Kashmiri Aesthetics is an Instagram channel run by young Savi Bukhari, who created the space to explore visual, literary, and textual aspects of Kashmiri culture and history and to present these to people on social media, especially young Kashmiris. By merging text and image—and later adding video as well—Kashmiri Aesthetics attempts to incorporate visuals that are decidedly Kashmiri with lyrics, verses and textual excerpts that range from traditional poetry to song lyrics from contemporary Kashmiri music. The result is an unprecedented aesthetic “mashup” grounded in representations of Kashmiri (visual, textual, musical) culture that are part presentation, part interpretation and part curation. A secondary result is a collective effort guided by a young Kashmiri’s initiative to intersect various art forms—that are distinctively Kashmiri—through a process of selection, curation and framing to bring about what gives Savi’s Instagram channel its title and name: Kashmiri Aesthetics. In the following interview, Inverse Journal discusses the motives behind such a creative undertaking and the larger questions that emerge as one begins to engage with Kashmiri Aesthetics on a popular social media platform.
Apart from featuring Savi’s own photographs, Kashmiri Aesthetics sources photography from all sorts of creators, who are credited in this piece, with all such content embedded directly from the Kashmiri Aesthetics Instagram account.
Kashmiri Aesthetics in Conversation with Inverse Journal
Inverse Journal: Hello Kashmiri Aesthetics, thank you for giving us your time for this textual conversation about your project. Please introduce yourself with your name or names and tell us a bit about yourself (yourselves).
Kashmiri Aesthetics: I would like to first thank you for giving me the platform to share the story behind Kashmiri Aesthetics. My name is Savi Bukhari, I am a student of Political Science currently studying in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Political Science, History and Languages are some of the things that have always fascinated me. Kashmiri Aesthetics has been a project of mine since October last year (2020). Even though I am the sole person behind the page, it would be wrong to say that this project hasn’t been supported by many others over its first year in existence. I have received a lot of help and support from a lot of people and this undertaking would not have been possible if not for them.
Inverse Journal: What motivated you to create a space like Kashmiri Aesthetics? What was the thinking behind such a creative undertaking? How did it all come about?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: Over the past couple of years social media has opened up new pathways and opportunities for content creators, people from the most remote of areas can share their stories, their content and their art with the whole world at the push of a button. However, I believe that this social media revolution hasn’t been kind to languages. People choose to share their content in languages like English and Urdu, which no doubt have a wider reach, but they cannot manage to capture the essence of some things as well as one’s mother tongue can. Ask yourself “how many social media pages operating out of Kashmir post in Kashmiri?”—sadly the answer is next to none. The motivation behind creating Kashmiri Aesthetics was the serious absence of the Kashmiri language in content creation spaces in Kashmir, especially online. At first it was aimed at capturing the “Aesthetic” of Kashmir more than the language, but over time it evolved to both the aesthetic as well as the language having equal importance.
Inverse Journal: Can you elaborate on the importance of identifying and locating a Kashmiri aesthetics through a broad spectrum of Kashmiri poetry, fiction, literature, and art? What, according to you, is the need of the hour as far as highlighting a vision of Kashmir that belongs to itself and to its people?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: For me a perfect example of a Kashmiri Aesthetic would be a Kandur (baker) sitting on his Waan in the heat of June, just when a child comes to buy a Tchochwoar (a type of Kashmiri bread), all this while Rashid Hafiz Saeb is playing in the background. I’m sure if any Kashmiri were to imagine this scene it would create all sorts of warm feelings in their heart, I would go as far as to say you might even smell the Tchochwoar. That is what Kashmiri Aesthetics is to me, it is something that should invoke those feelings in your heart. It is something that we all have lived through, so in a way it is an experience that has been shared by all Kashmiris, one so strong that no matter where on earth you are, no matter what you are doing it will take you back to your childhood.
And that’s the experience we need to preserve. Social media nowadays is filled with stunning visuals of Kashmir with Hindi Bollywood monologues in the background, and if you ask me that is the farthest from a Kashmiri aesthetic. It should be something that is inherently ours, that we have lived through. It should be real and not fabricated.
