Meet Azmat Ali- Woman with a Mission to Save Kashmiri Culture

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A Kashmir with abundant resources, where you simply scatter seeds and harvest fruit, and everybody is a friend and a welcome guest. A place where stories are told under the stars and songs are sung around the fire, where wisdom passed on to robust, hopeful young people. That is the Kashmir, Azmat Ali Mir is trying to capture and preserve for generations to come.

A mission-minded woman, Azmat Ali Mir recently organized a grand Kashmiri cultural event ‘Koshur Saal’ thousands of miles away from Kashmir. In her childhood days, she was moved to respond to the suffering and poverty she witnessed around her in Kashmir. With the profit garnered from the grand event at Bangalore, Azmat strives to carry on the mission to serve the poor, sick and uneducated – especially craftsmen, children to help the Kashmiri traditional arts live.

Many times, it has been like trying to catch lightning in a bottle, as the Kashmir she seeks to show the world is one many cannot quite fathom. It is in sharp contrast with the images of blood, violence, guns, stones and an unending cycle of killings.

“But we are blessed. Beautiful culture, lovely weather,” Azmat says. “When my mother cooks, she always takes into account extra people who may visit unannounced. She can do this because everything in Kashmir is available in abundance.”

Azmat still vividly remembers the day her mother-in-law cooked a dish from the Indian cuisine for her, “i was down with stomach ache and that moment, when my mother-in-law cooked khichdi’ for me, i had the sight of mutton soup in my eyes, i remembered how unique our culture was,” she told The Kashmiriyat.

“Barely a month back, on that day,” she adds,” we started planning a small get together of our Kashmiri friends.” The initial plan was a get together of good friends, however the word kept spreading and finally we had to organize a mega event, “the first of its kind in Bangalore.”

Zareef Ahmed Zareef- Kashmiri poet at Koshur Saal in Bangalore

The Kashmiriyat editor Qazi Shibli spoke to Azmat Ali Mir on her mission to change the notion that all things Kashmiri things are evil and related to the conflict. She has come a long way from 1993– when she was born– to organizing cultural events at her college in Srinagar. She laments that Kashmiris need to retrace their roots and save the dying art and culture of the place. Azmat feels that there is a need for all of us to know how important cultural identity and pride is.

Aged 25 from Pandrethan area in the outskirts of Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar, Azmat Ali Mir is a computer engineer and currently employed as an Area Sales Manager by a Bangalore based Corporate firm. “The Kashmir i have grown up in was no different that the Kashmir of today, nothing seems to have really changed,” she said remembering the outbreak of Militancy in the early 90s.
“I kept organizing events since my early college days, i always have had this passion for our culture, for the music, the love of arts and architecture, i have wanted these things to survive the catastrophe of time, The Kashmiri Tilla, Paper mache, our food, the music, the handicrafts, we cannot afford a Kashmir without all these beautiful things and all i am trying to assure is these things survive,” she said.

Azmat Ali started planning for the grand Kashmiri event Koshur Saal by mid-December, “by December 20, they had hundreds of people willing to join the event,” she recalls. “The evening was special as we got to see a gathering of hundreds of Kashmiris, lovely Kashmiri music and poetry complimented by a delicious Kashmiri food,” she said.

Though the event was attended by hundreds of people from across cultures and religions, artists performed, Azmat says, “Publicity was never my aim, i would chose to work for Kashmir culture behind closed doors, but i would want to work tirelessly to save my identity.”

Kashmir handwoven Shawl

She plans to invest the money collected from the event for the dying Kashmiri crafts. “I have seen it, people do not have avenues to keep their newer generation in tact with the traditional Kashmiri arts, we will make sure with the money we have collected that we provide for such centers where younger people can be provided craftsmen skills,” she told The Kashmiriyat.

Craftsmen skills are crucial for me as a socioeconomic exercise; the preservation of crafts matters because for many people, this is their livelihood. It is their respect and dignity, as well, so preserving the people and their lives means preserving their crafts and heritage. Much of Kashmir’s heritage would be lost if people lost their traditional skills.

Kashmir is a craft-rich place. The craftspeople are very isolated and not being noticed or given any advice. “I combined my interest in aesthetics with improving the life of the maker of that beautiful art,” she said.

There are carpet makers, skilled painters, brass workers and wood-carvers. Carpet and shawl weaving led to beautiful embroidery, because someone had to stitch the salwar (loose trousers that are tight at the ankle).

I saw genuine happiness among these ‘craftsmen’ and ‘primitive’ people. I saw talent, but they are keeping their children away from it. “The beauty of our culture needs to nurtured and allowed to grow,” she says nostalgically.

Wazwaan- The traditional cuisine of the Kashmir Valley

I am trying to put Kashmiri culture on a bigger stage for the world to see,” she says. “We want to show that you can be educated and still appreciate culture. We are documenting Kashmiri culture so that a Chinese can one day prepare Ghosht Aab [part of Kashmiri cuisine] with the recipes we leave behind.”

Azmat who is married to a non Kashmiri in Bangalore says, “I have filled up my in-laws place with everything that’s possibly Kashmiri, right from Paper-mâché to woodcarving. I even made a pheran and pashmina shawl for my non Kashmiri husband even though it’s not even that cold in Bangalore and I make sure he wears it.”

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