3rd Season : Celebrating the spirit of Women of Kashmiri Origin – 2016
Intro to 2016
Time has come for me to rise, for I have suffered long,
The tears I shed since time unrecorded, need to be accounted for,
Each time, I lost my bearing or my extension,
To the circumstances of not my making, I cried in dark,
But always a harbinger for the torch bearers,
I carried on…
Because of me, the worlds have evolved,
As I am the source,
I am the one responsible for all that is life,
I am the fire, I am the amber…
Still I am the one, who has been ignored…
Points in time, I have exhibited what I am and what I can be,
Nations have crumbled, civilization have vanished,
Tribes have ceased to exist,
But for me, the mankind remained…
Wars have been fought, each time, it is my life which has been sliced,
Bit by bit, piece by piece,
Still I remained silent, bearing the pain within me,
Shedding the tears in dark, for no one to see…
Each tear I shed in grief, is a drop of blood,
The world may understand or not,
But for me it is so,
I have been suffering, since times unknown…
While in one stroke I can change the course of history,
The linage or the religion of all,
As I was born pure, born to no lineage or any religion,
For me, being a woman in itself is a religion, a lineage I need to carry forward…
It is not a myth, but a truth lost in time,
Like a phoenix, I will arise time and again
So as to carry the legacy of being the source of life…
– Rajesh Prothi, founder & chief editor www.thecherrytree.in
Zaira Wasim, Actor (Bollywood), Srinagar, Kashmir, India
The youngest and the most pampered in the family, fifteen year old Zaira, a 10th Standard student in St. Paul’s International Academy, Srinagar, is intrigued with the Kashmir of days gone by. She would love to ‘time-travel’ and see how it used to be back then in Kashmir. How people from different communities lived together in perfect harmony. She wonders, ‘Who does not want peace, brotherhood and love in their community’.
Zaira was always an introvert and a shy person. But that is something from the past. With the support and encouragement from her family, today she is more confident and enterprising. She has become the first girl from the Valley who at this tender age has been able to bag a role in a major Hindi film production. She is playing Aamir Khan’s daughter (child actor) in ‘Dangal’.
“The journey into Bollywood was not a cakewalk,’’ says Zaira. Her parents were very reluctant to allow her to opt for acting in Bollywood. Her principal and aunt came to her rescue and convinced them. Soon Zaira was off to Mumbai. The training was rigorous and made her feel diffident. “I was going through mental stress and the physical injuries while wrestling were adding to my frustration. However, I realized that my work is beautiful. It’s about the dignity and empowerment of women and it helped me to keep going,” she says .
Far from the glitz of Mumbai, in the Valley, as the news of her work spread across the Valley, bullying, life threats became the norm. The support of the crew came handy. She started avoiding all the negative comments and focused on her work only. “When I heard the comments, I decided that instead of running away, I’ll face it and won’t let it affect me. Getting into Bollywood was my decision, so I should be ready to face whatever it will throw at me, be it negative or positive,” she added.
Anubha Kakroo, Dean, Faculty of Architecture, DIT University, Dehradun, India
With more than 15 years of rich experience, Anubha is an academic thinker. She holds a graduate degree in architecture from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi and also a post-graduate degree in Industrial Design from the same institution. Working closely with the corporate sector as a part of her consultancy work, Anubha increasingly felt the need to integrate the two seemingly disparate streams of management and design and to move design strategy up the value chain. She took up a course in Design Management, specializing in Strategy, Innovation and Branding at the Brunel University in London and was awarded a Master’s Degree with distinction.
Her family has always encouraged and supported her to pursue her passion. Apart from her professional career, a lot of other things like culture, history, Bollywood, intellectual pursuits (books, theatre, arts) interest her.
Anubha believes that Kashmiri youth should get out of mindless strife as it does not lead anywhere and instead, focus on their lives and the future. To keep Kashmiri culture alive, she initiated Shivratri Pooja at her home and tries to get associated with whatever is happening in the heritage and crafts sector in the Valley. She listens to and encourages Kashmiri music, cuisine, attire, lost rituals and traditions.
“We lose culture when we put religion on a pedestal. Culture is shared and grows socially. By segregating a social setup on the basis of religion, one essentially kills culture,” says Anubha.
