Around a decade ago, when Asiya Hassan, a girl from Kashmir’s Pampore area, asked her five-year-old nephew in Malaysia to utter names of days in Kashmiri, he could not. Startled, Asiya took it upon herself to serve her native language though being in the foreign land.
In the next few years, Asiya while pursuing her graphic designing degree started a process of making colourful cards and inscribing Kashmir words with meaning on them.
“As I tried to look up on the internet for the resources on Kashmiri language, I felt let down. You will find Google translator in scores of languages but not in Kashmiri. There was also not any major book or online platform for Kashmiri dictionary. I thought why not make one myself that will serve people of my homeland while on foreign lands and this is how the idea started to take shape,” Asiya said while talking over phone with Greater Kashmir.
Asiya is based in Malaysia from her childhood; on one of her visits to Kashmir, she collected whatever literature she could gather on Kashmiri to help her research. “My mother is one of the great resources for me. I took her help to develop this online Kashmiri dictionary. She also helps me to record the pronunciation and voice for my social media accounts and website of Kashmiri dictionary,” she said.
By 2017 Asiya created social media accounts for her Kashmiri dictionary. In just a few years her Instagram page (Kashmiri.dictionary) has over 13,000 followers while her Facebook page with the same name has more than 3,000 followers.
Adil Ahmed who has been following the Kashmiri.dictionary said: “Few months back, I asked my friends if they knew the spinal cord is called Thar Kond in Kashmiri, eye balls are called Toji, crocodile a Grah and bicycle a Zalgur? Despite being fluent in Kashmir, they hardly knew the words. The platform is amazing, you get to know new words, proverbs, grammar, riddles, pronunciation and many other things. Before knowing about Kashmir dictionary, I thought I knew everything but I guess there is a lot to learn.”
With good response on social media, Asiya thought of creating a website for Kashmir dictionary. In 2020 she created the Kashmiridictionary.org which is running successfully and serving the language.
“I don’t have a computer science background, one of my friends got me in touch with Mudasir Ali, a Srinagar-based web designer. He built the website for me. It was because of his help that I could better manage my social media accounts and get the best outcome from my website.
“I had to learn a lot of things myself first, be it the language or using various tools like Kashmiri keyboard which was a new thing to me. Due to a user-friendly website and well managed social media accounts, I was successful to come up with such a platform that I craved for myself when I searched online years back. This is a first kind of such platform from which everyone is learning, be it children or adults,” Asiya said.
Asiya who recently completed her MBA said that while pursuing her studies she managed to spare a few hours daily for her Kashmiri dictionary to research for new words, grammar and other aspects of the language. She also takes out time to answer queries of her followers. “Creating something like this with negligible resources online has been a challenge but my family, my followers and my love for the language have been boosting me,” she said.
Asiya believes that the “Kashmir language is what makes us Kashmiris and what sets us apart from other”. She suggests that parents need to make children love their native language “which is our identity”.
“I was in Kashmir up till 5th standard. I remember our generation was not taught Kashmiri at schools in 1990s, unlike today. I think that today’s children should put Kashmiri to use and serve this language. If language is taken away from us we will have nothing left. Joshua Aaron, an American linguist says that when we take away the language of a culture we take away its wisdom, prayers, cures, proverbs, riddles, songs, literature, laws, praises, curses and greetings. I think that pretty much sums up everything,” she says.
Asiya says: “I want to work towards making this platform the best available resource so that not only we will get benefitted but non-Kashmiris will also get to know our beautiful language,” she said.