A cool breeze touches you while you walk on a desolated foreshore of the beautiful Nigeen Lake. Situated at the foothill of the colossal Hari Parbat, the lake is dotted with tiny boats resting near its banks, boarded by people, waiting, for the fish to fall for their baits.
In between the lake and the hill, lay the single-storeyed white dwellings bordered by old remnant shacks. These settlements have numbers on small boards affixed to their houses. Surrounded by the lake on three sides, Bahrar, state’s last colony for lepers, houses the ‘only male crocheter’ of Kashmir.
Nazar Nasir Naik, 18, instantly creates a flower, with a small crocheting hook by carefully interlocking different loops of yarn, which he took out of a small bag filled with the crocheting materials. “Flower was the first thing I made in this craft, and it took me a whole day to figure it out,” chuckles Nazar, with his hands glued to the crocheting hooks.
Nazar learned this art during the six-month-long unrest in 2016 when he was visiting his aunt’s place in the vicinity of Lal Bazar area of Srinagar. “My aunt was making a sweater at her home, and I asked her to teach me how to do it, says Nazar. “I didn’t know what this was art was called, but I learned the basics from her. It was after the internet was restored in the Valley after the unrest, I got to know this art was called crocheting,” he simpers.
Though the process of crocheting looks effortless, but Nazar opines differently. It is much more complicated than it looks, says Nazar, who has been into crocheting for almost a year now. From the time he got wits, he says, that he always has been attracted to different forms of art. “I believe that’s the reason this beautiful craft interested me,” Nazar says.
For people in Kashmir, this field is traditionally reserved for the women folk, who weave, knit and do experiments with wool. But it is very unusual to see a boy in this field. But Nazar hardly has been affected by ‘what people say’. “People, mostly relatives me at first, saying this line of work doesn’t suit males, but I made up my mind, to move on. People always talk and they say what they have to say,” he said.
Nazar loves to call himself an artist, who loves to experiment with yarn and create beautiful designs using crochet. This work is not a stigma, if you look abroad, crocheting is pursued as a business and also as a career there, he says. It took him almost a week to learn how to spin the basic chain in crocheting, which is the basis or foundation for any design. Nazar says that there are thousands of tutorials and designs that one can learn from the internet.
As per him, women in Kashmir, who are associated with crocheting are unaware about what they make or are going to make, they just keep going and miracles happen and at the end, they don’t know what to name them. “Stitches and graphs are the things you need to learn, I have mastered them and I can make anything you say,” he exclaims and adds that chain is the foundation, and you can build anything over that.
In the winter of 2016, when Nazar first started learning crocheting, he says, he never knew that this craft would take over his life. “Crocheting is not just a small business, but an escape from the world for me. It’s so healing and so peaceful to me that I can work non-stop without worrying about anything else,” Nazar said. He suggests that the unemployed youth in Kashmir should pursue this craft, as no shame is attached to it.
Nazar never knew he would make money in crocheting and it would get him recognition among friends and relatives. “When I first started, I would just crochet for fun or relatives. I would give away the things I made free of cost. But after properly learning it a few months back, I’ve taken it a step further by going commercial,” he says.
Several months back, Nazar approached an online store for handmade crafts and started crocheting for them. “They liked my work and hired me, and I now only work on the orders I receive from them and in return they pay me,” said Nazar. He believes that crocheting is slowly vanishing from Kashmir as most youths feign ignorance about this art.
“It is true that you won’t make much money at first because when you make any thing it looks so easy, but people don’t understand how much effort goes into its making,” he rues. What gave him an edge in the market was his ability to move one step further from the traditional crochet mats and table clothes.
“While working for the online store, I made a variety of new things which people would never have imagined. I made stuffed dolls, key chains, doilies, clutches, slippers, and many other things apart from the traditional sweaters and hats,” said Nazar.
He feels that one has to always work around the traditional designs to create a new attractive product line. He insists that things are not as easy as they look from outside. “There are eight different sizes of hooks used in crochet, but only one is available in Kashmir. I have to struggle to get the raw material here in Kashmir. So, I get most of the stuff online,” he adds.