Arshad Siddiqie, Principal and Incharge at Abhedananda Home for Blind and School for Deaf and Dumb, Srinagar, Kashmir, India
A graduate from Kashmir University and a Diploma holder in ‘Special Education’ from M.P. Bhoj University, Bhopal, Arshad started her professional career with Abhedananda Home at Rambagh way back in 1977.
“It’s quite a task. Soon after joining this institution, I started fighting for the rights of the disabled community and tried to make people aware about education for blind, deaf and dumb people. In Kashmir, it was regarded as a baseless activity quoting is as ‘kael ti zaer kyaparan’ which means ‘what would deaf and mute person can learn’,” says Arshad.I was merely a child when I started with my teaching career and teaching those children who were physically challenged wa
Arshad was the first one to introduce sign language for teaching deaf and dumb students in Kashmir. And, soon other innovative methods were used. Speech therapy was also given to such students which helped them in restoring their speech and hearing ability. Now, her students are excelling in different fields and that too at par with normal people.
To keep the Kashmiri culture alive, she thinks that one needs to keep the language alive. For this, she is working to introduce Kashmiri deaf sign language which will be a tool for deaf community in Kashmir to communicate in their own mother tongue. Besides this effort, she is also preparing her students for dramas and other theatrical activities which will depict Kashmiri culutre.
Moyesha Bazaz, Student, Podar International School, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India
Moyesha loves football and cricket. Two sports which have been very popular even in the cold winters of Kashmir. Receptive and pragmatic, she, at times, exhibits what a true Kashmiri woman can be – stubborn and rigid, yet very practical.
Born in New Delhi, this twelve-year old based out of Aurangabad, Maharashtra is pursuing her studies at Podar international school in Aurangabad.
While she enjoys playing cricket and football, she has been recognized and awarded the Ryan Princess in her class for excelling in studies and for extra-curricular activities. However, her claim to fame is her leadership qualities and representing her school football team as captain of the under-fourteen category. She has led her team to victory.
In another first for any young Kashmiri girl, her participation for the trials of the under-sixteen for the Maharashtra Cricket Team and the under-fourteen for the Maharashtra Football Team. She is the only girl to represent the school band and play drums.
Still waiting for a chance to visit the land of forefathers, she says, “I have heard so much about Kashmir from my parents and my grandmother. I am sure my dream to be there will come true really soon. I will not be out of place there as I understand the language and can speak a little bit,” she says. Her favourite food is rogan josh, dum aaloo and sonchal.
Tajamul Islam, Martial Arts Player, Bandipora Kashmir, India
She became the youngest gold medalist in the State-level Wushu Championships and found herself in the National Wushu Championships, being held in Hardwar (27th-31st March, 2016). If she wins, she will qualify for the International Championships to be held in Europe.
In 2015, she defeated her opponent and became the first girl from the Valley in her age group to win a gold medal in the National Kickboxing Championships in New Delhi.
In 2014, Tajamul joined Ali’s Academy of Sports and that was the start of a new chapter in her life. At the Academy, she was trained by coach Faisal Ali Dar. She started participating in different district and State level competitions and was awarded the best fighter of the year in the 10th J&K State Wushu Championshipsa at Jammu.
Her hands may be small but are strong enough to hold the titles. An inspiration to all the girls in her village, she still remains grounded and innocent. “Our village is very backward but I, along with other kids like me, are going to take it to new heights”, she says.
Still too young to understand what ‘fame’ is and what she is doing for the State of Jammu and Kashmir, she remains ‘Gugu’ (her nickname) for her family and for her teachers.
Tahniyat Roshan Sidiqi, Senior Staff, ICRC, New Delhi, India
Graduating with a degree Dietetics from the University of Kashmir, Tahniyat began her career as a Counselor with the international medical organization, Doctors without Borders (MSF). However, her quest to be a social worker influenced her studying for a Master’s degree in Sociology, while she also went
on to obtain a PG Diploma in Management of NGOs at Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. This rich educational background prepared her adequately for her engagement in the humanitarian sector, while her passion for studying languages and learning about other cultures has been an advantage in her chosen career in the social sector.
The training to become a humanitarian worker is often demanding, challenging andcomplex, but the effort, hard work and the risk she took paid off. The exposure she got over the years has helped broaden her worldview and improved her expertise in this field.
