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Peace On Earth: You Can’t Get There From Here

December 17, 2014

Here in New England, you sometimes hear the disconcerting expression, “You can’t get there from here.” It’s something said jokingly to a stranger who’s lost and has stopped to ask for directions.

It doesn’t really mean you can’t get to your destination from that point. It means you have to backtrack, and take a different route.

I thought of that expression in a different context while I was illustrating a very somber essay for The Rumpus. I thought about how difficult it is to find peace when one has gotten hopelessly lost and mired in hate and violence. You can’t get there from here.

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The essay was written by a Kashmiri expatriate.

Kashmir has a convoluted history. India and Pakistan have fought at least three wars over the region, the first in 1947. The two countries (along with China) control different parts of Kashmir. There are Kashmiri insurgents who favor independence. The author of the essay shares the latter’s wish for self-rule.

The author goes back and forth in time, sharing memory fragments. One involves his grandfather, a devout Muslim, whom he remembers “seated quietly on a woolen rug in
his room, surrounded by an army of cats he fed with pieces of lawas bread.”

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Muslim prayer rug showing image of old man surrounded by cats symbols lawas bread

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I sometimes need photo references to fine-tune an idea. In this case, I googled “prayer rug” and “old Muslim man,” and used the following for inspiration.

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photos of Muslim prayer rug and old wrinkled Moslem man with turban

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Here’s a detail image. The rug “squares” were completely ad-libbed. I drew them as fast
as I could, dashing off whatever popped into my head.

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detail image Muslim prayer rug showing image of old man surrounded by cats symbols lawas bread

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The rest of the essay is unremittingly bleak, and centers on betrayal: a childhood acquaintance (a Kashmiri) joins a militia group to fight for Kashmiri independence.
The group is ultimately “co-opted by the Indian army” (this is never explained) to
fight against the insurgents.

The traitor is later killed by Indian soldiers who mistake him for an insurgent– which conjured this image about the dangers of joining the “wrong club.”

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pigeon with snake club membership card about to be eaten by rattle snake with big fangs

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There are several references to pigeons in the essay. I used that to advantage here, since “pigeon” is also an American slang term for a dupe: someone easily taken in, deceived.

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detail image pigeon with snake club membership card about to be eaten by rattlesnake with huge fangs

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The saddest aspect of the essay is its familiarity: we may not know the details of the Kashmir conflict, but we recognize the entrenched cycle of atrocity and revenge that makes peace so hard to attain.

Near the end of the essay, the author makes an allegorical reference to daggers “cutting wounds in the red dome of the sky.”

It conjured up this image. Violence feeds on pride. It’s always an easier choice than the slow, arduous work of peace and reconciliation.

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daggers of war hate piercing cloud raining blood on dove killed hope of peace

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If this were a stand-alone statement on violence, I would have made the victim a dove– the traditional symbol for peace. Instead I used a pigeon, to keep the imagery consistent.

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detail image daggers war pierced cloud raining blood on dove killed chance for peace

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Are you familiar with the Kashmir conflict?

Have you ever been personally touched by sectarian violence– conflict based on religious or political differences?

Any thoughts on how individuals might strive to effect peace on earth?

Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Merry Christmas From Spokane!

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Busker’s Christmas Carol: Miser Beware!

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2014 2:06 PM

    Your images are very powerful. I am sure they add to the impact of the essay.

    You asked if readers had ever experienced sectarianism. I have not directly but lived in Britain during The Troubles and, especially in London, was always aware of the atmosphere of anxiety generated by constant vigilance for potential threats. My Father-in-Law was in a building that was bombed so, of course, we know that the reality was that each bomb scare could be for real but really bomb scares were so frequent it was possible to actually become a bit complacent about them. While complete peace has not yet been achieved in relation to Ireland, great strides have been made. Hopefully the same will some day be true for other areas of the world in which religious divisions have led to ingrained prejudices, violence and conflict.

    Like

    • December 18, 2014 4:33 PM

      Many, many thanks for that kind comment, and for sharing your experience. It helps the rest of us relate. If we can’t relate, the problem remains abstract, and we don’t take it seriously.

      I’m acquainted with The Troubles (in Northern Ireland), which included the IRA’s planting bombs in London and other English cities. It was a regular part of evening newscasts from the 70’s right thru the 90’s. The cycle of atrocity and retaliation seemed destined to go on forever. To think there’s relative peace these days seems miraculous. It does indeed give one hope, for Kashmir, and– dare I say it?– even the Middle East.

      Thanks again for your insights and your generous contribution to this discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. December 17, 2014 2:46 PM

    Oh Mark, I always love reading your posts, although I must confess that I spend a lot of time offline now than online. So please, pardon my long absence on your site. You are a man with incredible talent, and I pray to God, that one day, I would get a chance to see you physically; whether you breeze into London or anytime I’m in the States, I’ll definitely find you out! 🙂

    I love your artistic talent, it’s nothing I’ve seen before, on the subject of your post, I doubt if we’ll get complete peace here on this realm, there would always be wars unfortunately but I do believe; humans have the ability to reach a compromise of some sort but like you rightly said, pride is a demon that would always impede that possibility! (such a long sentence)

    Very powerful post, I really enjoyed my visit dear friend!

