Here is the story of Babar Afzal, from famous hacker to become the most renowned Pashmina activist and artist in the world, today.
Babar Afzal needs no introduction. For his outstanding work as world’s only Pashmina activist and Artist, Babar is known world over because of his successful efforts in preserving this magnificent specie and this wonderful Pashmina Eco-system. For anyone remotely interested in Pashmina, Babar is the name they relate the art to, in present time.
The Pashmina, the fine wool extracted from a species of goats with the same name, has remained as one of the important fabrics of Kashmir’s identity. Also called ‘Soft Gold’, Pashmina is probably country’s sole luxury product with its price running as high as $200,000 in the boutiques of Milan and Paris for a well-woven Pashmina Shawl. However, things have not been as rosy as they always were for this art form. The natural disasters have, time and again, marred this art, owing to harsh conditions for these goats whose fodder is often buried under the heavy snowfall, leading to their death due to starvation in past couple of decade. Six years ago, thousands of such goats were killed, impacting the trade very heavily. The event shook many, including Babar.
Once he left his home for a better life ahead, Babar had not looked back. Starting with his first job in New Delhi, Babar climbed up the ladders of success in IT sector, becoming one of the most sought-after professionals in his field. He worked with organisations like McKinsey in India, USA, UK, and Middle East and almost half the world, as a Technology Analyst, Business Consultant, Information Security Architect and a Hacker. Making 10 times more money than an average Joe in same profession, Babar was having the time of his life. He enjoyed great respect in IT fraternity, holding over 25 High End International Business and Computer Certifications including a PMP Certificate from PMI (USA). But then things changed, forever.
“It was in 2011 that I read that over 25 thousand Pashmina goats had died in a remote village Changthan, 400 kilometres away from Leh. The reason for their death was Starvation due to heavy snowfall in Himalayas. My life came to a standstill just then. I had never felt as helpless and as small as I felt in that one moment. As a kid, I had grown up playing with these goats in my village. It is strange how someone like me who is always ready with a plan to solve the problems, was ready to just jump in without a concrete plan in place. I just wanted to reach out to these goats and that’s what I did,” Babar shares the life defining moment in his life.
In next six years, Babar’s life was to turn upside-down. Quit his comfortable Silicon Valley career, Babar started a new life altogether after having seen 35 winters of life. He shares, “With no plan in place I moved to Changthan and started living with Pashmina goat shepherds and nomads, Changpas, in a remote village there to better understand the whole concept. There were initial hurdles- the temperature was very low and so was the oxygen levels up there. The food, the language, the place- it was altogether different to what I had spent my entire life with. For someone who exchanged as much e-mails as the number of minutes in the day, living without internet was terrible. But one thing that made me stick through it all was to try my bit in preserving the Pashmina ecosystem of Kashmir.”
Six years later, Babar has established himself as arguably the most renowned Pashmina artist in the world. Rising up as the global voice of Pashmina Ecosystem, Babar has worked all across the globe creating awareness about the dying art. Through his NGO, he has been working towards bringing together a very large group of nomads, shepherds, weavers, craftsmen, and women together. The NGO’s global project, Pashmina Goat Program founded by Babar and his wife, is one such initiative trying to establish a structure where a social enterprise would be owned by this community directly, involving researchers worldwide aimed at providing better opportunities for Pashmina community as well as the wildlife. The core idea of the project is to fight for justice and enhance the lives of 50,000 shepherds, over 3 Lakh craftsmen and 2 Lakh Pashmina goats by creating a retail fair trade platform. Over the years, he has held several impactful conferences, dismantled Pashmina nexus, sued over 150 fake Pashmina dealers, besides organizing several fair trade expo’s, art exhibitions and developing several clusters of workers around the state.
Now this multifaceted personality has decided to try his hands at pen and paper. A couple of months ago, this year, Babar came out with his debut book, ‘6 Times Thinner: The Call of Pashmina’. The book narrates Babar’s journey of shedding excess baggage and becoming 6 times thinner. From the years spent with shepherds, Babar explains the wisdom he got from this tribe, containing many precious lessons for almost everyone on the face of planet earth.
Babar tells us more about the book, “6 Times Thinner is a story woven around the lessons I have learned and the changes that overcame me throughout my journey which begun at peak of my career and reached the highest mountain of the world. This is the story of following one’s heart against all odds, being willing to change and finally finding that one elusive goal that defines one’s life. This book is also about Pashmina and the world around it; the shepherds rearing this fine breed, the artisans, craftsmen and women transforming the wool to wearable drapes and those in the tiny by-lanes of Kashmir and Basohli trying to sell it to the world.”
The book, which Babar calls a Fictional Memoir, took him two years to complete. The initial reviews to the book have been raving and it has been turning out to be very popular among readers and critics alike and Indians readers are not the only ones to enjoy the story. The book has been translated into over half a dozen languages and is available in over a dozen countries, across the globe.
While the book certainly holds a lot of surprises for its readers, the title of the book is quite intriguing in itself, too. Babar explains, “The title indicates the thickness of the Pashmina strand which is 6 times thinner than the human hair. It is almost amazing how despite being so thin, it contains in itself so many wonders. As the book revolves around Pashmina, this was the most apt title, I believe.”
The thickness of the Pashmina strand isn’t the only thing related to Six, however, as Babar adds, “The number Six has a strange connect in my life. I am youngest of the six siblings, born on 15th day of March, again totaling to six; this venture of mine which started six years ago, is sixth one I have tried my hand on. There is a lot that connects me with Six and in turn, Six with me. In fact, this book is also divided into six chapters.” It was almost strange how ‘Pashma’ which is original name for Pashmina, and which means ‘Luxury’ in English, both are also words with Six alphabets. A look at the photographs of book-launch ceremony would reveal only six persons standing on the stage. He sure has a strange connect with Six!
There is more to Babar than this, however. The allure of Pashmina art was so strong that he not learned the Intricate Sozni (needle) work on Pashmina but went on to become the most prolific Pashmina artist in the world with his paintings, epitome of Contemporary and Abstract Luxury Pashmina Art, using vegetable dyes, have bought him name and fame, unparalleled. Each of his works, 30 in total, besides being special in the way of its crafting, is also a strong expression of powerful stories while the valuations for same would run greater than me and you can imagine. It is for no reason that his work finds place in the private collections of the President of India, the Vice President of India, the former President of India and many Elite and Business Tycoons of the country, including reputed galleries and exhibitions. With his work getting visibility globally, he has been able to support over 50 families, while his targets still sits far away at a million families in this region.
A staunch believer of the fact that one day, Pashmina will reach back to its past glory, Babar feels himself to be a soldier in the fight of its resurrection. Babar is already working on his next book, the title of which would be Secrets of Pashmina and he hopes it to be out soon for us all to read.
We wish Babar the best in his endeavour to revive this dying art form and we hope that this shepherd succeeds in his mission.