My first ever post, using a photograph that I took and lyrics by Mahjoor Saeb. Meaning: “Make the flowers bloom and the bulbuls chirp, be the writer of your own destiny”
If during the day I find something that might have a lyric to go with it, I save those photos and then add the relevant lyrics Translation: Is Kashmir really heaven or is it hell?
Lyrics from Kasheer by Ahmer, photo taken by me.
Inverse Journal: What sort of an impact do you think the combination of image and text can have in the broader sense? How do you connect specific images with specific texts? Where does the creative inspiration to match specific images to specific text come from? Is there a logic, a pattern, or a set methodology behind it?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: The connect between the images and texts is an interesting phenomenon. Most of the times I try to match images and texts in such a way that they resonate with the same message. For example, I had posted an image back in August, the image had two elderly Kashmiri gentlemen with a child in between, the lyric that I chose to pair with it was ”poosh kas yeti lokchaar” by a musician named Saif Nazir. The image and the lyric in this case came together perfectly to illustrate the fleeting nature of life. So to answer your question, yes most of the time there is a logic behind pairing the images and the lyrics, however there are times when I randomly pair images and text together and to my surprise they still manage to give almost the same kind of message—which I think, again, is due to the power that Kashmiri lyrics and poetry have over us Kashmiris. You can pair any one line of poetry with any one image of Kasheer and they will go together beautifully.
Inverse Journal: It is amply clear that to keep a project of such importance and magnitude going, you have to have very specific knowledge of Kashmiri culture, literature and history. Where do you draw such knowledge from? Is there any specific exposure to text, imagery and tradition that you have that allows you to produce such well-crafted images that are accompanied by befitting texts? What is your academic or intellectual background or any such exposure to particular fields that allows you to produce such visuals with such texts? What are the most frequent sources you rely on for the content that you present?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: Well to be honest I do not have any formal knowledge of the Kashmiri language, as a matter of fact I have not even studied Kashmiri during my school years. What little knowledge I have is from the experience of speaking Kashmiri and from a few Kashmiri poetry books at home which I often consult. Apart from that, whatever I know about our language is from a few Kashmiri content creators who are doing amazing work for the preservation of our language.
On the other hand, I do have somewhat of an advantage when it comes to visuals and graphic design. Over the past year, I had started to develop an interest in digital art which eventually manifested into my other humble project, Digital Kaergar, which is also aimed at giving a Kashmiri form to modern digital art.
Most of the photos that accompany the text are either taken by me or other Kashmiri photographers. For the ones that I borrow, credit to the original source is duly given. However, and to my surprise, a lot of content creators have gotten in touch with me about wanting me to use their photos in the posts I make on social media. This is something that I did not expect at first and have grown to appreciate, since sometimes when I am editing a photo taken by someone else, I actually get a little concerned that the whole editing process may change the photo to an extent that the original message that the photographer wanted to convey could be lost. So, knowing that a content creator wants me to use their photo gives me a freer hand and peace of mind.
As for the accompanying text, as you know the Kashmiri music scene has been constantly growing. 2020 was an especially revolutionary year in terms of the quantity as well as the quality of music produced in the Kashmiri language. This has given me a lot of room to work with and a lot of great lyrics to pair with the images. Apart from these, I also sometimes use poetic lines from Kashmiri poets like Lal Ded, Mahmud Gami Saeb and even contemporary revolutionary poets like Madhosh Balhami Saeb, whose verses were used in my latest work.
Sometimes the lyrics and image do not have that much in common, yet as you can see it still comes together nicely. Translation: The music of Jaanbaz has a different charm to it, even though every other person has a rabab these days. Lyrics by: Jaanbaz Kishtiwaeyr Saeb Photo credits: @theotherrumii on Instagram
Trying to incorporate the widely used Nastaliq Kashmiri script with the now more relevant latin script. Translation: The blooming flowers, who got nipped in the bud, we will remember them forever and we will turn their dreams into reality.