    Love and blessings to you!

    Like

    • December 18, 2014 5:02 PM

      Seyi, it is always a delight to see you– no apology needed! I always feel I’m way behind in visiting blogs and responding to all the kind people who take an interest in my work– so join the club! And yes, it would be lovely to meet you in person someday– we must hope that the stars will align! : )

      Thank you for your kind words. So often, peace does seem a hopeless dream. Even so, one sees glimmers of hope: Northern Ireland comes to mind, and so does South Africa. I don’t kid myself that all is sweetness and light in either case, but even grudging peace is cause for hope. It helps keep us going, and suggests that maybe, just maybe, lasting peace is possible.

      Thanks for your visit, and for sharing your long sentences (!). Sending love and blessings to you from snowy New Hampshire, USA!! : )

      Like

  3. December 17, 2014 6:11 PM

    Ah, my dear Mark, I am always amazed by your creative ingenuity. How you managed to create these brilliant images from such a tough subject, is beyond me – but then, I shouldn’t be surprised, should I? 😉
    As for the peace matter, Thich Nhat Hanh has the perfect words for it. Coincidentally, a good friend posted about it here: https://davidalockwood.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/the-need-for-peace-tranquillity/ I believe you will enjoy it.
    Compassion is probably the answer.

    Like

    • December 18, 2014 8:48 PM

      My dear Marina!– must you make me blush so?? Why, you could cook an egg on my face!! Too bad I already ate breakfast– I could use a change from corn flakes… : )

      I wasn’t familiar with Thich Nhat Hanh. He sounds like a man who’s worked hard for peace. I enjoyed Mr. Lockwood’s post, thank you– especially the Buddha exchange. Yes, being awake. Not as easy as it sounds, even when you’re, er, awake. Is there a test for it yet? I hope not– I hate to think what my score might be on the Somnolence Index… : (

      Compassion. Ah, now there’s a force that would surely transform the world. Makes me think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Peace follows naturally when one puts another’s welfare ahead of one’s own.

      Dear me– I think I just described you perfectly… No wait, I forgot to say something about the paint stains on your toga… : )

      Like

  4. soul . to . earth permalink
    December 18, 2014 2:09 PM

    Mark, I now understand what you meant about it being a challenging assignment. Through your sketches, you’ve managed to convey what can only be felt deeply. Reading Feroz Rather’s brilliant and poignant article brought tears (a rare thing in my case!). In an instant, it was once again 1990 and I was in Kashmir on my first and last visit. Ah! The people were warm, welcoming, kind and helpful. Amidst the stunning natural beauty (it truly is paradise) of Sonmarg, Gulmarg, Srinagar and the Dal Lake, my 19-year self couldn’t comprehend the presence of armed guards and soldiers in every tourist bus, hotel, almost everywhere. It was also the first time I ever heard the sound of gunfire in my life.

    Little did I know that in the next 3 years, Bombay (where I was born and lived until ’97) was going to be rocked by religious riots , bomb explosions et al. Seeing my city burn and torn apart was surreal. Oddly enough, I was on a visit to Bombay during the horror of 26/11. It’s only hindsight that afforded me the realization of how my life (and those of my loved ones) was spared each time…….somehow.

    As always, to end on a positive note: That we can’t get there from here is because we haven’t recognized how we got here from there! I truly believe “we are the ones we’re waiting for“…….. that each one of us can and will bring peace and harmony by becoming it in our daily lives. No matter who we are or where we come from. Peace may take time and/or lifetimes but, it’s certainly worth the time spent planting its seeds.

    A ton of wishes and cheer to you and yours for a very Merry Christmas! Thanks for your merry presence and good cheer – ’tis much needed in our times, I say! 🙂

    Like

    • December 18, 2014 10:09 PM

      My dear Radhika, I thought of you many times as I worked on that assignment, wondering if, growing up in India, you’d been touched in any way by the Kashmir conflict. I hadn’t considered other sectarian (Muslim-Hindi) violence. Your poignant comment was quite a revelation– and a shock. I’m so sorry you and your family and friends had to contend with such horrors. I’m thankful you escaped harm. I know many others were not so lucky.

      Thank you for including a link to the essay on The Rumpus– something I neglected to do, but have since corrected. Thanks, too, for the links re the destruction of the Babri Mosque, and the 26/11 attacks. They helped me understand the sequence and the scope of those terrible events. Demoralizing, sometimes, to realize how ignorant I am re events on the other side of the world.

      We are the ones we’re waiting for… that’s what I was afraid of!! I can’t help but nod ruefully, even as I feel that colossal kick in the pants. How true. Always so tempting to wait for a miracle or some guy with a magic wand. Sure beats digging in and tryna plant seeds of peace in one’s own neighborhood, workplace, etc.

      … each one of us can and will bring peace and harmony by becoming it in our daily lives. No matter who we are or where we come from. Peace may take time and/or lifetimes but, it’s certainly worth the time spent planting its seeds.