Currently working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), an international humanitarian organisation based in New Delhi, Tahniyat’s work takes her to several parts of India.
Her effort to keep her relationship with Kashmir alive and evolving is very simple. Anyone from Kashmir, who meets her outside the State of Jammu & Kashmir, would notice that she speaks to them in Kashmiri. The other linkages she has with the place of her birth include the cuisine and other delicacies synonymous with Kashmir. While language is the medium of conversation, cooking Kashmiri food is another big draw for her to stay connected with Kashmir. She has travelled extensively around India and abroad and loves to take photos.
“Nothing opens the world to you like knowing a language. It helps you understand places and people at a much deeper level. It’s this love for learning about different cultures that inspires me to learn new languages,” she says. Currently, she is pursuing language courses in Arabic and French.
Anisha Dhar, Co-Founder, Eatonomist, Gurgaon, Haryana, India
With over six years of consulting experience, she could not resist the entrepreneurship bug. More so, when it was an idea connected with food, mingled with innovation around it. She co-founded ‘Eatonomist’, a calorie counted gourmet meal outlet.
Before setting up her new venture, she worked with multi-national consulting firms like KPMG, PwC Consulting and Ernst & Young. During her tenure with the consulting firms, she was associated with projects like ‘State Wide Area Networks (SWAN)’ for the Government of India, ‘MCA21’ – a flagship e-Governance Mission Mode project and was also part of the core team of the National Task Force for the Electronics manufacturing industry. However, the high point in her career was when she left her consulting job for her venture. “I am blessed to have a very supportive family who taught me to dream and do the impossible. Both, my sister and me, were taught to think like independent women from the word go by our father, who was a banker by profession. This has been our foundation,” says Anisha.
She was four, when she had to leave her home. With very faint memories of that time, she is more aligned with the tales of harmony and brotherhood that her parents have shared with her. “I long to see the innocence of the people of Kashmir that my families has been talking about for eons,” she says.
Rabiya Nazki , HoD Film Producing, Whistling Woods International, Mumbai, India
An age when a young girl would aspire and save money for fancy clothes and crave for jewelry and makeup, her heart and mind would yearn for a camera, a fancy audio recorder or a hockey stick or a bicycle. She was different from her peers. No wonder, whatever she wanted pursue, her family tried to stall. “Yes all my wishes were unconventional for a girl, no wonder my family reacted the way they did,”
says Rabiya. But each time she got away with her wish, almost.
From a family of poets and literatures, Rabiya has the traits of her grandfather ‘Mir Gulam Rasool Nazki’ and her father ‘Farooq Nazki’. Exposed to the literature, art and culture since her childhood, and the visit of famous Kashmiri and national poets and artists to her home in Srinagar have had a profound impact on her personality and on her approach towards life. Carefree, but conscious of her surrounding, she practices Kashmir in her day to day life by respecting people for what they are and by not judging them on religious grounds. Kashmir, she says is in all the good things one can do.
Rabiya, as a child has acted in an English film ‘Nehru’ as a young local singer and has also worked as a child artist in ‘Kashmira’, a film by Children’s Film Society of India. For the new generation of Kashmiri in particular she says, “before building a house, a company or a state or a nation, make sure you built yourselves really well. Knowledge and education is the best material that you can use to construct yourselves and retain the rich heritage of our valley.”
Anuradha Challu, Vice President Human Resources PepsiCo, Gurgaon, Haryana, India
Born in the Valley of Kashmir, Anuradha’s childhood was happy and simple and isolated from the rest of the country. Working parents with strong working ethics and a very distinctive thought process laid the foundation for her future career pursuits. The values were inculcated in her, have become her strength. After finishing her MBA in 1993, she joined Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai. Next few hops were PWC, National Dairy Development and Motorola before she joined PepsiCo.
With over two decades of experience in Human Resources, Anuradha has been recognized for work in ECR Asia Pacific Conference for winning ‘People Award for HR Professional’.
Besides the fact that she is married to a non-Kashmiri person, both her children speak fluent Kashmiri. She has ensured that they are aware of the history of the Valley.
