Meanku Handu: The Didda who charms Kashmiris

Born in Rainawari, Srinagar, Meanka had faint idea of pre 1989 Kashmir. She was in class second when she along with her family had to migrate in April 1990, due to deteriorating situation.

Haroon Mirani
Srinagar, Publish Date: Apr 20 2018 10:41PM | Updated Date: Apr 20 2018 10:41PM
Meanku Handu: The Didda who charms KashmirisFile Photo

At Tagore Hall, after a recent cultural program, a middle aged Kashmiri man went upto Meanka Handu, a social media performer whose videos have garnered considerable fan following among Kashmiris, here and abroad. “My wife is unable to move as she suffers from paralysis from last many years. There is only one time when she is happy and it is when she watches your videos. It gives her sort of new energy and zest for life,” he told Meanka. “I just came to express my personal thanks.”

He was not alone, as another person had come from Tangmarg to express similar feelings and many others who couldn't come sent their wishes through messages on social media. Meanka knew that people in Kashmir follow her videos but the kind of surprise and warm welcome she received was beyond expectations. “I always wanted to come here. In the deepest prayers of my heart I wanted my Kashmir trip to be special and significant one,” said Meanka who visited Kashmir after a gap of 28 years. 

 

Born in Rainawari, Srinagar, Meanka had faint idea of pre 1989 Kashmir. She was in class second when she along with her family had to migrate in April 1990, due to deteriorating situation. They first moved to Jammu but were unable to cope up with weather, lack of facilities and other problems and ultimately moved to Delhi. Her father was a tour operator and mother a private school teacher. It took them years to get adjusted in Delhi and her parents had to shuffle between jobs to keep the household running.  In the hustle bustle of Delhi, they lost most of things associated with Kashmiri culture, but one thing she guarded well was her language.

 

“I always feel that language holds primary  importance in safeguarding, promoting and preserving our language. It was painful to see the diminishing language around and this prompted me to start my own youtube channel,” said Meanka who uploads her videos on Asvun Koshur channel on youtube and on Facebook page of similar name.

On the social media, Meanka uploads the videos in which she acts as elderly character known as Didda. She takes a particular topic prevalent in Kashmiri society and weaves a story around it. Adding plenty of humour and sarcasm Meanka entertains her fans in peculiar Kashmiri language. “I try to even keep the Kashmiri pronunciation of English words intact,” says Meanka.

With catchy names like Zulmgar Hash, My Pujj, Kaeshiri Paama, Social Media Doctor, Naar Tengal,  Didda Pareshan Maslai Shikas Shur etc, the audience is attracted from all over the world. She uploads the videos on her youtube channel Asvun Koshur which has till date received 1.3 million views. Similarly her Facebook page has more than 1.5 million views on here videos.

Though she started the channel just a year ago but it has received unprecedented success in Kashmiri diaspora. “I started recording the videos in April 2017 just to promote Kashmiri language and culture,” said Meanka who has had no formal training in acting or media production. An engineer by profession Meanka chooses topics from her relatives, community and day to day interaction between Kashmiris and outsiders. On some day she talks about her mother in law and in another episode she rants about her modern daughter and in another episode she talks about beauty of Kashmir. What makes her acts different are ample uses of Kashmiri phrases which make people nostalgic.

“We are fast losing Kashmiri language from our homes. Be it in Kashmir or outside, among muslims or pandits, Kashmiri is become scarce. My channel attempts to arrest this trend and encourage people to use this beautiful language Kashmiri,” said Meanka. “Almost eighty percent of younger generation of Pandits do no converse in Kashmiri and if the situation remains same, we may lose this vital aspect of culture forever.” It was this concern to save language that she started the channel.

She writes the script of her videos herself and ensures that everybody from grandfather to granddaughter can watch it without inhibition. Though most of the videos are of short duration with the longest one being of just 14 minutes, Meanka manages to get hundreds of comments and shares. Her most popular video has been Zulmgar Hash with almost half a million views and thousands of shares. 

Meanka is particularly happy that her endeavour has brought similarities among Pandits and Muslims to fore. “Most of the younger generation on both sides have no experience of living in pluralistic society and they get amazed when they see a pandit speaking in Kashmiri or Muslims have similar traditions. It has brought them closer,” said Meanka who has fond memories of living in Kashmiri. “There was thing which can only be found in Kashmir. Here we know almost everybody, my mother used to keep me with a neighbour shopkeepers till she returns from school, another neighbour boy would bring me home at other times. One cannot even think about trusting neighbours in Delhi or other places.”

 

Meanka  remembers once she overslept in a bus which took her to Batmalloo instead of Rainawari. At Batmalloo, driver, conductor and passengers took care of the little girl, gave her biscuits and after enquiring took her whereabouts, took her to Rainawari where half of the locality was already on streets to look out for the missing girl.

 

“Even my name has Kashmiriat in it. My mother had great regard of legendary English professor Late Prof Firaq. When I was born my mother went to Prof Firaq and told him that I want my daughter to be named Meanka, how should I spell it. Firaq told him to spell it as Meanka instead of Meanka. At home everybody told my mom to write it Meanka, but she told them if Prof Firaq said Maenka then there will be no change in it,” said Meanka.

To safeguard Kashmiri language, Meanka feels that we need to modify our approach according to modern generation and their needs too. “Simple seminars and discussions are not enough. We need to talk to our younger generation in the language they speak like internet,” said Meanka who also writes occasionally and has penned ladishah song Maej Kasheer for her channel too. 

Though the social might give wrong impression of Meanka as some middle aged mother, but in reality she is a single woman in her thirties. When asked why she chooses an elderly character, Meanka quips, “nobody would listen to a younger girls giving them sermons. That I why I had to take the character of Didda as people listen to elderly.”

In real life too Meanka is called Didda, a name given to eldest daughter among maternal and paternal relations in a Kashmiri family. “I get messages from many muslim girls who told me that they are also called Didda. See how similar we are.”

Meanka feels it is time that we forget our past and move ahead. “Everybody has suffered a lot but somewhere we need to stop blaming each other, forget and get along,” said Meanka. “After coming to Kashmir I strongly believe that there is a hope for reviving that pluralistic harmonious society. The love I got here was unprecedented and now I cannot think of stopping to come here. Kashmir is in my heart and it will remain so.”

 

 

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