Have Feet, Will Dance
On May 31, the Girls Hostel of University of Jammu organized a Regional Cultural Fest. This was the first event of its kind organized by the Girls Hostel at the university. It was organized to welcome the new Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof Umesh Rai.
The fest was truly a celebration time. The performances included Dogri dance and songs from Jammu, qawwali, Nati dance from Himachal Pradesh, Baderwahi Dance, Punjabi Bhangra and of course the Kashmiri folk dance. Being a Kashmiri, I was particularly excited about our performance. The terror ecosystem has tried to obliterate Kashmiri culture.
Our Culture Lives In Us
Those who are trying to erase the history and culture of Kashmir forget that culture does not live in books or in websites. Culture lives in the hearts and souls of the men, women and children of this soil. The history and culture of Kashmir shall live on through us. It shall live on through our children and grandchildren.
At the Kothi Bagh Girls Higher Secondary School in Srinagar, the teachers recently celebrated Eid Rouf. The video went viral. Kashmiris are again searching and finding their roots. Hopefully, it is the Kashmiris themselves who will revive their old traditions of festivity and joy.
For centuries, Kashmiri women enjoyed themselves swaying and gently dancing to our loved Kashmiri songs. We, the daughters of Kashmir, relived those happy times by swaying and gently dancing to the loved songs of our valley, sung joyfully in our mother tongue.
The practice sessions and the final performance were so fun-filled. All of us Kashmiri girls danced to these songs together. These included girl from Chenab valley, Pir Panchal region and from the Valley as well. The girls of Jammu, Baderwah and Himachal Pradesh showcased their culture. It made us Kashmiri girls highly proud that we were able to bring to the people our culture. Giving us this beautiful platform was a respect to our culture by the university.
Amidst Excitement, The Fear
All of us girls were aware of the recent killing of a Kashmiri woman named Amreen Bhat. The woman was gunned down by terrorists because she used to upload her videos on social media.
Amidst all the challenges, live blooms on. While participating in the practice sessions and the final event, I observed how excited and happy the Kashmiri girls are. How much fun they all were having while dancing to the loved songs of the Valley.
I asked one of the girls from Kashmir whether she had ever participated in any dance. Her answer was what I had expected – a big No. We all know why she had never participated in any dance. It was not because she did not want to. It was because terrorism has oppressed us for years. It has crushed our natural instincts for happiness. From a happy and joyful society, Kashmir now has a repressed society tyrannized by terror.
The terror ecosystem imposed on us by Pakistan has made us ultra-conservative. While Pakistan prides itself on its soft power, it has killed the soft power of Kashmir. Our mothers and grandmothers talk of Eid Rouf – the happy dance done by women on Eid. Even Eid Rouf – which used to be a time of festivity and joy – is considered Un-Islamic now. The years of repression has brought us to the point where it is considered scandalous if a girl chooses to dance.
All of us Kashmiri girls – we had not participated in any dance in our Valley because even our traditional folk dance is frowned upon. People call you names if you do something like this so it is also not encouraged by parents. It got me thinking that music and dance have been the souls of civilizations globally. But we have become a society where a girl has to give up on something as simple as a folk dance with her peers because the society doesn’t want you to do it.
We Were So Thrilled To Be Able To Dance
One of the Kashmiri girls participating in the event said she was so overjoyed to be here – because she could experience the happiness of dancing. Another girl who was dancing in our group belongs to South Kashmir. She said that she was very keen to be part of the group of Kashmiri girls performing the dance. She had a cheerful face every time I asked the girls to practice. She told me, “I am so happy to do the dance. I won’t mind it even if you ask me to practice a hundred times because I have never done anything of this kind in my entire life.”
Look at me blabbing about how others were so excited when I am the one who couldn’t sleep with excitement of dancing to our loved songs of the Valley. I had to brainstorm a lot before selecting the song. I knew that most people who were going to watch our performance don’t understand Kashmiri. So I chose something folksy and appealing. The first song we danced to was “Rone daamane poy mai shrone gomai baaleyae”.
I was slightly nervous when we went on the stage. But soon, as the song started playing, we started feeling so proud that we were representing our culture in front of a crowd. They did not know our language, but soon the girls in the crowd were cheering so much because the song had such a charming rhythm, and we Kashmiri girls were merrily dancing to it, dressed in our traditional attire.
The loud cheers of our girls made all of us performers so happy. There was a spring in our step and a thrill in our heart. Yes, we are together as equals here as we represent our culture, I thought happily.
The second song I had chosen for the performance was Jannat e Kashmir sung by Shamim Azad. As soon as the audience heard that we were going to perform to the song Jannat e Kashmir, the girls started shouting and clapping delightedly. Many of them started singing with us. Our happiness knew no bounds.
I will tell you my side, that I have never felt this kind of happiness ever. This was not my first performance. We used to have such events at school in Kashmir. What made this performance special was this – this was the first time I was representing my beautiful and rich Kashmiri culture in front of people who are not so familiar with our language. During those amazing minutes when the performance lasted, every worry I ever had vanished. I was in my own magical world.
Diverse Cultures Find Common Joys
I am so very thankful to my university that it has given us a platform to express ourselves through arts. I was then asked to stand at the stall where we had displayed vegetarian Kashmiri cuisines. The idea was to introduce the guests to our various regional cuisines. The guests loved the dishes. The Kashmiri Kehwa, served with almonds, became a hit. After the event the Vice Chancellor and the other eminent guests complimented the performers and the performances.
It was so encouraging that all of us girls from different cultures came together to represent our respective culture, accepted each other’s cultures and enjoyed the company of one another. These were such beautiful, happy moments for us. Their fragrance is going to stay with us for the rest of our lives.
My Life, My Beautiful Memories
I shared the videos of our dance with my friends on WhatsApp. This was the second time that I was sharing my dance video with my friends. The first time it was at our Freshers/Farewell Party. A dear friend who is truly concerned about me responded that I should not have shared the video even within the close circle of friends. She asked me if I was feeling afraid that I could be killed like Amreen Bhat.
Upon receiving her message, for a minute a chill ran down my spine. I recovered when I realized that this is my life, and I should live it the way I want to. Amreen Bhat was killed by cowards who have a hard time accepting that women have a choice. They have a hard time accepting that our beautiful and noble religion allows women to live their life in the way they want to. I really don’t want to drift more into this talk because when I think about it, my happy memories of our dance at the university tend to get clouded. They are among the most beautiful memories of my life. I don’t want to let go of them.