A visit to back-home in 2014, after a gap of twenty-five years, refreshed many pleasant memories and many old relationships. Her children experienced Kashmiriyat in the land of Sufies. “As I am fond of Kashmiri music, at one retail store in Srinagar I asked for habba Khatoon and found it. However, when I asked for Arnimal, the young storekeeper had to refer me to his father. Who knew what I was looking for but could not complete the sale as Arnimal is long lost,” says Anuradha. She feels that in the last three decades, Kashmir has become a one-dimensional culture.
Saba Mahjoor, Writer, London, UK
London-based Saba Mahjoor, who is a great-granddaughter of renowned Kashmiri poet ‘Mahjoor’, grew up loving books, literature and reading.
Due to literary influence of her great grandfather, Saba was always a child of literature, stories and happy & unhappy endings. But, her parents always wanted her to study medicine. She worked toward it and secured places at two prestigious medical schools in London i.e., King’s College and Queen Mary. She accepted the offer from King’s and went on to study Medicine and Philosophy at under-graduate level. Though the degree itself was enjoyable, but her heart was never in it. Soon, she realized that her calling is and has always been literature.
“I made a decision of not pursuing Medicine any further and applied for a Masters in English and Creative Writing which is what I am currently doing. It takes a lot of courage to walk away from certainty and throw yourself into the pit of uncertainty, but I believe if it is for something that you love, something you are passionate about, the uncertainty and anguish that comes with it are all worth it. Though I have made most decisions for myself, the one person who was and is a driving force behind my love for Literature, well that would be my mother,”says Saba.
To her credit, she has published five short stories and a poem; which have been well received. She also runs a book club online on Facebook ‘Bookworms’ which has over 2500 member from all across the globe
“I am also trying to learn how to read and write Kashmiri so I can read my great grandfather’s poetry and create an oral collection which could be accessible to young people. The younger generation needs to stay in touch with Kashmir’s past,” she adds.
Promila Kaul, Painter, Mumbai, India
Mumbai-based Promila Kaul thinks herself lucky to have been born in an emancipated educated family in Kashmir. Her mother being an educationist always inspired her, which led her to take teaching as a profession. She was a successful Kendriya Vidyalaya language teacher for more than three decades.
Her young students would love to learn the language through creative writings and draw images to explain self-made short stories. This way her dormant passion for painting was realized through these young kids.
“My family have always encouraged and supported me to pursue my passion. No doubt there have been moments when I have to juggle with time to squeeze my domestic responsibilities and perform them to my satisfaction. I had to give up teaching profession due to my personal family circumstances. But, I am happy now as I have devoted my time to my second passion painting,” says Promila.
Promilla believes that one should pursue their passion with firm determination and positive outlook, in spite of the obstacles that come in their way. To keep the Kashmiri culture alive, she celebrates Kashmiri festivals and socializes with Kashmiri people and friends whenever there is an opportunity to meet.
“I believe in harmonious relationships with other communities which existed before 90s. My relationship with other communities is still cordial in spite of the political upheaval. I still cherish those old values and try to nourish them,” adds Promila.
Hameedah Nayeem, Professor & HoD English, University of Kashmir & Chairperson of Kashmir Centre for Social & Development Studies, Srinagar, India
Hailing from the Tral village in district Pulwama. Hameedah has been one who always was against the concept of early marriage as she is of the belief that education is the most important part of one’s development.
“As a child I grew up in fear and anxiety, I was deeply disturbed by the plight of women by their in-laws that developedaversion towards marriage as I saw it was a subjugation and surrender of self ” she says.
Nayeema has been the strong supporter of right to choice and a change maker in the society, heading the largest civil society group in the valley – Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS), she stresses upon social issues prevailing in the society like domestic violence and dowry.
“I am more interested in social issues and human rights advocacy to fight for any intolerance against women,” She added. Close to the grass-root, she understands what Kashmiri is and does her bit in not just preserving it, but also tries to propagate the values ingrained in it.
She tries to preserve and nourish rich Kashmiri culture of compassion, mutual respect, acceptance and freedom of religion. “What happened in early 1990’s was an aberration and result of multiple factors. We used to live peacefully with other communities and even today as we did in the past,” says Hameeda.
Mantasha Binti Rashid, Kashmir Administrative Service Officer, Albany, USA
A rebel of sorts, who is not willing to let go of the importance a woman deserves in our society. Currently, on a Fulbright Fellowship in the US, she is studying ‘Women’s Studies with a concentration in Policy’.
