I am a Kashmiri woman.
I am a spirit that embodies the zeal and the resilience of the place I was born in.
I am a tale, a story that needs to be told, and be heard by all.
I am a woman, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a wife.
I am comfort, a pot of love, brimming with passion.
Much is love, and lost.
As I realized my capacities, I emerged as an emblem and an inspiration that taught humanity greatest lessons.
What can be said about me?
The shrill of a voice, recounting the days of yore, when my words and songs adorned the hills of Kashmir.
“I pestle my heart in love’s mortar, roasted it and ate it up. I kept my cool but you can bet I wasn’t sure whether I’d live or die.”
Memories are too complicated.
As one leafs through the pages of history, Lal Ded, Habba Khatoon, Didda glare at your, trying to narrate the memory that was lost.
Arranging the stories, as they go.
Memory, too rearranges itself.
In centuries gone by of the darkness enveloping my beautiful being, I have accepted the challenge of delving into the peace.
I have broken the shackles of misconception and emerged as a voice to thousands of voiceless victims who are too weak and defeated to tell their story.
I recite the hymns from Quran and Bhagwat Gita, as I climb the stairs of Koh-e-Maran and the temple Shankaracharya.
I will reclaim the spirituality in the shrine of Makhdoom Sahab, and the adobe of Tulmul.
The time is frozen in my mind; it has become a part of my memory.
Of the strong bond we shared as a community, of our Kashmiriyat.
I will reclaim my identity for my land, where the songs of Kashmiriyat will play along.
I will reclaim the pain in me, and the smile of my lips.
I will reclaim my Himalayas, where snowflakes fall in my dreams.
I am a Kashmiri Woman.
I am the Soul.
A bird that longs to perch on the Chinar and sing the songs of peace.
I am a woman, you believe in me.
Vichitra’s family settled in Jammu after they left Kashmir, and she came to Delhi to pursue a Bachelors degree in Journalism from Kamla Nehru College. Though her parents wanted her to pursue a degree in medicine, Vichitra had a heart set on journalism. She feels this would eventually enable her to make films or write about Kashmir.
Her observations on Kashmir are based on the narrative of her elders where they often speak about how wonderful their childhood years were. She feels that staying out of Kashmir has influenced their festivities a bit. “For instance, we observe Navratras and abstain from having non-veg food during that time period,” she says. However, they still follow all the other traditions at home – Herath, Gaad Batti, Khyech Maavas.
Aarti Dhar, The Hindu
Aarti Dhar is the senior Assistant Editor of national daily The Hindu. Starting her career in journalism with The Statesman in 1988, Aarti has covered almost everything, including HIV/AIDS and reproductive and child health related issues in particular – extensively for the last eight years.
She holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration and is pursuing a Post Graduate Diploma Course in Bioethics from National Institute of Epidemiology. Her story on the lives of widows and abandoned women living in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh was taken cognizance of by the National Legal Services Authority to provide facilities to them.
She was the first journalist of Kashmiri origin to cover crime beat in Delhi. And it made her “efficient and decisive.” She says it is a challenge to keep the Kashmiri culture alive, owing to the “influences by various other cultures and inter-caste marriages.”
She advices people to follow their hearts.
Rabia Noor, Srinagar
Rabia Noor is an author based in Jammu and Kashmir.After pursuing active journalism for quite some years, she shifted her focus to academics.She has just completed her Doctorate in Mass Communication and Journalism from University of Kashmir.She has authored book titled ‘Business Leaders of Kashmir: A Series of Success Stories’ and some monographs.Currently she writes for daily Greater Kashmir.
Like most of the Kashmiri kids, she too wanted to be a doctor.“But as I grew up, I realized my real interest as well as my potential lied in media,” she says.She wishes Kashmiri Pandits return to the Valley, “which is their real home.”
She is looking forward to pursue her career in journalism and academics simultaneously. She also stresses upon the importance of keeping the traditions alive.
Fahmeeda Akhtar, Srinagar Airport
While it is still rare to find Kashmiri girls managing eateries, soft spoken and always smiling, Fahmeeda has taken the charge at an eatery at the departure lounge of Srinagar International Airport. Daughter of a farmer father and a housewife mother, Fahmeeda says the financial situation back home was her reason to work.
“I wanted to do my bit by towards the household.Once this job happened, there was no looking back for me,” she says. Hailing from Baramulla district, Fahmeeda is pursuing her studies from Women’s college, Nawakadal.
Although her job is demanding, which requires her to take care of the inventory, besides standing at the counter for the whole day, she says, “It is quite an experience.”
“I interact with many people from across the world who share their experience of Kashmir, while comparing it with other destinations they have visited,” she says.
