A number of people live two lives. They do something for a living and a completely different thing for passion. Muskan Fatima meets a group of professionals including doctors and engineers who play brush on canvas once they are home
“Art and love are the same thing,” American culture writer, Charles Chuck Klosterman wrote, “It is the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you.” In any form, art is seen as one of the most humane ways to express the internal state of the soul in a world where most people care only about the externals. This is what is in vogue in Kashmir for centuries.
Kashmir is the ultimate address for a diverse art basket: papier mache, landscape paintings, miniature painting, embroidery, shawl and carpet weaving. Most of the art forms are linked – the engraving on copper utensils, carving on walnut wood, the weave of a kani shawl and suzni on the Pashmina, all emanate from a fine painting.
But the difference remains – some people do it for a living and some do it for a passion. There are many people who do something for a living and art for passion. Some of them change their blood-splattered gloves in the operation theatre and rush to their art stations at home and play with the red on canvas. A few ensure their art is part of the designs in the architecture they draw.
An Oasis In the Desert
Iftekhar Ahmad Wani is a self-taught artist, who paints in oil, acrylic and watercolour. For years, he worked as a marketing manager and industrial marketing specialist in Saudi Arabia and evolved into a soft-skill management trainer who would shuttle between Riyadh, Bahrain and Dubai.
A resident of Sopore, Wani could never give up his love for art which was his childhood passion. It was his engineer father, who used to encourage him to redraw the cartoons by Kashmir’s famed cartoonist, the BAB of Srinagar Times.
In those good old days, Iftekhar remembers, he had a fascination for the students of the Institute of Fine Arts, Jawahar Nagar (now operating from the University of Kashmir), whom he would see while visiting his Nanihal.
When he went to Saudi he came across surplus art supplies available and this fueled his art journey.
Even though he was in the Middle East, it was Kashmir that dominated his paintings. He has a series of paintings on Shehr-e-Khas, the city of Srinagar. One of his paintings exhibits the mesmerizing beauty of Khanqah-e-Mouala, Islam’s first Kashmir address. Every time he felt homesick, he started painting Kashmir.
“My father used to take me to Khanqah as a kid,” Iftekhar said. “After he passed away, I started painting all the places, I visited with my father. It is challenging to paint Shehr-e-Khas but there is a poetic atmosphere to Kashmir.
Having a deep interest in history and reading, Iftekhar Hopes someday he does a fusion of his art and his literary interests.
The Kashmir Apartment
People missing Kashmir and attempting to recreate in their own apartments their own Kashmiri on walls is a new trend. Ana is also one of them.
Every time, she misses Kashmir, she takes solace in art. “Painting Kashmir used to make me feel connected to my homeland,” Ana said.
Syed Ana Fatima was born and brought up in Kashmir. She did her schooling at Mallinson Girls School and later attended Allana College of Architecture in Pune. Currently, she is a staff Architect for a Pune-based company. She is into paintings and calligraphy, a passion she has had since her childhood days.
With parental support, Ana chose architecture as it somehow appealed to and connected to her passion. It was her well-read father, who had literary inclinations that shaped her career.
“I remember when I was small we had to draw something for class,” Ana said. “Our teacher used to ask us not to use a ruler so I did it freehand but the next day she accused me of using a ruler. It hurt my feelings but my father told me that I should not take it to heart and instead take it as a compliment.” That was literally the take-off point for her love for art as it indicated her capacity. Soon, Ana used to excel in all art competitions.
There were huge lows. When her father passed away, she stopped painting for some duration because everything related to art, she felt, was connected to her father. It was the consistent insistence of her friends that she picked up the brush again. Art became a refuge for her and a connection with her father. It is the art that connects her with her father, her job and her homeland.
“Art is embedded in my soul. Everything is art for me,” Ana said. “Being mindful of Allah has given me contentment and that has channelized my art and creativity in a better way.” In the next 10 years, she hopes to have a well-established architectural firm along with a recognized art studio of her own.
Cancer and Canvas
Dr Jahangeer Makhdoomi is a practising oncologist and an artist at the same time. He is a doctor by profession and a painter by passion.
A proud Srinagar resident, Makhdoomi had his schooling at Burnhall, the place where he picked the skill of managing his pencils and the brush. Later after he graduated from medical school, he credits his wife for ensuring he picks the brush when it is not the time for the scalpel.
Managing cancer patients is a depressing environment. A doctor is always surrounded by sadness, stress and sorrow. As Pablo Picasso has said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” painting became the solace and refuge for Makhdoomi. He believes his passion has made him a sensitive professional. However, his artistic inclinations lean towards realism rather than abstract art and he draws his inspiration from Renaissance painters like Ivan Shishkin, John Constable, and Johannes Vermeer. Besides, he loves driving and exploring the wilderness.
Engineering the Brush
Shazia Basharat and Saiqa Rashid are engineers. Shazia serves Jammu and Kashmir’s Power Development Department as an Assistant Executive Engineer. For the Presentation Convent-schooled, art was not her passion since childhood. At the school, she was into academics and sports. For her, art was a late discovery.
During the Covid19’s 2020 lockdown, she brought canvases and paint for her kids. One day one of her kids accidentally spoiled a canvas. In order to fix it she tried to paint on it herself and that gave birth to her painting Moonlight. She considers the appreciation from her loved ones as a driving force for herself. She believes that art is a reflection of the internal state of the artist. The bright colours she uses for her artworks reflect the happiness and contentment she feels within herself.
“Art has changed my outlook on life and brought immense peace to me,” Shazia said. “Just like in art, sometimes in life things do not turn out exactly how we had imagined but just some touches can make it look better. I learnt from painting that there is always time to change, just that it should come from within you.” A lot of her paintings are about Kashmir since she finds a lot of beauty within its landscapes and its people. The hues of autumn and sunset attract her immensely.
For understanding art, Shazia said one requires sensitivity and sensibility. “I have a full-time career so for me art is not a means to an end. I am alright with sailing and not reaching anywhere in this journey.”
As a Kashmir woman artist, she hopes that in the near future, there are more women drawing. “Art is a very powerful medium of expression and through it, women can express their problems and their power and it can help in their empowerment,” Shazia believes.
Unlike Shazia, Saiqa Rashid was interested in art since her childhood and remembers winning Mehndi competition in the old days. Her parents wanted her to focus on academics but her passion bounced back on her. She loves calligraphy.
“I remember when I used to go to study the Quran; our teacher had a calligraphy pen which fascinated me deeply,” Saiqa said. “I think my love for calligraphy stems from my love for my religion. Usually, when I do my calligraphy my kids sit with me and I think that it helps develop patience in them and gives us the opportunity to spend meaningful quality time together.”
Saiqa believes calligraphy is an important element of Islamic Art. Calligraphy is often seen in Muslim architecture and she thinks Kashmir has a long way to go in this aspect compared to other places like Iran.