“Our society is conservative and follows traditions and customs without questioning them in most cases, and most of them collide with educated, brave and thoughtful women”, says Mantasha.
As a multi-faceted person, she has been involved in social welfare with a non-profit organization. She has also done some work with a Srinagar-based local media organization before cracking State Civil Service (KAS) exams.
She is a known face in the Kashmir as an anchor of a TV show on Doordarshan Kashmir ‘Sitaroon Sey Aagey”. She completed her Masters in Social Welfare from the University of Kashmir.
An avid reader of non-fiction and fiction based on socio-political issues, she wants to read more, learn more, debate more and take life as it comes. Her goal in life is to create a space to help women who are facing difficulties, especially in Kashmir. She fought her own battle to create a niche to speak up right from her home, many a times, which she believes all women must do. She loves to talk in Kashmiri and listen to music besides spread and converse about the Kashmiri ethos of syncretism and sufism.
“The only wish I have is that I can go back to teaching and write about Sufi-rishi culture of the valley. We are badly losing our Sufi-rishi culture. If we can only revive it,” says Mantasha.
Aarti Tikoo Singh, Senior Assistant Editor, The Times of India, New Delhi, India
New Delhi-based Aarti is someone who does not make any effort to keep the culture of Kashmir alive. It is the culture of Kashmir, which keeps on rejuvenating her. “I am afflicted with a certain syndrome; call it homesickness or nostalgia or Kashmir-mania or whatever you like. Perhaps, I am not the only one suffering from it, perhaps many among the displaced Kashmiris behave exactly the way I do,” says Aarti.
Mehjoor’s ‘kati chukh nund banay’ sung by Kailash Mehra or Rajinder Kachroo’s ‘harmukh bar tal’ or both on the repeat mode while reading Stein’s Rajtarangini or Abhinavgupta’s Shaiva philosophy or Abdul Ahad Zargar’s poetry have become part of her life in Delhi.
Currently, she is a Senior Assistant Editor with The Times of India handling news selection, editing, writing and coordination for the online edition of the publication. A ‘Times Aspire’ award winner and a ‘WISCOMP’ fellowship awardee, she has spent almost seven years reporting from Kashmir on various aspects of politics and the impact of unrest on the social life of the State.
‘Aspire well and aspire high’ is what she believes in and what she suggests to the next generation of Kashmiris. “It is not only important to desire a virtuous goal but it is equally important to choose the righteous path. Once you have chosen, chase your dream and do not let anyone come in your way. Do not let your family or society decide for you. Do not hold yourself back just because most people around you think differently. Also, think logically and rationally but remain compassionate and humanistic in both personal and public life,” says Aarti.
Pearl Khan, Kashmiri Kitchen, Entrepreneur, Gurgaon, Haryana, India
Her claim to fame is that recently she was asked to host a Kashmiri dinner for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Naval Chief of 56 countries at a congregation of 850 people on the occasion of ‘International Fleet Review’ at Vishakhapatnam. It was quite a challenging task, which Pearl did not hesitate to take head on. More-so in a gathering where people present were not aware of Kashmiri cuisine or the diverse variety and flavors of Kashmiri cuisine, she was able to catapult Kashmir to a new level all together in one stroke.
Born and brought up in quaint Kashmir, Pearl completed her education in Delhi, which culminated in an MBA degree. After a career in public relations for several years, handling few international and national brands she decided to call it a day. With her experimental nature and love to learn more and experiment with new things she ended up with an exclusive Kashmiri cuisine restaurant ‘Kashmiri Kitchen’. She took this step with the active support of her mother, who came forward to support her in this new venture. In a short span of time, ‘Kashmir Kitchen’ has won several accolades including the ‘TimesCity’ & ‘HT City’ awards and has been recommended by CondeNast Traveler as among NCR’s 50 best meals.
Currently, she is learning classical sangeet along with piano lessons.
A certified scuba diver and a sailor Pearl is a passionate traveler who has a keen interest in spiritual psychology. She is currently conducting workshops on inner transformation that focuses on individual empowerment and authenticity. “I hope to conduct these workshops in Kashmir in the near future. My belief is that all the answers to our problems lie within us,” says Pearl.
