Love for the motherland, its culture, music, and folklore transcends boundaries, seas, and continents. This holds true for Samina Masoodi, a Kashmiri woman based in the United States of America.
Away from her homeland for the past nearly three decades, she has been working on a mission to preserve and promote traditional Kashmiri songs. She has been compiling lyrics of Kashmiri songs in form of books. Her latest book is Käsher Bäthh— Book of lyrics for Kashmiri Wedding Songs, Folk Songs, Everyday Traditional Songs and Childhood Songs
“It is easy to sigh and complain that our language and culture are in danger. Unless we do something about it, we have no one but ourselves to blame for its extinction. I do hope that all of us Kashmiris recognize the need for preserving our language for our future generations and proactively get involved in this project,” Samina told Kashmir Ink in an exclusive interview from the USA.
LIFE IN KASHMIR
Samina comes from a typical Kashmiri family where the “focus has been on education.” She did her schooling from Mallinson Girls School and went to do Master’s in Biochemistry from Kashmir University.
“I grew up in Kashmir. I am a thru and thru Kashmiri girl. I was blessed to be born in a family that was academically inclined, kind of family where my uncles had two Ph Ds, one from India and one from Harvard. We grew up in an atmosphere where quoting literature and poetry was an after-dinner sport,” she says.
“We were expected to excel in anything we did. I was exposed to world-class literature from a very early age.”
Samina was “never interested in sports or anything else.”
“My only hobby or passion was spending my pocket money on books and magazines. In fact, I would get in trouble with my mom for running away from doing chores and holing myself in my room with a book,” she says in a nostalgic tone.
JOURNEY TO UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Soon after completing her education in the early 1990s’, she moved to the USA and started her own Nutritional supplement company for a while. Later she joined her husband when he started a software company, BQE software in 1995. She ran the sales department as Senior Vice President of Sales for 25 years.
The wedding of her sibling in the US prompted her to search for lyrics of Kashmiri marriage songs.
“I have always loved music. It was more of a necessity than inspiration, to be honest. About 5 years after I moved to the United States, my sister got married in the US. As we were preparing for the wedding, we wanted to of course have our Kashmiri touch,” she says.
Samina began viewing Videotapes that she had received from relatives’ weddings and started writing down the lyrics.
“Later we had three more weddings in the family in the US. So those cheat sheets took the form of a notebook. Those days there was no Google or YouTube. Every time we would get a new tape from Kashmir from a relative’s wedding or someone from Kashmir visited us, we would add bits and pieces of songs to the notebook.”
FIRST WORK IN KASHMIRI
Samina’s first book of Kashmiri wedding songs, Manzerath, was created as a project with Samia Qazi in 2015. “At that time Kashmiris in North America, all parts of USA and Canada got together in Washington DC. We created programs for Kids to learn the Kashmiri language, put together Rouf and dramas in Kashmiri to get our community and particularly our American-born kids familiar with other aspects of their culture,” she says.
“We wanted them to participate and be proud of where their parents came from and who they are as Kashmiri Americans.”
For Samina in her fourth book of Kashmiri songs, Kasher Bathh is actually not just a book but it is an online repository, Wiki of Kashmiri songs with lyrics.
“I have included audio-video links, both old versions and new, so people can sing along. Another reason is to help our artists make some money every time someone clicks on the YouTube link. I believe Kashmiri artists are the most underappreciated people in Kashmir. I hope they finally get the recognition they so rightfully deserve. I have also included names of poets so they can get long due credit for their work,” she says.
“I dedicate this book to my beloved Kashmir and to our future generations of Kashmiris who will carry this torch of preserving our culture and language forward,’’ she says.
“I am not going to say it was easy and not a big deal. It was indeed a monstrous laborious task and definitely a challenging one,” she says.
“It takes hours and hours of sitting at one place and painstakingly listening and relistening to song after song.” When she did the first book, Manzerath and the second book, Kasher khander baeth, she was “totally surprised that there weren’t many websites or resources available for Kashmiri songs.”
Elaborating she says the first two books were essentially the compilation of songs and lyrics, from what she along with her sisters and cousins had collected over the years.
“I had the most difficult time finding the wanwun on the web when I decided to do my third book on Kashmiri Wanwun. There were literally zero resources or data found anywhere. The wanwun book was literally created by reaching out to my mom, my mother-in-law, my cousin, aunts, and many others and putting it together one wanwun line at a time.”
“Thank God for web sites like Gwayun.com, YouTube and vast resources of Google now, this 4th book was a bit easier in the sense that while the work was immense but at least I didn’t expend my valuable time searching for resources.”
Her future plans include adding translation of lyrics. “I want people to understand the meaning of the songs and also include a written Kashmiri version ( Arabic alphabet) for people who are not able to read the Roman version.”
“Kashmiri culture, its language, and the songs are rich and centuries-old and just one person cannot compile it all. We have many talented scholars, poets, singers, and linguists still living amongst us.”
“For this project and last, Dr Zarqa Batool, a busy doctor, volunteered to do a linguistic review, Naira Yaqoob, a documentation manager at a busy company, volunteered to do an editorial review and my husband, Shafat Qazi, despite being a CEO of a busy company, gave up his weekends and evening time to do the formatting for the book,” she says.
Many others like her sisters, Safina, Wasima, Qasima and others like her cousin Humairah and friends Dr.Ogra Naheed, Iffat, and Qurat added more songs.
“So my hope in creating this online resource is that all of us work in collaboration and keep adding to this resource.”
The Google doc version of the book kashmirisongs.com allows people to make suggestions for additions of songs, include audio links or suggest corrections.”
MESSAGE TO KASHMIRIS
“If you ask people who know me, they will all unanimously tell you that one thing that annoys me the most is when I see Kashmiris talking to other Kashmiris in Urdu. I have made it my principle in life that I will not respond back to any of them in anything but Kashmiri,” she says.
“I just came from Kashmir and it broke my heart to see everyone from people of my generation to kids speaking in Urdu. In one of the store I asked a salesperson if he is Kashmiri and he said “ Ahnaz”. I said “Agar be aaede peth chus tche seet kashur karaan, tche kyaze chukh me Urdu peth jawaab dewaan’? (When I am talking to you in Kashmiri, why are you responding in Urdu). His answer was “Madam kya karein, sab urdu mei baat karte hei, hum kya karain”! (Everybody is talking in Urdu, what can I do?)
Samina maintains that she has nothing has against Urdu, Hindi or English. She believes that it is great to learn as many languages as one can.
“I can read and write English, Urdu, Hindi, Kashmiri, and Arabic. I can also understand a little bit of Spanish and French. The world is a melting pot and we obviously need to know English and other languages,” she says.
In her message to Kashmiris, she says “by all means teach your children to learn and speak those languages.” “But for the sake of preserving your language, do encourage your kids to learn and speak in Kashmiri. If we don’t do it now, there will be a time in the future where Kashmiri will join Latin as an extinct language. It is the obligation of all Kashmiris to make sure that never happens. So, I ask all of you to make a conscious effort.”
“Parev Koshur, Karev Koshur, Rosev Kasher (Learn Kashmiri, Speak Kashmir and be Kashmiri),” Samina advises in her parting message to Kashmiris.