Nazar rues that he is not able to give proper time to crochet, as he has to appear in the 12th class examination this year. “I am aspiring to qualify civil services. For now, I will keep crocheting just as a hobby,” he said.
A long time ago, the grandparents of Nazar were contracted by leprosy. His parents or his siblings, none were affected by the disease, but it still has played a very negative role in his life. Nazar and his family always found themselves in a very tough spot.
“I have been to three schools but no one knows where I am from or where I belong,” he said adding that, “Even though I am not affected by the disease but still I am afraid how people will treat me if they come to know about me.” Nazar is now habituated with the secluded life of the colony and has friends just in the colony. He is apprehensive about his truth and fears the hostility that might come with his disclosure.
The Cuckoo’s nest
SRINAGAR: We all must have seen the Bollywood flick ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’. For those who haven’t, the story is about a small Pakistan girl who suffers from speech impediment. To find a miraculous cure, her mother takes her to a Dargah in India. Unfortunately, the girl is left behind on her way back to Pakistan. Enter our hero who makes a point to reunite her with the family and travels across boundaries in his bid, fighting soldiers and doing comedy… All in all, the movie seems too good to happen in real world.
But while you are pondering on it, here in Kashmir something similar has been happening from many years now with hardly any talk about it.
At Srinagar’s Psychiatric Hospital, a few local and non-local patients who are long cured have been waiting for years now to reunite with their families, whose whereabouts are unknown. Nobody at the hospital knows their real names or the exact place they belong to. As such, the hospital authorities have given the patients new names to identify them and keep their records.
One among them has been mentioned as Jozy in the hospital records and appears like the natives of West Bengal. She would be around 18 years. She according to hospital staff was brought there in January, 2014 by the police. “Police had found her somewhere on the street. After noticing her unusual behavior, she was brought to the hospital. She has shown a huge improvement over the years. We don’t know her real name but everyone calls her Jozy and she too understands that,” a hospital staff member while looking after her in ward No 5 of the hospital said. “She gave some clues about her native village but we are yet to trace her family. We hope one day she will be reunited with her family.”
Similarly, another one has been named Fareeda and is almost the age of Jozy. She too was brought to the hospital by the police in 2013. She speaks a mixed Kashmiri and Pahari dialect. “In her broken words, she is telling something like Drugmul. We guessed that it could be Drugmul Kupwara and contacted some people there but have not been successful in tracing her family so far,” the official said. As per him, both were brought to the hospital in a bad condition. “There has been a huge improvement in their health over the years.”
They may be communicating through words or facial expression, eat on their own and play to each other and assist the other patients but prefer to remain silent to strangers. “For outsiders it may sometimes become difficult to understand them but those who treat, nurse them, understand what they want to say,” the official said.
Dr Arshid Hussain, a psychiaritist, who treats these patients, said these girls are fit to live with the family and can live a normal life. “They responded to the medication very fast but still they need love and affection of their families. We are making all efforts to reunite them with their families,” he said.
In the same ward is a Kashmiri Pandit woman. In her early 40, she hardly speaks to anyone. She was brought to the hospital by Kashmiri Muslims in 1990 after Pandits left the Valley. She too has no connection with her family although they know their daughter is being nursed at the hospital. “Family members occasionally call us to enquire about her but had never come to see her in these 25-years. Her parents told us on the phone that they have full faith on Kashmiris that they will be looking very well after their daughter,” Dr Arshid said.
There is also one male patient whose family is also yet to be traced. He has been named as Rahim Bakerwal, who was brought five years ago to the hospital. He was arrested from Humhama after forces noticed some suspicion about him. After found him mentally ill, he was brought to the hospital. The hospital officials believe that he may be from Rajouri or Poonch area.
