When Kashmir will be won

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WHEN we were growing up our fondest memories of Kashmir were family holidays. A shikara along the lakes of Srinagar, lush mountains all around, woollen sweaters over woollen sweaters and the imperative photograph wearing a pheran and taranga. 

And then there is the Vaishno Devi temple, just north of Jammu, among the holiest Devi temples of India. My family came here every time a child was born, to have its head tonsured. Looking back, it seems an awful ritual, but a long holiday with an extended family was always the lure. The long muleride up the mountain was an added adventure. 

Over the years, trips to Kashmir became scarce, and then there were none. The state had long been cut off from the mainland. And the mainland cut itself off from the state too. 

Years later, my brother brought home a Kashmiri bride. The smart and sassy lawyer, who incidentally was raised all over India, introduced me to a Kashmir that newspaper reports hid from us. Their wedding in Jammu took me back to the place of childhood memories, and it was exactly the way we left it. Time had stood still, it was almost as if the last 20 years of development in India hadn’t touched it. No glass-facade buildings and no flyovers, the bazaar had one Benetton store and one Bata. 

In the midst of the recent violence, comes a spot of good news. Zubair Kirmani, whose label Bounipun (‘chinar leaves’) makes beautiful clothes out of the Valley, has been selected to be in the menswear finals of the International Woolmark Prize. If he wins, he will follow his predecessor Suket Dhir to top international boutiques, taking the beautiful arts and crafts of the Valley with him. I want him to win so bad. 

Kashmiri fashion has been adored the world over, even if the world didn’t know it was Kashmiri fashion. The tunic and the kaftan are variations of the pheran. Turbans in women’s fashion is unique only to Kashmiris (they wear a cap with a taranga, and is mandatory when a Kashmiri Hindu is getting married). 

Kashmir comes alive in every collection from Rohit Bal, whose ancestors hail from Srinagar. His extensive use of kashida embroideries (detailed needlework with satin thread, mostly used in florals, petals, creepers, and birds like the peacock) has made it his signature, even though others like Sabyasachi have followed suit. Kashida’s neatness and sheen make it a glamorous surface embellishment for even Western clothes. 

Unlike Kirmani, who works out of Noida, there are no ‘fashion designers’ as such in the state. And there are no fashion institutes that chronicle and celebrate the culture of the land. Insha S Qazi, a 25-year-old Srinagari who studied fashion in London, is the first woman to attempt a fashion school in Baramulla. She aims at having her women students take Kashmiri art to new heights. 

Kashmiri gurgabis are the jootis of the local people. It is a cousin of the Mughal or Rajasthani mojri, except with traditional Kashmiri embroidery, and is unisex. While mojris are all the rage in fashion this year, the gurgabis are only worn by the locals, arguably even only known to them. 

The most famous Kashmiri export remains the pashmina shawl. But textile NGO Dastkar’s Laila Tyabji points out in a recent article in TheWire.in: “It is tragic that only 1 per cent of the world’s production of pashmina yarn comes from India. And the quality is so poor that only 10 per cent of this 1 per cent is internationally graded as pashmina. Shawl manufacturers in India, once the cradle of pashmina yarn, now import raw pashmina from China and Mongolia, and even the UK.” 

The story of the pashmina is the story of Kashmir itself, a place whose famed beauty serves only our memories — its realities are too hurtful to be true.

The Article First Appeared HERE

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