Raka Khashu, New Delhi
A postgraduate in Marketing, Raka is currently working as Director Marketing with an American Multinational. Born in Srinagar and spending early years there, her family moved to Delhi in 1990.
“The initial period was very tough, starting our lives from a scratch. But I am blessed to have the family that I do,” she says. She visited Kashmir in 2008 after 18 long years. Now she visits every six months. “How can I stay away from Tul Mul for long,” she says.
She says she misses noisy cricket sessions on Sundays with the cousins or a quiet evening studying with parents. “Language, food, festivals, and not to forget the Khatamband, the carpets and the shawls,” she says.
She gets sad about the fact that Kashmiri’s living outside somehow don’t take pride in their language and customs anymore. “While I understand that things will change and they should, things will evolve and rightly so – but to forget out mother tongue is unpardonable.” She says she loves it and is proud of it.
Anu Raina, Fashion Designer, Canada
Although she grew up in the family that appreciated art and craft but making it a career was not recognized or encouraged. “I tried to follow the norm too and graduated in Biology but I felt stifled,” says Anu Raina, who is a fashion designer based in Canada. “I was always a creative kind, and playing with colors and fabrics made me happy. So I decided to become a designer,” she adds.
Her brother encouraged her to follow her heart, which was eventually supported by the entire family.
Her debut collection at Toronto Fashion week was all hand dyed and printed by her, inspired by her childhood memories in Kashmir. “My grandmother was the biggest influence on my life as a kid. She was the first one to introduce me to the craft of hand dyeing. Little did I know that I would choose Textiles as my career path in life,” she says.
Currently she is working on her next collection F/W 2014, titled ‘T.O’. “I have been invited to show at the Toronto Fashion Week in March.”
Anu says she is in awe Kashmiri gems like Gulam Hassan Sufi, Naseem Akhtar, Shamima Dev, Vijay Malla, Bashir Badgami, Pandit Bhajan Sopori, late Shanti Kaul. She relishes Kashmiri food and misses the “sweet memories from Kashmir.”
A postgraduate student of Public Administration at Jamia Millia Islamia, Rabia has a deep interest in literature. She feels it liberates and uplifts her thought process.
Though her family lives in Kashmir, she decided to move out and study in Delhi. “I wanted to get an objective view of life, world and everything else that matters.” She cherishes her Kashmiri roots and often talks to her parents about the past – her childhood, youth and how the state has evolved culturally and socially over the years.
Rabia tells us how her parents miss their Pandit friends who moved out of Kashmir during the 1990’s. “Things are not the same now,” she says. However, one thing she is grateful to her parents for is giving her the liberty to chase her dream of pursuing a degree of her preference in a place away from home.
Rabia aspires to join civil services and feels her choice of subject will assist her in cracking the exams.
Rubina Sushil , DLF City News & National Realty
Nothing could have been as delighting for Rubina as not been able to get an admission in a Medical college. “I was free to pursue that I wanted, and that was to be a professional in the Mass Media,” she says. Rubina is currently based out of Gurgoan.
For her, her Kashmiri origin is an advantage. “People smile; they remember their trip to Kashmir with warmth and lovely memories,” she says. Her journey in journalism has been full of ups and downs as she had to take long breaks to look after her young children. “There were times when I actually had to start right from the bottom and climb the ladder all over. But, the satisfaction you get when your profession is your passion is great,” she says.
She advices young and aspiring journalists to work with passion. “Media is not glamorous. It is tougher than you think. Identify your strengths and your interests,” she says.
Manorama (Dhar) Bakshi New Delhi
Manorama Bakshi does not believe in giving up on her dreams. . Born in a Kashmiri family, she is attached to her roots and tries her best to keep Kashmiri culture alive, while living far away from her place of birth.
Coming from a family of toppers, Manorama says she was more inclined towards communication. “In our family, studying science was a kind of a ritual. My father is still of the view that science as a subject improves one’s intelligence quotient. So, after finishing my graduation in science, I did a course in Journalism,” she shares.
Getting influenced by her parents who, she says, were “exceptionally good in parenting”, inspired her to follow her dream. She is currently working as Deputy Regional Coordinator, NRU at Ministry of health & Family Welfare where she responsible for giving technical support to Government of India at National, State, District & Block levels for implementing RMNCH+ A goals. Earlier she was the CEO of Urivi Vikram Charitable Trust where shewas responsible for “overseeing programs and wasinvolved in high-level decisions about policy and strategy of the organization.
She says she is proud of her origin, and wants to pass on the same pride to her kids. “I actively participate in my community events and make it a point to speak to or reach out to Kashmiris, be it a Pandit or Muslim, whenever and wherever I come across one,” she says.