The hospital administration has a full faith that they will be able to trace their families one day. Infact, the doctors see it a mission to find their families. Their hopes lie on the fact that earlier too in a similar bid, they have successfully traced out the families of three other patients since 2013, who too had lost connection with their families. “We are making continuous efforts to trace their families so that they get reunited like hospital administration did in the past,” Dr Arshid said.
It was in 2013 when Krader Tripathi, 55, regained his memory and told the name of his native village.
The miracle of reuniting him with his family after 23-years happened following the doctors surfed his village on Google Earth. They finally got in contact with the police station, who then checked the police records and finally conveyed his family. Then Tripathi’s brother and nephew came to Srinagar and took him along to their home. His brother told the hospital staff that the family had thought that Tripathi was dead. “After found him alive, he is second face of Baghwan for us,” he told the doctors. “Had Tripathi been in other state, we would not have traced him. You people have really set up an example that religions have no bonds,” he told a group of hospital staff who had gathered to bid adieu to him.
Even there has been some incidents when some patients by the families after regaining their mental stability. This is what happened with Mathur Bhai Padhiyar of Gujarat when his family was not ready to own him for three years despite knowing he was being nursed at the hospital. He had come along with a group of Gujarati pilgrims to Amarnath cave shrine. After noticing his unusual behaviour, police had brought him to the hospital in 2006.
It was in 2013, Mathur regained his memory and told the name of his village which was then traced through Google Earth. After informing the family, there was no response from their side.
“My papa (Nayim) wife (Madhu) three sisters and a brother will be waiting for my return. Please send me back,” Mathur had said when this reporter met him in 2014. After media highlighted that a Gujarati man regained his memory after seven years, Ghulam Nabi Azad who was then union health minister visited Mathur at the hospital. Azad promised to bear all the expenses needed to shift him to Gujarat. Despite that his family was reluctant to take him home. It was then two years of judicial intervention of District Legal Services Authority that Mathur reunited with his family in April 2016.
Similarly, this year another man from West Bengal was also sent back home who had lost connection with him family and was nursed at the hospital for many years. The doctors too traced his village on the internet and finally he reunited with the family.
The curious case of Mehran
SRINAGAR: It is over eight years since Mehran, a three-and-a-half-year-old boy, disappeared from outside his home in the old city Srinagar. It is still a mystery how a child like Mehran could just vanish without trace from a place, which is a densely populated area of the city.
His disappearance has not just caused suffering and anguish to his parents and his extended family alone, but it has forced other parents of young children like Mehran to exercise caution to let other children out of their sight.
Mehran’s, went missing on May 13, 2008, the year he was admit to Canny Mission School Court Road Srinagar, where he was studying in pre-nursery.
“His disappearance has shattered our dreams. He was witty among all children in our family,” Mohammad Yusuf Mir, Mehran’s uncle told The Kashmir Monitor.
It was Yusuf, who had brought him to home from school along with his two children, on that fateful day. “I dropped them at home at 2:30 pm then left for my work. At 3:30, we came to know that Mehran was missing,” he said.
According to his uncle, Mehran had insisted to go maternal uncle’s home. His mother accompanied him. “His mother left him there. Later, when Mehran didn’t reach home, they started looking for him but got no clue.”
He was then the sole child of his parents, who are yet to come out of the shock and have been moving from pillar to the post to search for their beloved son. “Prior his missing, we all used to live together. But after Mehran’s missing, his father and mother refused to live here and have shifted to Gojwara. They are yet to come out of the shock. His missing continuously haunting us and has scattered our family,” Yusuf said.
It remains an unsolved mystery even though many investigating agencies including India’s premier investigating agency, the CBI have been probing the case.
In December last year, the family got a call from a CBI officer that Mehran was located in Rajasthan. “My brother, (Mehran’s father) and his maternal uncle went to New Delhi for the identification. After identification, they said that the boy was not Mehran. Mehran was circumcised while the child who the CBI showed was not circumcised,” he said.
