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OPINION | Kashmir As It Is- a platform connecting displaced Kashmiri Pandits with their diminishing culture

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By Shivani Dhar

23 Mar 2021

As a Kashmiri Pandit, facing an exodus and surviving it, is not new for all of us.
The exodus of 1990 is the seventh exodus faced by the community so far. We are resilient and we thrive, and come back. We might head to different parts of the world to survive this turmoil, but we are always connected with our Homeland Kashmir, our Values and our age-old Traditions.
Yes, it is true that as we tread to take life forward and spread our wings to scale new heights, unknowingly we are being drifted quite far from our native land and our cultural heritage. This drift, though unintentional, not only acts as a source of geographical shock but also makes us realize our capabilities to adapt, evolve and keep ourselves rooted to our foundation of Kashmir. Sometimes, this drift can come in as a cultural shock as well because people living around us may not be celebrating the festival as we do.
While we, the KP’s, are evolving in the foreign land, we have to be an integral part of the cultures where we are earning our bread-butter or where we are born or bought up; however, at the same time it is our moral duty and ethical responsibility to be who we are and stay connected with our roots by following the culture, traditions and customs. Our identity is that we are Kashmiri Pandits. If willingness, intent, and efforts are our comrades then definitely we will continue carrying the legacy and our kids will inherit the cultural heritage that we all have received from your parents.

In this whole socio-cultural drift, we at home, are facing a new challenge. Our souls are wandering to find homeland however at the same time we are amalgamating with the other cultures of the world. In an endeavour to keep these wandering souls, connected with their roots, land and culture, KASHMIR AS IT IS (KAII – कऺशीर यिछ़ छि, तिछ़ॖय), is a small but well driven attempt towards creating an encyclopaedia for future generation of KPs.
KashmirAsItIs (KAII), is a brainchild of a wanderer in exile, Shivani Bhan Dhar, who was forcefully displaced in 1990 at the age of 5 years. She realized the immense requirement of a well planned and executed formatted library, that holds all the information related to culture and heritage, that is easy to access by the coming generations. This realisation came in when she used to talk to her Grand Mom who always said, write down the rituals so that you remember them when I am gone and carry forward the legacy. When Grandparents are lost a library is lost and with them we also loose a part of legacy which we never paid attention to.

Journey so far – My story
Journey of creating the Kashmir As It Website started in 2011, when the need of having a library that stores all the documents needed by Kashmiri Pandits during various ceremonies, festivals, and occasions, was felt. These documents will not just have ceremonies described however should also explain how to perform a ritual. The content also should have a logical explanation of why it should happen in a certain manner.
The ‘why’ reasoning adds more value and meaning as the generation these days understands things that have a logic added to it. I asked “why do we do this” quite a lot. Most of us might not be really knowing the details, but, one thing can be said clearly about our Kashmiri Culture – our ways of doing things in certain way actually has scientific& spritual logic and reasoning behind it related to it.

With whatever ‘developmental knowledge’ I had, back then in 2011, after completing my MS from BITS Pilani, and with an intent to have a library, I kick started the creation of this website. Trust me finding a name was a challenge. Almost all the authentic Kashmiri names that I loved were taken by one or another.
I was quite influenced with the phrase ‘as it is’ back then; for me it meant something ‘original’ or ‘something that has not been corrupted’. Thus, the name ‘Kashmir As It Is’ was born. It literary means ‘Kashmir without any adulteration’ – ‘Kashmir the land of rishis’ – ‘Kashmir as we have always seen it and want it to be as pure as Vitasta’ .
Started the work on website and had a content-based management system. With whatever ways I could, I approached all the cultural activists who were fighting to preserve and save the culture and language. It was a huge challenge to get the data from all works and collate them and put them on the site as it needed to be authentic work.

It was slow and steady growth. I enjoyed various phases of my life with gradually working and making the website content stronger.
Although, I never came in limelight or publicised this much; however, I could see the KAII family growing, we made it from 0 visitors in 2011 to 50k family members in 2016 – people coming in visiting the website and giving encouraging feedbacks kept me going in the mission.

And in 2016, after becoming a family of 50k KPs in the website, I started the work and launched the world’s first (possibly as per my knowledge) community-based application which is a work in progress encyclopaedia for Kashmiri Pandits.
That was an instant hit. People loved it. In the age of smart phone, getting everything under one click was all that was needed.

Interface of the application – launched in 2016

The library has finally started taking the shape now. You name it and you have it and if something is not there, give the feedback and we shall add the content.

I managed everything single handed, from development to content management to reaching out to people for confirming and giving their views on culture and history. Everything was done step by step – one thing at a time. Even self-sponsored the whole project. Though being a full time professional; whatever time I used to get after my work and chores, I dedicated in creating this Library. It is undoubtedly my passion and my ‘gift back’ to the society to the community who has given me my identity.