Pearl Raina, Painter, USA
11-year-old Pearl Koul is studying 5th grade at Stevens Creek Elementary in Cupertino, Northen California. She started painting when she was 4 and since then she has done more than 100 pieces of art in various media – pencil, oil pastel, water-color, color-pencil, charcoal, glass, scratch-boards etc.
Her real passion is art. “I enjoy doing sketches and portraits the most mostly because the complexity and simplicity of playing with the features fascinate me,” she says. To re-energize her creative batteries, she likes to immerse in other activities like Taek-wondo, astronomy, and gymnastics. “Somewhere there, I find the inspiration for the next creative reflection.”
She says her pre-school teacher was her influence. “Stacy Maldonado was my first influence who encouraged me to draw and play with colors. My parents saw this and have supported me ever since,” she says.
Even though most of the art contests have the age criteria as 16 years, Pearl has already participated in a few art contests and mostly local events that come her way. She also sent paintings to President Obama during the Re-election campaign and received the acknowledgement from the President’s office.
Souzeina S Mushtaq, Hardnews
Souzeina S Mushtaq started writing when she was 15. It was an emotional decision driven by an urge to speak for her people. Inspired by a woman journalist and a human rights activist, who was killed in a land mine blast, Souzeina decided to follow her steps and write, unlike what others had decided for her. Currently she is working in New Delhi with Hardnews magazine.
She shares how her family went against her after she disclosed her decision. “They were angry and wanted me to retract, and opt for the “typical women oriented courses”. Their pressures only motivated me more to follow my passion,” she says.
Journalism, Souzeina says, has helped her overcome her limitations. “It has helped me to broaden my vision and empathize with people and their causes.”
She admires women writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Elif Shafak, Simone de Beauvoir, and believes in following the dreams.
Hina was raised in Kashmir but came to Delhi to pursue her Bachelors Degree from Jamia Milia Islamia. Specializing in Applied Arts and Fine Arts, she loves to paint – her subjects contrary to her lighthearted temperament – are based on the struggles in the minds and heart of the Kashmiri youth. She is also inclined towards writing poetry both in Urdu and English as she feels it is the best way to give vent to her emotions.
She comes from a family which which misses the bonding Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits shared in the valley before insurgency set in. “My father told me that he had more Pandit friends than Muslims,” she shares.
Hina has integrated a lot of things from her non-Kashmiri friends in Delhi, a place she now like to call home. “When I first came to Delhi, it was a totally different world, but I feel more settled. Just like a ship goes through a lot of storms before it reaches the shore,” she smiles.
A diploma holder in French, Subha is pursuing a B Tech from Vellore Institute of Technology. She is also pursuing a degree in Actuarial Science from the Institute of Actuaries of India. She is also a member of AIESEC and ISTE.
Shubha’s family had to move out of Kashmir after militancy erupted in the valley in the 1990s.They lived in Jammu for a few months before settling down in Delhi. Though they got isolated from the soil of Kashmir, their roots remained intact. She has never lived in Kashmir but her impressions are primarily from the memories recounted by her parents and grandparents.
“Our household is as Kashmiri as it can be, with grandparents singing traditional bhajans, eating foods like sheer chai, kahwa, kulchas and bakharkanis,” she says.
Shubha, however, feels that there is huge gap between the earlier generations and now in terms of culture and tradition. “My family and me follow the LFF phenomenon in which stands for language, food and festivals. These three factors can keep any ethnic tradition alive and we try and follow that at home too,” she says.
After finishing her schooling from Delhi Public School, New Delhi,Nirupama, a Kashmiri born,did her graduation in Economics (Honours) from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, and post graduation in Politics and International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.
Currently she is the Director(Films) in the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India. Circumstances forced her family to move out of Kashmir. “My father and his brothers moved to Delhi for financial reasons, after my grandfather died in a car accident in Srinagar,” she says. Despite having grown up in Delhi,she says she spent her entire childhood living in a joint family. “So we were never away from Kashmir.”
She visited Kashmir in 2012, after 25 long years. “There was something special in the air, which is hard to put down in words,” she says.
Nirupama is interested in writing, singing, reading and cinema.
Malik Irtiza, Painter, Srinagar
Irtiza had been painting since her childhood. “I was always attracted to colors and would spend money on buying them, as I wanted to satisfy my urge of creating something new,” she says. But it was in 2011, when she painted her first observation. “It was a scenario of Kashmir I had picked up along the streets.”
Calling it more than just a hobby, Irtiza says “it is a gift Allah has bestowed me with and I am going to make it better.” “My every expression, observation and experience is frozen in colors.”
She says everything inspires her. “My teacher, Qalab Hussain was the first one to guide me. K. Asif Iqbal, Adil Mubeen have been my gurus.” Irtiza was lucky to get encouragements and support from her family. “I never heard “stop painting” warning. Allah has been merciful to me,” she says.
