Majid Maqbool, on how Yasmin Hussain started a discourse on the condition of the Dal lake through a photo exhibition that illuminated its lost colours

A three day photo exhibition independently organized by a Kashmiri woman photographer, Yasmin Hussain in Srinagar, showcased many colours and shades of the Dal Lake. On display were her colourful ‘half images’ of Shikaras and houseboats and its once pristine waters. The aesthetically captured images of the lake sit at odds with the present condition of the lake which has shrunk to half its original size – its waters polluted and infested by weeds.

“What I see of the lake today deeply saddens me,” says Hussain who’s in her 40s. “The Dal once known as the Jewel of Srinagar has lost its lustre and is on the brink of extinction.”

In her photo exhibition titled Hope Floats, Hussain displayed images of the Dal that stand out for their play of light and the vibrant use of colours. She’s also captured objects of the lake over many years of clicking inside the lake. There’re photos of the reflections of the wooden shikaras as captured on the waters of the lake. Some pictures show colourful oars that propel the shikaras, an inseparable part of the lake.

Some of her images show mere reflections and shadows of the shikaras falling on the lake water, while other photos illuminate the forgotten corners of the lake. Her photos also focus on parts of houseboats that one doesn’t notice while inside the lake. “My eyes seek out the beauty in parts, no longer as a whole, leaving out what I don’t wish to see,” Yasmin says. “It is heart-breaking what I see now of the lake and I want to hold on to the beautiful image of the lake I grew up with.”

“Earlier I used to click shikaras as they had their unique character with thatched roofs, but now you see commercial messages and advertisements on them which is not that appealing,” she says. To avoid that, she captured the reflections inside the lake that are more striking and appealing to her “as they beautifully blur out the ugliness.”

Hussain couldn’t find a suitable gallery to showcase her pictures of the lake which she had clicked over the years, so she decided to showcase them at her residence instead. Seeing the present condition of the lake, especially after September 2014 floods, which further disturbed its equilibrium, she thought it was the right time to spread some awareness about subject.

Yasmin Hussain

“It was quite a challenge to create a suitable place keeping in mind the proper lighting that is required for such exhibitions and making sure there are no reflections as it was held outdoors,” she says, adding that she was overwhelmed by the response and the appreciation of the people who came to see and appreciate her works. “I’m happy that a lot of youngsters and students were able to see my work and I hope this can help spread the message to better preserve and conserve not just the Dal Lake but our environment as well.”

Although not a professional photographer, photography has been a passion for Hussain since her childhood years. The beauty and culture of Kashmir has always inspired her to capture some of it through her camera. “I feel blessed to be here and nothing makes me happier than capturing the beauty of this place through my lens.”

Dal Lake was her favourite destination since she got her first camera.  She remembers taking photos when she was as young as a 14. In the following years, as she grew up, she would head out with her camera in every season to capture the many colours on display. “The excitement of seeing your prints after they were developed and putting them in an album had its own charm.”

Hussain had collected and preserved a huge collection of photographs over the years in her home. It included black and white photos of her parents’ generation, her personal albums, and digital images of her outdoors shoots which were all stored in hard drives. But she lost almost all of it during the floods of 2014 as flood waters inundated her home.

Heart Turned Blue

“Our area was the worst hit, but we were lucky to be rescued in time,” she says. “But the damage was huge and losing that treasure of photographs was devastating…” After recovering from the floods and rebuilding their house, Hussain lost her mother a year later. It was a blow she is yet to recover from.

In one corner, amidst her exhibits, there are minutely detailed portraits, Hussain says they were made by her mother, who was a paediatrician by profession who made art in her free time. “The artistic instinct came from her,” says Hussain, who dedicated the exhibition to her memory.

Reflections

Despite all her personal tragedies, Hussain doesn’t give in to pessimism and looks at the brighter side of things. This is reflected in her images of the lake which aren’t bleak but colourful, evoking hope. She’s hopeful that what remains of this lake, once called the city’s jewel, can still be better saved and preserved for posterity. And as it struggles to survive, she says the lake still continues to sustain all that remains afloat on it.

“Hope is the last thing ever lost,” she says, “and till then, hope floats.”

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