Aasha Sudan, Manager, Picsdream, New Delhi, India
After finishing her schooling from Mallinson Girls School, Srinagar, she went on to join Woman’s Government College there. She graduated in Home Science. A visit to Delhi in 1990s turned out to be a one-way ticket for Aasha. Due to turmoil in the Valley, she never got a chance to visit her home. She is still longing for an opportunity to go back to her home, which she left long time back. All what is left are the fond memories from the days gone by and some very close friends who are either scattered across the country and some who still live and work in Srinagar. She tries to keep in touch.
In Delhi, she pursued her studies in a vertical, which she had never thought to follow. She learned computers from NIIT. This was followed by a job in a startup company, Touchstone Sytems as a graphic designer. After a bit of job-hopping and a long break, currently, she is working for www.picsdream.com at New Delhi.
While her lifestyle has undergone a noticeable change, she still holds on to the Kashmir in her through her cooking and the tradition that her family used to follow while in Srinagar. “I am totally into the essence ofKashmirayt. I try being like a true Kashmiri that is ‘welcoming’, ‘warm’ and ‘hospitable’ and of course ‘tolerant’ and ‘respectable’ to any religion,” says Aasha.
Tabeenah Anjum Qureshi, Photographer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
A mountain soul wandering in the desert she hails from Kashmir and is living in Rajasthan for over past seven years. She did her Master in Mass Communications and Journalism from Center for Mass Communication, University of Rajasthan (Jaipur) followed by a PhD.
Only child of her parents who are more like friends to her and have always been a supportive factor, constantly motivating her to learn new things. Her childhood passion for photography became a reality due to her parents support. A gift from her father the first camera and her mothers constant interpretations of her pictures has resulted in Tabeenah becoming the recipient of 4thNational Photography Award, by the Photo Division, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India.
After chasing her hobby seriously, she won two awards in two consecutive years at Jaipur Art Festival and won best photo award at Jaipur international Photo Festival. She has also displayed her photographs in four group shows held at different Art Galleries of Jaipur. She is the first photographer from Rajasthan and Kashmir to have received this prestigious award. Apart from exhibiting her work, she loves to teach and curate photography exhibitions.
She loves to travel along with her camera. As a photographer, her preference remains street photography, heritage, and photo stories – clicking women through veils, Old Shrines of Kashmir and autumn season. Talking about the culture of Kashmir Tabeenah says “our culture is woven intricately ‘Heyrath’ which is a beautiful example of such inter-culture practices. We must read old literature about Kashmir, mystics of Lalla Ded and sufi saints to understand it better”.
Nymphea Wali, Principal, Polytechnic Institute, Gujrat, India
Hailing from a middle-class Kashmiri family in Srinagar, She studied at Woodland and National High school. This was followed by Masters in Electronics and Communication from Ajmer with specialization in ‘Core Electronics and trouble shooting’.
With over twenty-four years of technical work experience at various levels with brands like Videocon International and BEPL India, she is currently the Principal of ‘Polytechnic Institute, Gujarat’ affiliated to Gujarat Technological University.
Mother of two daughters; both to be MEDICOS soon, Nymphea loves to sing and listen to music particularly old songs. Although married into a non Kashmiri family, she is proud that her Kids can speak fluent Kashmiri. She is a great at cooking authentic Kashmiri food “I love to cook food like nadru, haak, Dam aloo, Rajma ,Gojgee etc and my kids are crazy about it, they can eat Kashmiri food everyday without even asking for anything else,” Nymphia said.
She is also a Life Member of Institute of Engineers, Calcutta. As part of the social responsibility, Nymphea works as an executive committee member in ‘Sadhu Vaswani Trust’ looking after the working and functioning of academic institutions coming under the trust.
Talking about the Kashmir and Kashmiri culture, she is very much connected with her roots, be it conversing in Kashmiri language or to attend Kashmiri social gatherings at local level. “As a kashmiri pandit girl in the 1980’s era I have passed each day with fear, stress, worries and tension always thinking and trying to protect ourselves against any untoward incident,” she added.
Ashwaq Masoodi, Journalist, The Mint, New Delhi, India
Raised in a family that did not believe in controlling the lives of their children, Ashwaq had the opportunity to follow her dreams without worrying about what the world would say. After finishing her Bachelor’s in Mass Communications & Multimedia Production from Degree College Baramulla, the University of Kashmir, Ashwaq completed her Post Graduation in Print Journalism from Indian Institute of Mass Communications, New Delhi. Starting with the Press Trust of India (PTI), she moved on to join The Asian Age as a Court Reporter. Currently, she is with The Mint (Hindustan Times Group) in New Delhi, as a Staff Writer covering issues of human interest stories on gender, marginalized communities and religion.