In most of her work till now, there is a reflection of Kashmir. “I also do calligraphy. After contemplating on verses in the holy Quran, I transform that understanding into an artwork,” she says. She is also thinking of incorporating the changing political scenario in the Arab world in her work.
Samina Khan, Fashion Designer, New Delhi
From being a science graduate to an advocate, and then finally settling on fashion designing, Samina says, “it has been quite a journey. Yes, it might seem whimsical but that is how I am.”
Having living in Delhi for 25 years, Samina says she yearns for Kashmir. “I am a Kashmiri and Kashmiri things are dear to me. It reflects in my work.”
Samina has also witnessed a change in Kashmiri taste. “Previously, people had very less taste for fashion and would go for safe designs and colours. Now they want different materials, designs and vibrant colours. The cut and styles of dresses matters to them,” she says.
She says in Delhi, people love Kashmiri designs. “It sells very well if it is ethnic Kashmiri work and authentic in nature. I don’t like mixing modern with traditional embroideries, and that is how I keep them traditional.”
She is married into a Punjabi family but says she wants a tinge of Kashmir everywhere around her. “Be it my food, my walnut furniture, my copper utensils, nun chai or Kehwah.” “Crewel curtains, Kashmiri carpets and namdas decorate my home. I breathe, eat and sleep Kashmir. Kashmir is a cultural hub of softness, friendliness, humor, hospitability and generosity. I try to live up to it,” she says.
A student of Fashion Communication from National Institute of Fashion Technology, Khushbu was primarily raised in Delhi as her family members had to relocate after the family was targeted in Srinagar in 1991. Like most Kashmiri Pandits, they too dream of returning back to the Valley some day – but also realize that it may not be the most realistic thought.
“My parents talk a lot about the old times in the valley. Most of the times, they miss the beauty of the valley,” she says. Khushboo dreams of pursuing a career in fashion communication. “My job would be to assist producers in showcasing and selling their products to prospective buyers.’’
She says Kashmiri is the spoken language at home and with it her parents have ensured that all rituals, festivals are celebrated with fervor and gusto – to keep the tradition alive.
Dimple (Kaul) Singh, USA
Dimple Kaul was one the few Kashmiri women to opt for Mechanical Engineering. “I wanted to test my own strengths and notions that girls are equally capable of holding grounds usually dominated by men,” she says. It was after she spent three months of internship at HMT Ranibagh, she was convinced about her decision. She calls her journey a “little erratic yet very interesting.”
Dimple, a mother of two, is currently working with Microsoft as a Senior Controller, and is based in the United States. She cherishes her memories of Kashmir. “I often think about the rich culture, proximity of relations and a carefree childhood. I cherish the moments spent watching my paternal grandma knitting and humming Kashmiri songs. I treasure my visits to my maternal grandparent’s home, which was an absolute delight.”
She feels connected to her roots and says the family celebrates traditions, sings and dances together. “We eat a lot of Kashmiri food too. This gives us a sense of community.”
Bismah Malik, The Tribune
Family countered Bismah when she decided to move to Delhi to study journalism. Coming from a family where two of her uncles come from the same fraternity , Bismah too wanted to be the part of the media. “My family history too had a major impact on the choice of my profession,” she says.
After finishing her graduation, Bismah moved back to Kashmir and started working for one of the oldest newspapers of the valley, Kashmir Times. Two years of working in a local daily, the “big break” came when she was selected to work with The Tribune.
Bismah stresses on the importance of making contacts in journalism. “Every person you meet may have a story that might make news, and it is eventually a Journalist who decides what makes news,” she says. According to her, being from Kashmir is an added advantage “because you never run out of stories in this part of the world.”
She believes Kashmiris are capable enough of proving ourselves in any sector. “We just need to take the firm resolve,” she says.
Esha Razdan, Danik Bhaskar
Esha had a flair for writing since childhood. “It is in my genes and the credit goes my maternal grandfather,” she says.
Covering films events and one on ones, she says the best part is when biggies in film fraternity acknowledge her presence. “I would be lying if I say, interacting with a celebrity or posing with him/her has no effect on me. Of course, I get to meet and interview people others just die to catch a glimpse of,” she says.
Being a Kashmiri Pandit, Esha says it was amusing for her when people would refer to Jammu and Kashmir to one district. “Now, scenario has changed. People look at the state with the different perceptive though, they are aware of the problems in the state,” she says.
She deems her experience as interesting. “I have always received respect from my male counterparts in whichever publication I have been associated,” she says.
Admirer of Late Sunanda Pushkar, she suggest that one should live life to the fullest.
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