Anyone who still cherishes the fond memories of the 1980s would recognize Rashid Barqi. A face, which was frequently visible on Doordarshan Srinagar, much before private TV Channels made their way into Kashmiri homes. Many would also know him for his work on the stage, but only those close to him, know him well and his contribution towards the culture of Kashmir.

Excerpts from an interaction with Rajesh Prothi.

People say that Kashmiri culture is dying. What comments do you have on this? What are the challenges?
R. Barqi: I went to Russia in the early 1980s. We had many artists from Kashmir. We had Ustad Tibetbakal sahab, Hasmat Ali Khan and many other. I was a kid back then. I was wearing a Kashmiri Pheran, Kashmiri cap and shawl and the only other person who was wearing a dastar (cap) and a Pheran was Ustad Tibetbakal. Only two of us were in our respective traditional dress. People found us a bit funny. When we reached Russia, Tibetbakal ji asked me to talk only in Kashmiri. There was a translator who did the rest. We were the centre of attention. Our culture is so rich, it is the parent’s responsibility to encourage their children to wear our traditional dress. I try to spread my culture as much as possible.

Last year, we went to Assam International Folk Festival. The students with me were of 7th & 8th standards from an English medium school. All of them were wearing pherans, because I told them that it was part of our policy. I am doing my bit. But unfortunately, we are killing our own culture, we all need to get involved and do our bit.

You most of the time are wearing a stetson hat. This is not part of Kashmiri dress?
R. Barqi: I am wearing this English cap because this belongs to my spiritual Guru, Ustad Sultan Sahib Badasgari. It was gifted to him by some Englishman and he placed it on my head and said “keep this on your head as you are a king”. Today, the situation is such that if I wear a Kashmiri cap, people will tease me, as this has become part of my persona.

You have worked a lot in the the theatre.? What were the challenges then and what are the challenges now?
R. Barqi: In Kashmir people do not do theatre much because in comparison with TV and radio people are paid less here. This is what people think. I have earned more from doing theatre at international level, then I must have earned from radio & television. This is one of the biggest challenges. The thought needs to change. Theatre gives a lot, but you have to make your sacrifices also. Another major problem in theatre is that people within this fraternity are jealous of each other and they try to pull each other down. This needs to stop for good.

Which is the latest project you are involved in?
R. Barqi: A very famous radio program called ‘Zunudab’ has been given a lease of life by the current DDG All India Radio Bashir Arif (Station Director, Radio Kashmir, Srinagar). I am part of that program. I am playing the character of “Um Kak”. The other important characters are played by Bashir Arif, Ashok Kak and Shahida. This has given me access across Kashmir.

How do you see the future of theatre in Kashmir ?
R. Barqi: According to me it is very good. Out of my 300 students, I am sure ten will do very well and they will take this art to the next level.

What is your message for the youth of Kashmir?
R. Barqi: Our Kashmiri culture, art , music and other related areas have a lot of scope and can go to international levels. More and more youth should adopt this culture and make that difference which will take us to international level.

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