The lyrics are from Asaan Gindaan by Ali Saiffudin Photo credits: @furqaanfarooq
Inverse Journal: What do you think is the role of social media in developing awareness at a community level? Do you have a mission statement or a manifesto of sorts that you may have developed over time to think about this project? Usually, when one spends a long time on projects like this one, a lot of ideas that structure the project start to manifest. Could you elaborate on that? This may be a repetitive question that points back to the first question asked in this email interview.
Kashmiri Aesthetics: I think social media plays a really important role in raising awareness at any level. In fact, one of the driving forces for this project has been the normalization and acceptance of the Kashmiri language in online spaces. To convey the message that our language is not something we have to run away from, it’s a language just as good as any. Ever since a Kashmiri is born, he is overtaken by these other seemingly “superior” languages, be it Urdu or English. This subconsciously places Kashmiri at a lower pedestal in the minds of a lot of people. Not to mention how our education system does not allow the propagation of Kashmiri as a language.
To tell you the truth, this project has changed me as a person as well, where before I would not care if a child in my family was learning Kashmiri or not, now I try my best to talk to them only in Kashmiri. After all, a child’s home is the only place they can learn Kashmiri.
Inverse Journal: Where do you locate resistance, and particularly cultural resistance, within your Kashmiri Aesthetics project?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: The theme of cultural resistance is I believe central to this project. The work that we have been doing has constantly been challenging the common social media notions of what Kashmir is to an outsider. To tell you the truth, I have become acquainted with a lot of people outside Kashmir who most of the times have no idea of our distinct culture and language, even some subcontinental people who I have had the pleasure to meet have held the opinion that Kashmiri is a dialect of Hindi/Urdu, which left me disheartened. However, I can see where they’re coming from, and like I said people only take in what we put out and unfortunately that’s what a lot of Kashmiris have been putting out. It is as if Kashmiri has become a taboo, a language limited only to one’s home. The past few decades have created a large vacuum in Kashmiri literature that has affected the role of this language in our resistance as well. Urdu being the lingua franca of the subcontinent has taken centre stage due to its mass appeal and larger reach. For this reason, Kashmiri Aesthetics acts as a reminder to people that even though we are surrounded by these other languages, that is not who we are and only in our mother tongue can we truly express ourselves and our resistance.
Sometimes I use relevant lyrics from contemporary poets, like this one by Madhosh Balhami Translation: Whether I’m thriving or dying, I chant “My beloved land”
I’m carrying this burden since forever, I chant “My beloved land”
Lyrics by Madhosh Balhami saeb, photo taken by me
Some of them are quite literal, like this lyric talking about kedal taar with the photo of an actual Kedal. Translation: I am sitting on the wet bank of the river Jehlum. Will someone help me across it?
Lyrics from Jhelumas by Alif. Photo by me.
Inverse Journal: It is often said that Kashmiri is a dying language. How does your creative undertaking on Kashmiri Aesthetics fight against such a death? What is your view on such claims?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: It is true that the number of Kashmiri speakers has gone down in the last few decades, but I do not believe that Kashmiri is a dying language, especially in comparison to other regional languages in South Asia. You see people in most of the districts of Kashmir are still speaking Kashmiri. In my opinion, a few thousand people from Srinagar who have shifted to Urdu does not represent a shift in the whole of Kashmir. These people are not that many in number and they are especially scarce outside of Srinagar. This shift is not as dramatic as some people believe. I am from Srinagar and I can attest that a majority, even in Srinagar, speaks Kashmiri. Most of the Urdu speakers are children and I believe it would be wrong to blame them or their parents for it. Kashmiri society is increasingly turning into a space that does not value Kashmiri, and people have realised that and maybe that is why these parents do not give that much of an emphasis on teaching their children Kashmiri. They assume that an Urdu speaker will have a better future.
Where Kashmiri has died a death though is in academic and online spaces. Social media I believe is an inaccurate measure to judge language speakers. A lot of people who might speak Kashmiri in real life tend to use only Urdu\English online.
