Shruti Mahajan



My own trajectories of migration have made me conscious of the relationship between memories and movement. I have often ruminated on the narratives of belongingness, identity and nationhood while gathering the experiences of an itinerant life. Having lived in military cantonments of many cities and border regions of India, shifting homes every two to three years has been an integral part of my living. This constant displacement has redefined my idea of home and its association with permanence and temporariness, remembering and forgetting, attachment and detachment. Over a period of time, I have been able to reflect, respond and visually translate many such concepts in my work and my drawings.

In my video works titled Home and Front (2012) and Lakeer (2014), I have reflected on how perception changes the definition of a map and borders. We all know map as a symbolic representation of the vast geography, whereas, it can also be a way to connect memory to a feeling. Each mind has a unique way of connecting with a place and while discovering a new place, the mind slowly finds familiarity in the unfamiliar.

The first video Home and Front responds to the continual restlessness caused due to uncertainty and mistrust between locals and families of the armed forces living in the Kashmir valley. It captures the fear and vulnerability that the confinement had brought to all those who lived there under restrictions.

The guarded cantonment area of Baramulla Kashmir was the only area where I could walk around freely. A world in its own, the campus had three small shops to cater to everyday needs and small vocational training center .This defence run vocational center was the part of an outreach program aimed to develop various skills (like crafts, tailoring, basic technical courses) for the local population of the area. It was in this centre, I got an opportunity to interact with a group of Kashmiri girls pursuing a course in stitching. This interaction presented an opportunity for me to know them closely and their lives in the valley.

After a couple of interactions- we decided to do a drawing/map making workshop where the girls were asked to draw the route they take from their homes to the training center.While everyone got busy describing the city beyond the military campus, I spotted Zohra who travelled all the way from a border town in the Uri sector .Her map was very detailed and vivid, describing the terrain and she meticulously drew houses, grasslands, water streams, walnut trees, the ziyarat (pilgrimage) sites and details of crawling trenches and bunkers of the forces on either side of the border with equal ease.

I was also very often spending time with a Kashmiri tailor- Wajid who worked on the campus. Our conversations would center around his life, his family and children. He narrated stories about his life as a chef in Mumbai and recipes he liked to cook while being engrossed in cutting a piece of cloth for the uniform or busy sewing buttons. It was one of those afternoons when I shot footage of him ironing a newly stitched uniform with great patience.

The footages of Zohra and Wajid lead to the making of my video work ‘Home-Front’. The title explores verbal and visual imagery, juxtaposing the intimacy of the ‘home’ with the military dictum of ‘front’ that alludes to territorial borders. The dual screen video shows the hands of Wajid- the tailor ironing a military uniform with great patience and care; and the other of Zohara lovingly drawing her land/locality outside the parameters of the cantonment, describing its beauty amidst enemy bunkers and constant fear. 

The second video Lakeer is also an extension of my engagement with cartography. While the border in Kashmir is a shifting line, the Radcliffe Line passing through western Rajasthan is a clear demarcated fence of concertina coil. At the border areas, one can clearly witness the haphazard Radcliffe Line which passed through the fields and houses separating the kitchen from the living rooms and ruthlessly cutting the social fabric of pre-independent India. Ironically, the flag retreat performed every evening to honour the territorial integrity of the nation also reminds of the pain of partition.

“The three-part video titled Khaqua (Drawing), Kaarsazi (Making) and Taqseem (dividing) is a reflection on the surgical, brutal, and irrevocable division of the land.

Khaqua’ highlights the rhetoric of flag and map to counter the historical mutability of territory and differentiation a nation from land and its people. ‘Kaarsazi’ evokes the criticality of the defences, the materiality of the marking and demarcating of territory in the form of fences and gates, the patient everydayness of the work of hostility. And ‘Taqseem’, the surgically violent act of scissoring a map rapidly degenerates into a destructive and chaotic shredding, the internal and external cleaving of the cartographic cognition of colonial power into territorial incoherence.”

Shruti Mahajan is a visual artist currently living in Hyderabad. She has studied Painting from the Faculty of Fine Arts, M. S. University, Baroda and Textile Design from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *