Srinagar: Did you know ribcage in Kashmiri is called Kāní pan̂zur? Spine Thårkoṇḍ? That hirgogul (Adam’s apple) and hirwol (oesophagus) are two different words?
Or while most of us are taught English vowels and consonants by age 10, how many of us know the ȧr ačhar (vowels) and zȧr ačhar (consonants) of our language?
Käshur is facing neglect at the hands of its own. While most of the Kashmiris can speak it, majority of them can neither read nor write in it.
However, amid this dichotomy, there are some who are silently making great efforts to serve the language and ensure that the ever-increasing digital audience in Kashmir can connect to their mother-tongue, and learn to read and write it the same way they can converse in it.
One such person is 29-year-old Asiya Hassan, a Pampore-born girl, who lives, studies, and works in Malaysia.
Adept in Graphic Design, and pursuing her business degree in Kuala Lumpur, Asiya has come up with a website www.kashmiridictionary.org, which is probably the only audio-visual Kashmiri to English dictionary available online.
While it is still being developed, the website is already an interesting resource for the readers as it allows them to learn Kashmiri language the way they have never.
The Kashmir Monitor’s Senior Reporter Nisar Dharma had an email conversation with Asiya to know what motivated her.
Nisar: Kindly introduce yourself. Your academic and professional background?
Asiya: My name is Asiya Hassan. I am a Graphic Designer from Wuyan, Pampore. Currently, I am based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I am pursuing my master’s degree in business administration.
Nisar: Why and how did you come up with the idea of an online Kashmiri Dictionary? Did you consult any other experts of the language?
Asiya: The lack of online resources about our language really hit me many years back when I was teaching my nephew (born and raised outside Kashmir). I searched the internet to find some useful resources that could be helpful in making him understand the language better, but unfortunately, I found out that the information about our language on the internet is quite limited. I could barely find any good, complete sources.
Being a Kashmiri, a graphic designer, and someone who has a good grasp on our mother tongue, I thought that maybe I can do my bit. I chose to make my content creative to ensure it helped the people looking for online resources about our language. So far, I have not consulted any Kashmiri language experts. However, I use Kashmiri Dictionaries, academic books, and other resources as references.
Nisar: How long did it take you to curate and compile the content, and who all supported you?
Asiya: Initially, I used to design and print flashcards for my 4-year-old nephew, who is 14 now. Later, I created the Instagram page in 2017. Though I started at a basic level, as you can figure that out from the Instagram page, the readership and the followers are slowly increasing to eventually become an interactive platform for learning and promoting our mother tongue.
Everyone has been incredibly supportive including my family.
The website (www.kashmiridictionary.org) was recently launched, using the official script along with Roman transliteration, English translation, audio and word examples. It is designed by Mudasir Ali (@mudasirali), a web developer based in Kashmir. It would not have been possible without his support. He has done a commendable job.
I would also like to thank Zubair Lone (@zubairlone_) Mohammad Faysal (@aatishechinar) and Imran Qazi for their invaluable help, support, and guidance.
Nisar: Many people choose Urdu or English as a medium of communication over Kashmiri in the valley, especially when speaking to their kids? Even schools discourage students speaking in Kashmiri. What, according to you, could be the reasons?
Asiya: In my opinion, they think that the native language does not help them in their academics, and the lack of Urdu / English language skills leads to unemployment in future, which is not correct. Research has proven that mother tongue not only develops a child’s personal and social identity, it also helps them develop their critical thinking and literacy skills. This results in acquiring a better understanding of the curriculum. From a linguistic point of view, all languages are equal. I believe it is wrong to judge the value of one against another.
Nisar: Do you plan to add more content to the dictionary? If yes, what is in the pipeline?
Asiya: There is much more in the pipeline, however, at this moment I would prefer not to talk about it.
Nisar: How has the readers’ feedback been? Any unique comment or note of appreciation you would like to mention here.
Asiya: I have been receiving positive feedback most of the time. Recently, an Instagram user (@ihsernanah) commented “learning to read a language I can already speak is weirdly fun”. It is an interesting comment. The user has a point. We know how to speak Kashmiri but when it comes to writing it, we are largely unaware and clueless.
Another comment by (@arshanqazi): “Thank you for existing on Instagram as a page.” I find this comment beautiful and sweet. I am glad to learn that people are appreciating my work and it means a lot to me. Also, I am grateful to the over 13,000 Kashmiri Dictionary followers for their immense support and love. They all make me feel that this is the right thing to do… and so, I stay motivated to come up with the best I can.
Asiya: One way of predicting the future of our language is to put in our efforts in the present. Based on my observation since I started the Kashmiri Dictionary on Instagram, I have seen lot of people getting influenced, and creating similar pages, which I find remarkably great.
It is wonderful to see more and more people coming forward and promoting the language in one way or another. There is a Kashmiri saying “akh te akh gayi kah” (in unity, there is strength). Mother tongues have been handed down ancestrally from centuries and preserved among successive generations with their distinctive vocabularies and parlances. It all starts from home and then schools. The teaching and learning of Kashmiri in the schools should be enriched by the inclusion of cultural activities in the curriculum, and an increased focus on the need to understand the beauty of the Perso-Arabic script. If we collectively work towards our mother tongue and take pride in it, I think the Gen Alpha will have a better grasp of Kashmiri than the Gen Z.
Nisar: Any suggestions for students and aspiring learners of this language?
Asiya: Most of the young generation who grow being predominantly exposed to Urdu and English, are unable to converse as fluently in Kashmiri. There is no denying the importance of English as a common means of communication across the globe, or its strength as the first foreign language of choice. While it is applaudable that they have a good command on these two languages, being conversant in our mother tongue is a great way to stay connected to our roots. I think it is important to comprehend the value of our language as well as our culture. We need to constantly remind the young generation, the students, that knowing your mother tongue well is a matter of pride. So, let us take pride in Käshur. After all, what is Käshur without Käshur!