A ‘Fulbright-Nehru Masters Fellow’, from Columbia University, New York, she owes her success to Muzamil Jaleel, who introduced her to writing.
“The high point in my life was when I was asked if I could write a 4,000 words story for a daily newspaper at a time when people were talking about the possible extinction of print media,” says Ashwaq. She not just pulled it off well, she was awarded for excellence in reporting on women’s issues for a three part series on human trafficking in India (2015) by the Society of Publishers of Asia (SOPA).
Back home, ‘haakh’ is still cooked the Kashmiri Pandit way at home, but still many miles have to be covered before the gap between Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits is closed she feels. Ashwaq was very young when the two communities witnessed the wall of mistrust being constructed in the Valley of Kashmir. Memories of those days are very vague, but memories of a close pandit friend, Sheetal Kaul, and a strict pandit teacher Omkar Nath Zaroo who taught her in late 1990s, do bring a smile on her face.
Meera Kaul, Investor & Chairperson ‘The Meera Kaul Foundation’, United States
A degree in International Taxation and Financial Law from Thomas Jefferson School of Law, US and an Alumni of Stanford Graduate School of Business came in her life later. Much before that, at the age of sixteen, a high school project was converted into a saleable business proposition and the money from her exit laid the foundation of what she is now.
As a chairperson of ‘Meera Kaul Foundation’, she is responsible for STEM, probably one of the largest investment programs to create opportunities for women in the areas of their respective expertise.
Meera to her credit has a track record of 4 multi-million dollar exits. Her portfolio has over billion dollars across North America, Asia, Africa and Middle-East. Her story does not end here, she was voted one of the ‘Top 50’ women in telecom space, Entrepreneur of the year 2013 & 2015. Meera spends her leisure time with family and her pet Casper (Labrador). Besides keeping Kashmir live in her kitchen, she makes sure that family & friends meet often, a way of keeping Kashmiri culture alive in the States.
Her effort is to evolve more women, particularly in the Kashmiri network to develop into role models for other women and inspire them to economic empowerment and independence.
On being a successful investor, her mantra is simple. “I am very picky about who and what I fund. A combination of due diligence, market-feasibilities and trend analysis has helped me invest in areas that have flourished, and self-sustained themselves and some of my newer ventures eventually. And the fact that I have always owned and managed multiple companies at any point of time, the cross–funding of my new businesses has been facilitated I possess a very keen nose for business and I study new technologies and trends and keep abreast of innovation to predict markets where growth is possible. And then invest accordingly,” said Meera.
Sadaf Munshi, Linguistics, Associate Professor, University of North Texas, USA
It is said that if you stay grounded and stay humble, you will be able to have a much better view of life. This is what Sadaf opted for. Coming from a humble family background, she followed her passion for creative writing. At the time when Kashmir was passing through the turmoil and carving a career in art and artistic activities was not just unrealistic but suicidal, she showed her grit. While still studying at Women’s College M.A. Road, she wrote plays and feature-length films for Doordarshan Kendra, Srinagar. In a quest to evolve, in 1997, she joined the University of Delhi for a master program in Linguistics. This was the turning point in her life. For her performance, she was awarded Shri Uggrasain Gold Medal and Professor R. N. Shrivastava Memorial Medal (1999). Under the guidance of one of the leading historical linguists of the country, Professor Prem Singh as a part of her M.Phil. degree at DU, she applied for admission into a doctoral program in the United States. She is currently working as an associate professor in the Linguistics Program at the College of Information at University of North Texas (UNT).
Sixteen years, away from Kashmir, she is proud of her two kids, who are fluent in spoken Kashmiri. From the generation which was fortunate enough to enjoy and experience the composite culture prior to 1990, Sadaf question if that time will come again.
“Although it is not the first time in the history of Kashmir that the Pandit community has had to leave, it seems the current exodus is the most difficult of all to be reversed. We are living in an entirely new time frame where the world is moving at a very fast pace. Cultural identities are being threatened by modernization and globalization. I sincerely hope that the Kashmir region soon sees a semblance of peace and the new generation is exposed to the composite culture that they have been deprived of, a culture that we inherited from our ancestors,” says Sadaf.
