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Laugh, Please: ‘Asvun Kashur’ is out to rediscover the love between Muslims and Pandits

By Hirra Azmat

Srinagar, Apr 18: On the broken entrance to an uptown café, she outstretched her hand to help me.
“Don’t panic. Hold my hand,” Meanka Handu said, breaking into a warm smile. “The only serious thing in this life is death. It will come, but till then, let’s laugh about it.”
This was my first introduction to the comedian who has taken social media by storm in Kashmir.
The Delhi-based comedian has her roots from Kashmir: she was born in a Pandit family at Rainawari in old Srinagar.
Her family left the valley in the ‘90s and settled in New Delhi, where she did her primary and secondary school to, subsequently, pursue a career in engineering.
She rose to prominence after her videos gained popularity on the social media sites especially among the Kashmiri audience.
She has her YouTube channel known as ‘Asvun Kashur’, meaning laughing Kashmiri, which has more than 10,000 followers, and counting.
“I did a fulltime job in several management companies for eight years. After a certain period of time, I realised that 9 to 5 job didn’t suit me well. I started to freelance. At present, I am a learning and development professional.” Meanka shared.
Walking down the memory lane, she described herself as a “studious” and “submissive” kid.
“I was not a very talkative kid, but I was very expressive. I used to imitate the advertisements that came on TV. Mimicry came very naturally to me. I have participated in many dramas and plays at school level. My teachers used to say, she is a natural actress. But I would do it merely for fun.”
The most cherished memory of her childhood is when her older cousins and relatives made her imitate a lady in an advertisement.
“There was this ad, ‘Lalita ji, surf lene mein hi samajdaari hai’. I used to stand and do this act in front of my cousins. They would roll and laugh,” Meanka recounted, laughing.
She said “the streak” was always there, but “I never thought I would be able to contribute to the society like this”.
Meanka treaded the path of satire and humour last year in April while making a video in Kashmiri language for the first time.
“I always desired to do something as a service to my homeland. The language and culture has suffered immensely in the ongoing conflict.
“Language binds us all together, so I thought why not use it in an informal way to reach out to people as formal way of teaching is not always the right way to do it.”
The female comedian is not inspired by anyone; the credit for her skills goes to her parents.
“My typical Kashmiri-speaking family was a boon to me. Our parents used to hammer force us to speak in Kashmiri, and they made sure that we learnt the language properly. That is how it started.”
Her videos are characterized by sharp observation and satire on everyday life presented with a conversational twist. She finds the easiest way to communicate with the audience is the anecdotes that she is familiar with.
“My videos talk about our culture, the characters that we see every day. We have these phuphis, massis, khalas, uncles, and aunties. I pick these characters and weave them in my videos. Whatever culture I have grown in and whatever I have seen my parents doing, I have picked it from there.” she said.
Meanka was in full flow recently at an event titled ‘Salaam Mahra’ held at Tagore Hall to rejuvenate the bond between various religious communities in the valley.
“This event is very close to my heart. I came here after a long gap of 28 years and got an overwhelming response from the Kashmiri audience,” she said, believing that such events could help overcome the trust deficit between Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits.
“Such events send a strong message of peace where in people of different faiths sit together and share some light moments. I hope to attend many such events in future.”
Meanka doesn’t have any plans of making her videos commercial, “I want certain things regarding our culture and language to be recorded for the coming generations. My mantra in life is simply this: The world is filled with people who talk serious stuff. There has to be someone who can make you laugh.”