“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Nasrun describes a special person whose grace and fortitude is exemplary as a role model for empowerment and artistic talents

(Mr. Nasrun Min Ullah Mir, nee’ Nasrun Mir, 29, was born in Srinagar. He completed his high school from the Green Land Educational Institute, Srinagar, and his 12th grade from the Jawahar Nagar Higher Secondary, Srinagar. He received his B.Sc.degree from the University of Kashmir, Srinagar, and Master’s (M.A.) in Mass Communication and Journalism from University of Kashmir. He started his journalism career by joining the Associated Press (Srinagar Bureau) as a trainee reporter. He subsequently worked as a sports reporter/ online news editor with Indianewsupdates, online news portal based in New Delhi. Mr. Mir is currently working as senior reporter/sub-editor with the Rising Kashmir, responsible for reporting special assignments in business, travel, tourism, human rights and conflict beats besides editing our news page. He has attended workshops on media and social development, documentary film making, and is now working on ‘Memoir’ that would go as a chapter in an anthology on Kashmir.)

Life of an Artist in Solitude

After reading her news script on Doordarshan’s Srinagar station on December evening of 1990, Shabnam Ashai reaches home to find her anxious father on the gate. “There is a death threat for you and two another broadcasters,” Ashai recalls her father’s words as she has to leave Kashmir next morning in truck to Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh town, home to one of the most prestigious Muslim University in India.

She will spend her next 10 years in the Aligarh Muslim University campus where she will earn a doctorate in philosophy, but returns to Kashmir after working in New Delhi for five years.

At a time when many Kashmiri women choose to settle inside the four walls of their houses, Ashai was challenging the conventional psyche and wisdom of Kashmir about women.

She joined Kashmir University’s Mass Communication Department after finishing the bachelors in science from Women College MA Road here. “On the very first day of my masters program, Kashmir was rocked with abduction of then Union Home Minister’s daughter Rubaiya Sayeed. For next one and a half year we had no classes and whole batch was given mass promotion which I refused,” says Ashai as she recalls her early days in field of journalism and broadcasting. “I joined Doordarshan as a newscaster, but had to leave as militant threats intensified.”

Ashai returned to Kashmir after 15 long years and joined the Radio as a broadcaster, the job for which she had to fight court cases for five years.

Her life has never been same from the day she left Kashmir. She has shunned many taboos around women emancipation and Kashmiri culture. Now in her early 40s, Ashai lives an independent life, which according to her is dedicated to art and literature.

Ashai is an author of six books, five of which are in Urdu and one in English. She has been translated into half a dozen languages that include French and German. But in her two bedroom flat in Jawahar Nagar, her cries for recognition from her own people still remain unheard.

“In Kashmir, artists have no respect. This society can’t think beyond money. Materialism is so ingrained in this society,” says Ashai, who while recalling her recent visit to Lahore was fascinated by culture and understanding of art by locals there. “Lahore is a very vibrant society in which art speaks everything; be it the glorious past or troubles Pakistan as nation is facing today. You literally breathe art in that beautiful city of Pakistan.”

Not like many other female authors from her native land, she is bold and outspoken just like her idol Khushwant Singh. “When I write, I don’t think who will read it and what they will think about it. I just write my thoughts and I try to express them in the best possible way,” says Ashai, whose poetry’s harshest criticism has been that, it is too bold.

Ashai is a regular feature in over 20 cultural magazines globally, but in Kashmir, she remains very silent. In Radio Kashmir where she works has restricted herself to reading news and current affairs. “I rejuvenate my creativity when I go outside Kashmir. I wait for the occasions where I can listen and express among people I have confidence in,” says Ashai as she misses those creative indulgences with poets and writers when she was a part of reading groups in New Delhi. “Just the way two bodies’ union creates another life, sharing of ideas also creates new thoughts, but I don’t see that connection here with people.”

Ashai lives away from her family, completely by her, a very rare style of life in Kashmiri society. She in a way enjoys her “loneliness” except times when she wants someone to share food and a little trivial chat. But most of the times, she is content with her lifestyle.

Her house justifies here words. Ashai’s bedroom is full of books, so is her reading room and her drawing room with paintings and abstract art hanging over the walls. “I love to sleep with my books. I need them around me, otherwise I can’t breathe or sleep,” says Ashai, as she remembers a recent visit of a guest who after sitting in her reading room said, “You have so many books. Kashmiri women are not in a book reading culture; even most of men do not read here. ”

According to Ashai her father’s independent outlook is very much responsible in the making of the person she is today. “He has been an honest man all through his life, and his support in my decisions has been significant in shaping my personality,” says Ashai, who loves candles and old lamps and in her house, they are in plenty.

“Sometimes in night I shut all the lights and lit these age old candles; they give me calmness as their light rejuvenates my soul,” says Ashai, who being a part of electronic media has none of it in her house. “I don’t use internet or watch TV. I even don’t have a radio in my home, and I never listen to it either. ”