Ashima Kaul Bhatia, Journalist & a change-maker, New Delhi, India
An independent journalist, peace practitioner and a change-maker has much up her sleeve. Since 2010, she has been training and facilitating workshops on gender rights and awareness.
Ashima was recently awarded by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India as one of the 100 Women Achievers – an initiative launched by Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry in collaboration with the social networking website (Facebook).
As a Consultant with Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP) from 2000 to 2010, she became instrumental in bringing forth the voices of Women. This was the time when there was violence, no democratic spaces for articulation of women. Ashima was able to bring together women from diverse backgrounds to foster women’s agenda at the grassroots level. She was instrumental in giving birth to the idea of travelling women’s group called ‘Athwaas’. The group went to remote villages and displaced refugee camps of Kashmiri Pandits to broker peace and empower women’s voices for their safety, livelihood and mental health.
A movie buff who loves travelling and exploring new places, cultures and people she gives the credit of her work equally to her family as they have been very supportive throughout this journey till now.
“There is a certain deeper awareness of oneness that resonates beneath the layers of constructed myths and lies that we have built. It is by retelling these stories of the land and challenging the dangers of single stories that have separated us that I am trying to keep the culture of my land alive,” says Ashima.
Ruksana Jabeen, Broadcaster, poet, Srinagar (Kashmir), India
She is recognized the moment she starts talking, even when she is out shopping for home. A well known voice in the Valley due to her long association with Radio Kashmir, Srinagar. Ruksana, has since retired from the her job, but the legacy she has left behind is what she will always be remembered for.
During her time with Radio Kashmir, she initiated a weekly programme: “Varasat” in Kashmiri langua
ge, which not only connected the people of the Valley in their mother tongue, cutting across various communities and religions, but also made them aware of their roots. By connecting various aspects of Kashmiri ethos and culture in a daily routine of Kashmiri, in her own particular style, she has created a following for herself. The program which she had initiated remaied part of Kashmiris for over two decades.
Her career pick of becoming a broadcaster was not without roadblocks. Her parents and family friends wre not in favour of her joining this medium of media. But for her passion and for grit, she was able to have her way. In time, not just her parents, but the people who were against her this career choice are proud of her. Besides being a broadcaster, she has flair of writing also. She is part of many poetry recitations.
As a broadcaster, she feels very contented. For one reason in particular, her ability to act as a bridge between the people of the Valley and their legacy and rich cultural heritage.
“The times we are in, I want the Kashmiri youth to work hard, stay focused and trust God. Think positive, understand and preserve the culture while saving the environment of the Kashmir,” says Ruksana.
Promilla Qazi, writer, translator, All India Radio, New Delhi, India
With over thirty anthologies both in Hindi and English to boast about, she has a keen observation and a heart that can feel the pain of others too. As if writing was what she was born for. At the age of fourteen, she started to write, which continued for till she got married to a businessman. Coming from a family, which went through a couple of resettlements due to her father job profile. This was more of an opportunity for her as it was a learning for her. However, the best part of her life was that the whole family remained close to their roots and did not let go of the culture from they came from – Kashmiriath. Though she did spend much time like others to stay in Kashmir due to her father’s job profile. Nevertheless, she did not miss on her cultural heritage. She has been able to pass on what she is, a kashmiri my nature, to her children. They speak perfect Kashmiri language and are aware of their roots. This is one of her achievement.
Promilla did her Bachelors in Arts from Agra University followed by a Masters in Psychology.
To her Kashmiri culture before 90’s was exceptionally amazing where both the communities enjoyed the fruits of love with tit-bits of disagreements. It was a confluence of cultures, affection and respect for each-other. Both the communities were thriving in their limited resources and living life peacefully. “Post 1990s visits to Kashmir I saw the plight of people who are hand to mouth and are struggling to meet the ends. They still cherish the old times with tears and so much of pain in their hearts. A handful of selfish people destroyed the trust and burnt the bridges. Now the mistrust is so much that everyone seems a suspect! ,” says Promilla
Currently, Promilla is working on her English compilation of short stories which is to be published this year. Besides writing, she is a content writer and a translator, and presently working with AIR for a project.