Kashmir has produced so many great poets in the last millennium, their poetry I believe has not made the shift from paper to digital media as well as Urdu and English poetry has. This is something that I believe magnifies the “death” of Kashmiri or at least gives that false impression.
Kashmiri Aesthetics comes in as a way to digitalise some of this poetry, which has otherwise remained trapped in paper and in print. Over the past few months, I have increasingly tried to share some of those beautiful poetic pieces in hope that it shows up in our feeds. We have seen a lot of Ghalib and Iqbal, a little Mahjoor and Lal Ded would be great for a change.
Inverse Journal: Poetry is not only textual, it is especially visual. Your channel focusses as much on textual poetry as it does on visual poetry. Can you elaborate on this? How do you find the perfect verses for the perfect image? Why does it seem that poetry exists everywhere in Kashmir, that Kashmir’s spirit is essentially poetic by nature?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: I could not agree with you more, poetry is especially visual and finding the perfect text for an image and vice versa can sometimes be a demanding task. The process that my posts go through varies, sometimes I take a photo and then look for a suitable text to accompany it. Other times, a lyric or verse is stuck in my mind and I search for an image that would do it justice. Sometimes, the posts are also a subliminal gist of some of the happenings in Kashmir. The messages are subtle but if you are keen enough you can easily spot them and decipher them.
Kashmir has been romanticised to death by poets, that’s one of the reasons why one might believe that everything surrounding Kashmir is poetic. But that holds true if you equate poetry with beauty. I believe that poetry does not have to only reflect beauty, it can just as easily reflect any trait, sentiment or emotion. This is true for Kashmir especially, where outsiders equate Kashmir with beauty, but it is us, the people, who live here who know the full story. To my mind anything in an image or a text that can invoke an emotion is poetry, it doesn’t have to be all butterflies and roses and most of the time it is not.
Inverse Journal: What is the importance of contemporary Kashmiri music in what you post on your channel? How important is it for you to include the lyrical poetry of our contemporary Kashmiri musicians in your creative productions?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: I believe Kashmiri music, especially the contemporary, is a really important part of what I do with Kashmiri Aesthetics. If not for contemporary Kashmiri music, more than half of my posts would cease to exist. It serves a great purpose to include their lyrics with images of our homeland because I believe their lyrics, their ideas, their voices deserve to be shared. I also share them in a highlight titled “Baeth, Music” where I share Kashmiri music recommendations with my audience. Kashmiri musicians are doing a great job at promoting as well as preserving a lot of our language through their work and it would be a shame to skip over their music. More recently I have also tried incorporating Kashmiri Hip Hop lyrics into a few of my posts. With artists like SXR, Ahmer, SOS and others doing an amazing job, I believe Hip Hop and rap music also holds an important place in the contemporary Kashmiri music scene as well as in my posts.
Inverse Journal: How does your channel connect the past with the present? How does your channel create a connection between multiple generations?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: The only link that I believe my channel provides between generations is through music and poetry. Kashmiri poetry is something that holds power to bridge generational gaps, especially now when the newer generations are growing up largely ignorant about Kashmiri history and literature. I for one am fairly new to Kashmiri literature, but growing up I had my grandfather to thank for instilling the love for Persian and Kashmiri poetry in my mind. This poetry acted as a link between me and my grandfather and I believe that is another layer to Kashmiri Aesthetics as well. The content that we put out can be appreciated by all generations alike and maybe even act as a means of conversation and connection. A lot of times, I get comments by young Kashmiris who have trouble understanding the meaning of a text and I believe that debate is really necessary. The meaning or interpretation that I provide to these posts for the young Kashmiris who ask me is far inferior to what their grandparents and even parents can provide. I think that in this way my posts can give birth to important conversations and encourage curiosity and interest in our language, literature, music, and art.
