A Dream Come True: Meet three Kashmiri women who chose the less trodden path of art

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  • Publish Date: Sep 6 2017 10:33PM
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  • Updated Date: Sep 6 2017 10:33PM
A Dream Come True: Meet three Kashmiri women who chose the less trodden path of art

Shaika Mohi, 58

Magarmal Bagh, Srinagar



She would sit cross-legged in a wind-swept attic of the SPS Museum with a paintbrush and drawing paper. Every time she got stuck in the painting, she would look out the window. The mighty Chinars lining the Jhelum bund and the sparkling waters of the river filled her with awe. She would take in the view and get back to her painting, invigorated. Be it the colour of the Chinar leaves, changing from green to russet to scarlet to golden, or the turquoise water or the violet mountains, she was obsessed with capturing all these hues in her drawings and show it to her teacher. That’s the artist in her.

Shaiqa Mohi has since earned a name as a sculptor, participating in national and international art exhibitions like the Indian Contemporary Art Exhibition in the USSR in 1978, AIFACS (All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society) Golden Jubilee International Contemporary Art Exhibition in 1977, National Art Exhibition organised by Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi in 1976 to 1983, 1986 and 1988.

Her collections are displayed in the National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi, Lalit Kala Academy and AIFACS (All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society) Fine Arts and Crafts, New Delhi.

She developed a passion for drawing during school days. She credits it to her teacher BK Sultan, her first inspiration. “I remember how eagerly I would wait for the drawing class even if it meant skipping lunch. The credit goes to my teacher. He was also a museum sculptor. He would often take me and my sister to the museum where we would paint.” 

After completing her schooling from DAV school, Jawahar Nagar in 1971, she went to Govt Secondary School, Amira Kadal, where she continued her quest for art. 

“Those days, the cultural academy often held art competitions. After the classes got over, I would go on foot in the scorching heat to participate in them. The artist in me never let me rest. I was always mad about art.”

Her parents extended their full support. She then joined the Institute of Music and Fine Arts, in Jawahar Nagar. Thus began her journey to becoming a full-time artist. “My parents always encouraged me. They understood my aspirations. It was only because of their support that I could realise my dream of studying at the institute of fine arts.”

There, she was inspired by Gayoor Hassan, her teacher, mentor and guide. He taught her the nuances of sculpture art and helped her recognise her forte. “I am greatly inspired by Gayoor Sahab. He was an amazing sculpture artist. From him, I learnt sculpture art. He would spend hours teaching me the techniques involved. He would never tire of explaining the same thing over and over again.”

Shaika specialised in sculpture art at the institute, where she went on to become a teacher and eventually the principal. “For me, art transcends the boundaries of decoration. To me a stone or any other solid material contains unfavourable artistic elements, which, in the words of Michaelanglo, have just to be brought out with delicate strokes of chisels.”

She can’t imagine her world without art and rues that there is no “art scene” in Kashmir. If there was one, it would provide a viable career option to the youngsters. Moreover, it could help create safe spaces in the conflict zone. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a single art gallery in Kashmir. An attempt to set up an art gallery was made in 2015 but it was vandalised. The government should take some initiatives to promote art among the youth and organised art exhibitions so that more students participate in them and realise the significance of art in creating safe spaces where the youth can express their anguish.”



Mehmeet Syed

Her fans call Mehmeet Syed the Nightingale of Kashmir. Perhaps not without reason: her silky voice has soothed thousands of hearts.

Mehmeet was inspired by her mother, a music graduate. Her own musical journey, she says, began the day she was asked to sing in school. “It was a free class. Someone in my class suggested that we should have some fun. I stood up and volunteered to sing a song. I sang a Bollywood number and the whole class was mesmerised.”

She did her schooling at Presentation Convent and Kothi Bagh Higher Secondary School, and took master’s degrees from Kashmir University and IGNOU. “After completing my secondary education, I got selected for BDS at a renowned college in Uttar Pradesh but the love of music made me stay back. My parents knew I loved music more than anything. They insisted that I pursue my musical career. Their support was always there.”

She made her first public appearance in a programme called Saaz Aur Awaaz, performed live on stage in 2002. “After performing in Saaz Aur Awaaz, I got an offer to sing for the music album Cholhama Roshay in 2004. To my surprise, it became a massive hit, paving the way for more offers.” 

She has since released six more albums and earned numerous awards along the way - Padma Shri and an achievement award for singing from former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam. 