From a single person back then, we now are the team of volunteers who work selflessly with no personal interest (who joined in the year 2019) who are now taking care of different aspect.

KAII is a big dream endeavour and hence it needs passionate souls to join hands together to create something remarkable for future generation.
‘Koshur Kot’ was the first volunteer to help me with social media publicity. He felt the need to make KAII available on social media and we started our various SM pages like FB, Twitter etc. I was encouraged and motivated with his gesture of acceptance of KAII and exactly understanding what the need of the hour was.
My friend, Neha Dhar, a passionate Kashmiri Pandit joined us and is helping us with proof reading and writing excerpts and many many more things.
Karunaji joined us because of her passion for teaching Kashmiri Language. She created Kashmiri lessons which are now being used in the European / American countries to teach Kashmiri to kids.
Qunil, a young KP boy, born and bought-up outside Valley is equally enthusiastic to join us. Last but not the least, we have Bhairava to guide us.

And now in Jan 2021, we launched and exclusive version of the application which focusses in depth on
Kashmiri Pandits and their heritage only with a modern interface.
It covers various pertinent aspects of KP history, exodus, culture, religion, and practices. All have been systematically segregated into categories & each category has been further divided to subcategories so that everything gets covered by 360 degrees.

The app interface now

KAII, talks about Valley’s history and geography. Details include all entities that will bring you closer to the raw beauty of Kashmir Valley. Be it breath taking wetlands or scenic mountains or beautiful lands or the busy city life we have got all of it covered. All of these are covered in various sections.

The History section takes you for a ride from the pre-vedic era to the exodus till 1990. We have tried to capture the brief about all seven KP exodus (known and documented) with our rich archaeological heritage and inheritance of the surnames.

Cultural section talks in detail about what we do and why we do like background of various Kashmiri festivals, ways of celebration and most importantly the thought behind each of these customs are highlighted. This section also includes Path/Puza for various festivals and ceremonies. As cuisine constitutes an integral part of any culture, KAII also floats authentic Kashmiri cuisine recipes periodically, to help people relish the taste of Kashmir no matter how far they are from it.

Our Heritage section is purely dedicated to our Lost heritage and the places of historic significance. Additionally, the essence of Kashmiri religion is explained and emphasized in corroboration with history of Kashmir that includes various saints that were born who in their own ways made the Kashmiri people aware of religion and its importance. We have created a separate section for Lal Vaakh in will Core Sharda Team is dedicating time and putting efforts to decode these Vaakhs.

Then we have a separate section for Kashmiri Language. One of our Volunteers, Smt Karunaji who has been a retired Kashmiri Language teacher has been working painstakingly to create the Koshur Language lectures for our young generations who are born and bought up outside the valley and have less influence Kashmiri. We also have few pearls like Manzil Baeth etc from project Zaan added in our collection. To keep the language alive we are hosting debates and symposiums as well. Kashmir has also been a blessed land in this aspect as we have innumerable proverbs covering humour, satire and knowledge in a very lucid way & thus Humour is a significant part of our society; it reflects lighter and lively side of KPs towards life and people.

KAII also includes features like daily updates on Kashmiri calendar, various Saath and Special occasions. In the application you are now able to add your lunar birthdays or Sharadh dates or anniversary dates. And you can see them popping up for you as a reminder on the calendar in the selected month. This will ease you from remembering the Lunar Tithis.

Kashmir As It Is, makes sure to spread a word at a regular basis about all these topics, their meaning and easy representation that would aid its user to remember these via Whatsapp / Email updates. Simply subscribe with us and enjoy the updates.

We are still growing as capturing all aspects of ‘Being Kashmiri Pandit’ is not easy. It is an enormous job. Sometimes i thought to give up; but then i found motivation and encouragement all around me. Via KAII, you can add Obituaries, Matrimonies and even classifieds.

I feel blessed to be surrounded by people of greater calibre entrusting me and my work.
My family has been my biggest support, my husband favours my passion and always helps me to maintain my zeal to continue doing what I am doing.
Apart from family, in my early days (and even today), Sh Sunil Fotedarji (from iKashmir) supported my idea of creating this library when I just had started the build; Sh MK Raina ji (from Project Zaan) always keep pushing me and encouraging me to continue doing this work; Sh Sanjay Raina ji always welcomes my questions on culture and traditions; Sh Upendar Ambardarji always helps in documenting important days etc & there are many more names without whose support KAII would not have been where it is today. Be it small or big; everyone who has been associated with KAII has played a part to take it a step further.

Together, you and me, we all are trying to create something that our future generation can always refer to so that Kashmir always remains alive in them.

All in all, no matter how much Kashmiri cosmopolitan you are, it is a must, to be connected with your roots via Kashmir As It Is website or application (in your phone), if you are a Kashmiri Pandit at heart and soul.

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