Inverse Journal: What is the importance you give to education about Kashmiri culture and art through your channel? Is that important to the type of digital work you produce on your channel?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: There is a lot of misinformation and hearsay when it comes to Kashmiri culture and art and I have on multiple occasions used my platform as a means to bring these things to light. I do not know if it is important to, or even an integral part of the work that I do, but it has become an extension of it. Many a times it also becomes difficult to keep a levelled head while dealing with some of the issues that come to light; for example last year there was a video uploaded to a YouTube channel by an international travel YouTuber with millions of subscribers. The video was shot on the other side of Kashmir, the people were speaking Urdu in the video which they claimed was called Kashmiri. This was one of the issues that I shared with my audience because it was not like this video had negligible views, its viewers were in millions and almost no one was pointing out that this video was misrepresenting Urdu as Kashmiri—which again exposes the level of ignorance that exists in relation to the Kashmiri language at an international level and even at the level of South Asia.
So yes, I believe that over time my focus has also grown to include education on our culture and art. However, a point to be noted is that I do not claim to be an expert on these things. I am learning as I go.
Inverse Journal: When did you decide that video and moving image was also core to your project?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: It was sometime last winter when I decided to give a third dimension to my content. My content already had visual as well as textual poetry, so I decided to incorporate audio as well in a few of my posts. I believed that incorporating a second sense in my content would help the quality of content. Right now, in total I have down 2 posts that have video and moving images and the responses on them has been amazing, especially on one where I did not even have any lyrics. It just featured Rabab music and the snowy Zabarwan mountains. Goes to prove your point as to how everything in Kashmir is poetic. Sometimes you don’t even need any lyrics to express that poetry.
Inverse Journal: How do you think your project brings the creative, art, literary and music communities together? Is this intended or did it happen gradually as your project started taking shape?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: Kashmiri Aesthetics does bring all those facets of creative ideas and their communities together. Although I did not intend that when I first started, it has now become an important part of the project. I believe this project is a means for these communities to have a sort of informal interaction with each other. This work is regularly shared by artists, photographers as well as everyday Kashmiris who form an organic community around it. This helps in the propagation of ideas, theirs as well as mine.
Inverse Journal: We are surrounded by nuclearized nation states that have all the institutional and state power to expand their languages and culture in multiple directions, so much so that they have an immense impact on Kashmir, its society, and its own culture. How important do you think cultural preservation is to you? How does cultural preservation form a part of your Kashmiri Aesthetics platform?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: If we look at Kashmir, over the past 50 years a lot has changed, our culture and our language are increasingly mimicking our neighbours. As you mentioned they have a lot of resources at their disposal which they do not shy away from using to promote their culture and languages. It is next to impossible to not be affected by such strong cultural hegemony in our territory. We have increasingly adopted a lot of words as well as cultural practices from our neighbours. As a result, the question of cultural and linguistic preservation is really important to Kashmiri Aesthetics. Humans are social beings, I firmly believe that language and culture holds a central position in reminding us of who we are. To quote Zareef Ahmad Zareef Saeb, “Imagine that you’re in a room and a bird is sitting outside on a tree. When the bird chirps, you will at once know if it is a crow, sparrow or a pigeon, without needing to see it. Similarly, humans are also identified by their language and culture. It is an important part of who they are.”
Kashmiri Aesthetics and my other project Digital Kaergar both aim at cultural preservation in its modern sense. Anything that one shares on social media, be it art, music, or videos, it is there for everyone to see, and it is not bound by any time limit. It will be accessible to people forever, be it 10 or 50 years from now. I believe in that sense what Kashmiri Aesthetics is doing is cultural preservation, because even though we might not know what Kashmir and Kashmiris will look like in a century, our literature, poetry, music and art will forever remain as a reminder of what our culture and society once looked like.
Inverse Journal: Is there anything else you would like to add to this Q&A that we haven’t discussed already?
Kashmiri Aesthetics: Thank you once again for allowing me to put my word out on your platform, the questions have been really insightful for me. They made me think about my project in ways that I hadn’t before, really appreciate the time you took to write and articulate them.