat and watching Ussman freestyle and Younis sing – quite well, I'd add.  They're both already quite engaged in the effort to help rebuild Kashmiri culture, but seeing them harness a hip-hop sensibility incorporating Kashmiri language in the lyrics felt like watching the Universe shift.  Something that before was not there fell into place, opening a range of future possibilities.  I hope to share a mic with them, somewhere, sometime soon.

Ussman and I knew each other as kids, and it's bizarre to see how similar we've turned out.  He's a brother of the truest sort, dedicated to the struggle in an arena halfway around the world, facing costs and risks far beyond those I accept for myself.  We earned each other's trust and respect when we connected three years ago, and the measure of love I reserve for him deepened immensely over the course of this week.

I've been struck by the social status in South Asia conferred by simply being American.  It correlates to some extent to class, but also simply to creed, and reminds me of the "soft power" identified by Joseph Nye that differentiates both the quality and extent of American influence around the world from that of other powers.  We hold immense capacity to affect places around the world – and whereas our influence usually takes the form of inculcating our materialism as if the Borg, this tour is helping me realize just how effectively the energies of conscious artists can serve as art-tillery for the cultural resistance necessary to make possible a meaningful change from the prevailing international paradigm. 

Speaking of prevailing paradigms, I was impressed to discover in Srinagar a model of a progressive Muslim society.  The people there are undivided among religious lines, with the Hindu-Muslim concerns on which we focused thoroughly in the background of a more explicitly political struggle among contending Hindu and Muslim states, neither of which appears terribly concerned about the concerns of the local progressive, pan-religious community.  Women walk with or without their heads covered, undeterred from talking to men in public, and appear widely and well educated.  The only other place along these lines of which I've ever heard is Lebanon…though I fear recent events there have pushed the conflict between moderate secularists and conservative Muslims to the breaking point.  I may never get a chance to see with my own eyes the secular Mediterranean haven of which I've heard so much.

I think much of Kashmir's relatively unique social setting is born of the influence of Sufiism, which was apparently inculcated by a Persian saint who came through in the 1400s.  We visited a shrine dedicated to his memory, which was inspiring in its reflection of a true revolution.  He not only transformed the spiritual commitments of the people here, but also introduced no fewer than 500 new crafts, affording to everyday people a greater measure of economic independence than they had ever enjoyed before.  And despite coming to the region on only 4 occassions over the course of his life (and reportedly always on foot), his influence was so deep that it remains palpable, 700 years after the fact. 

Another gratifying element of our visit here was the chance to see Sanjay's impression.  He left on Tuesday in order to meet his family in Chennai (AKA Madras), and we shared a heartfelt – though unfortunately rushed – goodbye before leaving for the workshop we hosted with ANHAD.  He came to Burning Man this year, and came back visibly inspired.  His willingness to join us on this trip seemed to reflect that, and I feel as though his experiences since we got started may have been the straw on his camel's back.  He spoke at one point in Delhi of wanting to stay to kick it with Akshay, since it would have made a great vacation.  He seemed to grow inspired by our sense of mission since then, and even started proposing various visions of his own to manifest once we return to DC.  He reminds me of my friend Melvin in SF, whom I watched several years ago move from a relatively staid outlook to one reflecting a continually flickering, profoundly heat-bearing countercultural fire.

A botched trip to the airport on Thursday left us stranded for an extra day, followed by a hysterically fun car ride to Amritsar from Jammu last night.  We crashed for several hours, just finished re-allocating our things to send back to Delhi with Vishal, and are about to check out the Golden Temple before moving on to Lahore.

I've never been to the city of my father's birth (setting aside the first year of my life), and felt last night the full import of returning.  He and I went to Mecca together in 2001, and I feel as though I'm completing the journey.  One thing to which I have committed is listening to my mother the next time she tries teaching me a random word in Urdu.  Having been shorn from my native language by their oversight when I was younger, I resigned the whole endeavor of reforging a connection – but this trip has impressed upon me the importance of knowing that language in particular, and the need for me to set aside my petty resentments and appreciate whatever blessings my parents might yet confer upon me...once I grow up and approach them with my heart open. 

Mark Twain speaks to me, in his parable about the 17 year-old who struggles with his father before realizing at 21 that, "It's remarkable how much the old man grew in the past 4 years."

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