In 2006, her life was turned upside down when her mother became terminally ill and passed away. She quit music. “I was shattered. Music had totally disappeared from my life. I only preferred staying close to my mother and avoided socialising.”

After a four-year hiatus, however, she made a comeback, performing at a concert in the United States. “In 2014, I got a call to perform in the US. I knew it was time to start afresh. After that there was no looking back.”

Mehmeet later formed a band with Irfan Nabi and Bilal Matta called IBM, and they have held concerts in Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Abu Dabi and Dubai, gaining wide acclaim. 

How is it working with two male colleagues? “It is not difficult. In fact, I share a great bond with them. When you love what you are doing, everything falls in place. All you need is unflinching determination.”

The trio sing Kashmiri songs to the beats of the different musical instruments, including guitar and drums. They will next perform at a concert in London in mid-June. Mehmeet is taking violin lessons for this performance. 

Her band is accused of diluting the traditional Kashmiri music but Mehmeet begs to differ. “There is no indigenous Kashmiri music instrument except for Nut and Tumakknaar. We try to give a modern touch to Kashmiri music by harmonising and experimenting with different instruments. The audience likes it. In fact, I believe it is a great way of reviving our own traditional music.”

Mehmeet is an animal lover and a shopaholic and enjoys cooking. Her favourite singers are Shameema Azad, Vijay Malla, Raj Begum, Alka Yagnik and Ghulam Ali. 



Born in 1987, Saba grew up in her ancestral house in Rajbagh, Srinagar. She graduated from Presentation Convent High School in 2002, and was selected to study medicine at Government Medical College, Srinagar, in 2005. 

“While my father, who was an engineer, looked at my grasp on subjects like physics, mathematics and Urdu, my mother, being a gynaecologist, guided me through my English and biology lessons. My teachers played a huge influence in shaping and streamlining my interests, notably Mrs Shameema Keng, who encouraged me to read and write early on.”

Another influence was her Urdu teacher Mr. Mohammad Sangeen, who helped her develop a taste for Urdu poetry. When she was 15, her aunt gifted her a few books -- The Alchemist, The Complete Works of Walt Whitman, The Little Prince and Siddhartha. “Being the only girl in the extended family for many years, I was exposed to books such as The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Famous Five and the like. And thanks to my brother and cousins, there were no comics that I hadn’t read by then, no superhero whose story was unknown to me.”

She started out writing English poetry. “My romance with English poetry was short lived if it ever took off. I wrote a couple of poems for my school magazine titled Simplicity and Beauty is Not Just Skin Deep at the age of 14. The following year was hijacked completely by Ghalib, Faiz, Mir Taqi Mir. Coleridge, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Yeats were a few that I brushed past in school. But my real romance with words started in the year 2007 and 2008 when I began reading Shakespeare in college.”

The conflict proved to be a blessing in disguise. Confined to her home most of the time, she took to reading at an early age. “When the joy of the outdoors was out of bounds, one immersed oneself in the pleasures of an escape. In that sense, books came as a welcome relief, one that was untouched by the constraints of time, uncertainty or curfew and unsullied by blood, battle and conflict.”

“But when one is so consumed by the travails of everyday existence in the daily plane, art becomes a superfluous luxury. This has been sad considering how richly steeped ones existence is in arts, more so in a place like Kashmir. Look out of the window and there is immense beauty at display. To not be an artist here is actually to go against one’s grain. To help heal is the job of an artist, which by no means is an easy task considering the ongoing onslaught from outside.”

Being a doctor, she says, has influenced her more than anything as it made her think, feel and see with an acute awareness. “It helped me to acknowledge a void that has been a sine qua non for my work, both as a doctor and as a writer.”

Talking about the literary scene in Kashmir, she sees hope. She feels that “we are moving despite the encumbrances that pull us down and restrain us, both our own and extrinsic”. “I believe we have a rich history, a rich heritage. Be it our Baand Paether, our use of satire, our songs of joy or lamentation, there is just so much we have assimilated over centuries. We are carefully place at the cusp and need to reclaim our own soon. Translating the gems we might have in our language into say English could also be an excellent way to reach out to the world beyond.”

Her debut poetry collection Leaves from Kashmir is dedicated to Kashmir. The proceeds of the book will go towards funding mental health awareness programmes and for cancer patients in Kashmir. In that sense, there is Kashmir in each line and each breath of the book.