      Those are some of the wisest words I’ve ever read. I hope you don’t mind my repeating them. They bear repeating. Over and over. Thank you for sharing that tremendous insight.

      It’s a pleasure to know you, thanks for multiplying any value this humble post may have had exponentially. That’s fancy math talk for “a lot.” I think. A very मैरी क्रिसमस to you, say I, and, to end on a really positive note: +♪ : )

      Like

      • soul . to . earth permalink
        December 19, 2014 11:30 AM

        Wise? More of a wise-cracker w/ a crazy sense of humour who laughs not at but, despite all of it that comes from being a Bombayite (aka Mumbaikar); a sturdy (that wash cycle for heavy-duty stuff), fun-loving, hardworking, helpful (almost to a fault), peaceful and chilled-out bunch – it’s hard to ever separate or diminish their spirit. Also, most of Bombay’s population is made up of immigrants (moi included since my origins are maverick South Indian).

        As an immigrant here, I could be an Indian Ambassador? Driven by Canadian DIY skills (so not an Indian thang!) to create DIY peace. 😀

        [My wizened 2 cents on so-called religious conflict: Anyone who attacks, terrorizes and kills has forsaken both God and their humanity. The practice of being human IS God – no religion has ever outlined anything otherwise. Being inhuman is not religion.]

        What’s that I heard Santa say? Oh, oh, oh, there’s a verrah, verrah, gifted illustrator in Noo Hampshuh on my funny and nice list!

        See ya in 2015 for more laughs to come, mon ami. 😉

        Like

        • December 19, 2014 1:44 PM

          Ah, these wunnaful comments that drift in from the Far North. They put a little layer of ice on my coffee, which keeps it hot for some reason… : )

          Did I say wise? I meant wisenheimer, a word Germans use to describe people from South India, I believe… : )

          I can’t think of a finer Indian ambassador (tooling around in her Hindustan Ambassador) to dear old Canada. True, you’d score way off the Stuffy Staid & Stoic Diplomat Scale, but that’s good. Extreme merriment and breezy irreverence are not necessarily handicaps… : )

          Your 2 Canadian pennies’ worth on God, religion, and being human was, um, right on the money. I’d call it wise, but I’ve already gone down that road and slipped on a banana peel… : )

          2015?? Can that possibly be right? Time sure flies when you’re writing comments. Continuer la bonne chère, mon ami!! : )

          Like

  5. December 19, 2014 7:12 PM

    The dead pigeon in blood…is a sad thought for peace.

    Absolutely the long, hard road to peace compared to short-time violence.

    No I haven’t been directly touched by political, sectarian violence. My father did see Japanese plane release bomb or something like that when he was a boy in China.

    Peace be with you and your family, with warm, bright wishes in 2015 Mark.

    Like

    • December 30, 2014 7:30 PM

      Thanks, Jean. Nice to see you, as always. Peace is a long hard road, no doubt about it. Let’s hope more people decide to trod that road in 2015. Thanks for your loyal support, and I wish you and Jack peace, happiness, and lots of new and happy bike trails in the coming year! : )

      Like

  6. December 21, 2014 6:24 PM

    Mark … I’m constantly amazed about the research you do before creating your illustrations. I am not familiar with the conflict in Kashmir. But, in my mind, I think of The Troubles in Ireland – people in the same nation torn apart by political, ideological and/or religious differences. This is also true in our nation, seeing only the differences in people rather than what we have in common.

    Your illustrations captured the story beautifully. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours. 😉

    Like

    • December 30, 2014 7:38 PM

      Thanks so much, Judy. I do learn a lot from my assignments. Some of them are real shocks to the system, and make me realize how little I know about far-flung corners of the globe. I agree: there seems to be a relentless push to highlight differences these days. That’s a pity, since it makes us forget that we all share many of the same hopes and dreams.

      Thanks as ever for all your support. Hope you and Dave and the gang had a great Christmas, and I wish you all much happiness in the coming year! : )

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Lily permalink
    December 24, 2014 12:16 PM

    Such haunting illustrations – and so very cleverly done, particularly that last one with the pigeon.

    I’m not sure on how to achieve peace but we, as individuals, can certainly do little things ourselves to spread and maintain positivity and joy. Simple things like smiling, saying hello, giving gifts, showing someone we care – strangers or not.

    I hope that these small acts can remind everyone that the world is a nice place. Maybe it can slowly convince someone who’s lost in a negative space that there is a better way. And ultimately, make us all believe that peace can be achieved.

    Like

    • December 30, 2014 8:12 PM

      What a wonderful comment, Lily, thank you. It makes me think of that powerful Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” (He probably stole the idea from you… : )

      I’m also reminded of the refrain from The Prayer Of St. Francis (hymn): “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” You’re so right: too many of us think we have to do something grand; if we all focused instead on small acts of kindness, we could help make our neighborhoods, towns, and cities a lot more peaceful.

      And your last point is excellent: belief is crucial to motivation: if we don’t believe something is possible, we’re not going to make the necessary effort to achieve it. Thank you so much for your insights, Lily! : )

      Like

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