The family had filed a missing report on May 13, 2008 with Kral Khud police station police, which investigated the cast for two years. But Yusuf said the police didn’t not take immediate measures to locate him on that fateful day. “We were even denied to search him in Auto rickshaws by making announcement on loudspeakers on the pretext that we may resort to stone pelting. But we continuously searched for him and did not work for 45-days.”
The investigating agencies have failed come up with anything substantial, but some of his family members were “interrogated” by the Crime Branch. “My husband and his brother was interrogated for a month. The police failed to trace our child but the Crime Branch interrogated Mehran’s uncles. We lost everything and our financial condition has also deteriorated,” Mehran’s aunt Masrat said. “Whenever we get to know that any child has been found, we rush there. We once went to Kangan at 10:30 pm when police told that a child was found there.”
The family says that they don’t suspect any one behind his abduction and won’t stop pleading the case. They had protested several times seeking attention of the government to locate him. “We also went to New Delhi, Mumbia to search him,” Yusuf said.
In Kashmir, according to police records, two cases of kidnapping get reported on an average daily in the Valley. According to the official details of police department, 638 kidnapping incidents were reported in 2013 while as police had registered 694 cases of kidnapping in 2012 and almost same number of cases were registered in 2014. Police had registered 471 and 579 cases of abduction in the Valley in year 2008 and 2009 respectively. However, scores of such cases go unreported either due to remoteness of the location or their families failing to follow such cases due to the poverty and also not having photographs to show the police for investigating the matter.
“Many kidnapping cases are still unsolved,” a senior official of Crime Branch said, “Mehran’s case is one of such cases which is still a mystery.” However, he said the CBI was investigating the case after the Crime Branch handed over case to it on directions of the High Court.
‘VecMania’: Baramulla’s automobile enthusiasts
Located on the Baramulla-Handwara highway is a glittering Auto Engineering startup which catches eyes of every passerby. “Vecmania Auto Engineering” first of its kind in Kashmir.
Tell us about Vecmania
Vecmania (Vec- vehicles, and Mania-obsession) Auto Engineering is a building brand in Kashmir for petrol heads offering custom modification of bikes and cars. Vecmania was started by three automobile enthusiasts ErfaanKirmani, Aamir Kirmani, and Omar Ayub. We offer individual solutions to individual cases as per customer’s request. Our promise is to deliver top-notch products in valley. Our valley is quite hard to do business in, we all know what is conditions we live in and during those conditions startups suffer alot, we kept that in mind, which led us to a strategy to overcome it. They say people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do it and Vecmania is one among those.
Tell us about the working of Vecmania. How do you assemble the parts?
Gone are the days when automobile were just a mode of transport. Today automobile is a lifestyle statement. It is an extension of oneself. Same as what you wear, how you look, how you talk, and an automobile you ride also tells a lot about your personality. We have dedicated national and international partners who supply most of parts, some of them are assembled from factory itself and we have to work on fitting it into module but major parts are assembled at our garage.
How did you raise your capital?
This kind of business needed a heavy Capital: Investment for showroom, investment for garage, investment for products, marketing and payment for employees. Total of 20 lakh capital had to be invested in Vecmania, so we had to approach EDI. Out of overall capital, EDI provided the half, we arranged rest of it from our savings and with help of our families.
How did your family react to your idea?
Ours is not a conservative family. From the beginning we were allowed to take our own decisions and peruse fields of our choice. Throughout the journey they have been our spine. They believed in our idea and even invested in Vecmania. AllhumdulilahVecmania is a new concept in Kashmir and Kashmiries usually take time to absorb something new.
What kind of response you usually get from people?
We had expected maximum Rs 1 lakh sales in the first month but we crossed Rs 2.5 lakh, which was more than double. We literally don’t get time to sit during the working hours as customers keep pouring in. As the customer sets foot into the showroom his face illuminates with a bright smile and that is our satisfaction. Beyond that we are getting number of orders for the kind of safety gear we have been providing. The helmet for example are designed in such a way, the biker loves to wear it all day long. That is the kind of response and it’s satisfying.(Courtesy: Gyawun.com)
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