Kashmiri Dida’s Comedy of Cultural Conciliation

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Meanka Handu aka Dida. Pics Courtesy: From the comedian’s personal collection

Addressing the taboos and social issues prevalent in the society in a humorous manner, a poised Kashmiri Pandit woman is delivering sermons of unity and communal brotherhood to bring Kashmiris together. 

By Arbeena Shah

SPORTING a signature mid-length hair and a traditional wear, a jovial Kashmiri woman has captured the hearts of thousands of netizens with her profound humorous acting and dialogue delivery blended with applaudable punches.

Perhaps spreading smiles comes naturally to Meanka Handu, the contemporary Kashmir’s celebrated comedian who has never been to any acting school. It was her pure love for Kashmir, its culture, people and the unfortunate known fact of dying Kashmiri language which motivated her to go online.

She addresses her audience via her YouTube channel ‘Asvun Koshur’ in a typical Kashmiri language whisked with a comic ingredient and brings a wide smile on every face that listens and watches her.

In April 2017, she posted her first video on YouTube in her mother tongue and the overwhelming response that followed encouraged her to take this riveting and constructive step further.

In less than three years since she put out her first video, Dida has become an internet sensation, especially in Kashmir.

Meanka’s central comic character Dida makes her deeply rooted to her homeland, its culture and language. The rib-tickling character is a name given to a Kashmiri Pandit woman. She brings every Kashmiri together and makes them laugh regardless of their religious faith or political opinion.

Dida plays the role of a much older woman who is the mother of two kids—18-year-old Sheen and 16-year-old Nabad; while as Jigga Masi and her daughter Cherry Didi are the villainous fictional characters.

Meanka performs all these roles single-handedly. She receives several messages from her female audience since they relate themselves with the name Dida.

“I’ve received messages from some Kashmiri Muslim girls who are called Dida at home,” says Meanka. “I believe my audience relates to this name and character.”

Despite going through a traumatic time in her life, she keeps spreading smiles.

Since her school days, Meanka used to receive bunch of plaudits for her unique sense of humour. And ergo, she decided to mix her gift with euphonious Kashmiri language. And hence, the name ‘Asvun Koshur’ came into being which means a smiling Kashmiri.

With 40k subscribers to her YouTube channel, Meanka seeks to teach Kashmiri in an informal way often loaded with proverbs and old sayings of Sufi saints and Rishis such as Lal Ded and Nund Rishi.

She addresses the taboos and social issues prevalent in the society in a humorous manner, thereby, making a humble effort to raise awareness among the people and at the same time accentuating Kashmiri language.

She firmly believes that mother tongue is the backbone of any culture that needs to be preserved and revitalized.

“Kids are not encouraged to speak Kashmiri at homes or even in schools,” says Meanka. “Hence, I started my YouTube channel which caters to this cause.”

Speaking in one’s native language creates an immense impact on maintaining its zenith, and Meanka steadfastly believes that it is one’s identity which indigenous people must love, encourage, preserve and take pleasure in speaking.

“I take great pride in the fact that I can fluently speak in my mother tongue, so should every Kashmiri,” the witty woman continues.

Also, she reckons, there’s no better way to give out the message of oneness, communal harmony and brotherhood than in an amusing and familial manner.

“Even if a handful of people are able to shun bitterness, I will consider my job done,” she smiles.

The comedian’s childhood act

In addition to YouTube, she has approximately 85k and 15.5k followers on Facebook and Instagram respectively.

Apart from Kashmir, her whacking followers include non-Kashmiris from Delhi, Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. They admire her efforts and comic style.

Currently residing at Noida, Meanka was born in a well-educated Kashmiri Pandit family in Rainawari, Srinagar. However, her parents had to leave following the mass migration of her community in 1990. Her father, Virender Prakash, runs a trekking company, while as her mother, Raaj Handu, has been a teacher all her life.

“My dad always taught me the difference between education and literacy, encouraged me to read newspapers and books, and didn’t let me restrict myself to academic syllabus only,” Meanka says. “My parents have always been supportive and I shared my first video with them and few close friends, who actually stood by me in my thick and thin.”

She completed her schooling from Kendriya Vidyala, Noida, and later did her engineering in Information & Technology from University of Mumbai. However, she craved for something that offered her creative freedom.

As such, she took Learning and Development as her profession. Having worked in MNCs for almost eight years, she now works as a freelancer and helps emerging companies set up training functions.

 

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A post shared by Asvun Koshur (Dida) (@asvunkoshur) on

So far, her three years of online journey has made her more humble and empathetic because of the people who jam-pack her inbox with gratifying notes. Also, she has learned to respond rather than react to any kind of obnoxious text thrown at her.

“When I go through some hateful messages, I tell myself this is what I don’t have to do to anyone. I think hundred times before writing or saying anything to any person,” says Meanka.

But on professional front, she handles and manages all the technical aspects—writing, directing, executing, recording, editing—without relying on anyone.

“Hours of hard work and mental preparation goes on in the background before the act is delivered to the people which just comes out as a 10-15 minutes of work,” she says.

Her online performances have been creating buzz since long now.

As a person, Meanka is an action-oriented woman and believes in taking practical steps to deal with any problem or situation.

“My life and career have always been driven by a strong passion to support and bring about a change,” she says.

She balances her professional and personal life gracefully despite it becoming hectic for her at times. However, her love and commitment towards her work and the numerous fans looking forward to hear from her provide her strength and motivation amidst her incessant schedule.

She has also started her online store on her official Facebook page that deals in coffee mugs, t-shirts, and hand-painted wooden accessory boxes for females.

Her comic performances, many believe, are creating a renewed pride in Kashmiri language.

But amid virtual laughter and faraway real life, she often gets drifted to mountains and yearns for the grape creepers, walnut tree, kitchen garden, clear blue sky, and twilight chirping of birds in her ancestral home.

Despite not being able to spend much time at her native place, she feels a strong connection with Kashmir and someday in future she desires to come back.

She believes that Kashmiris who had to leave Kashmir and those who continued living there have suffered regardless of their religion and community. Hence, both must overcome the enmity and rise above it.

“I truly believe we all need to acknowledge each other’s pain and rise above hate,” Meanka concludes.

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One Response to "Kashmiri Dida’s Comedy of Cultural Conciliation"

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