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Mumin Bhat - Breaking the shackles of stereotypical heirlooms in Kashmir

Professor turned entrepreneur, Mumin Bhatt
SRINAGAR: In the last decade, a creative storm was unleashed in the valley of Kashmir that witnessed new means of expressions and professions. While many young Kashmiris became rappers, bards, storytellers, entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, others tried to break the shackles of social and political barriers with different means of creative enterprise. It is this collective goodwill, which is making Kashmir’s new age self-starters different from their predecessors.

Much of this, many believe, comes from their primary schooling in the perpetual state of conflict in their homeland, where in the name of opportunities, not much is available. Most of them, however, are doing their bit to uplift the pervasive sense of hardship in society, without playing to galleries.

During the past 30 years, a considerable body of research has accumulated pertaining to the phenomenon which has come to be called “stereotyping” in Kashmir. Generally, stereotypes testify
individuals’ orientation and past experiences, which could manifest positively or negatively as
individuals interact with others within and outside of their immediate environment. There is no room for growth and the label becomes stifling; both for the individuals who are labelled and for the category itself. The challenge is to keep an open mind even for the most solid “givens”. Absolutism is not a virtue in our constantly changing world.

Predominantly, in Kashmir, stereotypes and biases serve to unfairly and sometimes unintentionally keep qualified, capable people out of jobs or positions of power.

Stereotypic views affect individuals’ self-cognitive development, as well as their feelings, actions, and attitudes. It is associated with the development of beliefs concerning the traits supposedly possessed by most members of a society. The rigid, simplistic caricature of a particular group of people, that stems from stereotyping can affect individuals by limiting them on their academic achievement.

Looking inward, most of us resent it when our deeply felt complexity is denied; when we are judged by those who don’t know us well; when we are robbed of our uniqueness, our genetic, biographical,
psychological one-of-a-kind-ness. We want our story to be the fully fleshed narrative, nuanced and rich and singular as we feel ourselves to be, as we actually are. Indeed, one can hardly quarrel with the notion that we are all individuals and should be judged as such, on our own merit and the contents of our character, rather than seen as mere abstractions or derivatives of group averages.

One such person who broke the shackles of stereotypic heirlooms and came up with his own enterprise is a professor turned entrepreneur, Mumin Bhatt. Akin to a well-meaning person, he believes in his own creative journey, without getting perturbed by the domino effect-driven career choices in Kashmir. He is creating his own market space at a time when a chain of entrepreneurs are being groomed in many fields in Kashmir.

Mumin Bhatt’s journey started within the premises of his academy. It was in the winter of 2015, when
Bhatt, who then worked as a senior professor at NIIT Srinagar, espied a student playing football and
bunking classes regularly. Amidst of all the warnings, the boy did not turn up to his class. A few days
passed. It was a bitterly algid morning of Chillai Kalan (Chillai Kalan is a Persian word which is literally synonymous to ‘major cold’. It’s a period of 40 days of chilling cold in Kashmir, commencing from December 21). Bhatt was passing through the compartment of the library and suddenly, his eyes caught a noteworthy scene.The glabrous, young chap was wheezing heavily, appeared as if the whiffs of smoke emerged from his big bazoo, but tirelessly wellying the ball. Furiously, he approached him and enquired about the reason for being away from the class for the most time. Not even a tinge of fear in his eyes, the boy reposted contently and manifested his fervid protestations of love for the sport.

After a short war of words with professor, he panted heavily and unrevealed his bourns after being diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma (a type of cancer). He further asseverated his eternal enthusiasm for football by avowing to practice his passion till last breath of his life. Bhatt was all in tears. The moment brought him back to his childhood, when he, as a teenager was quite fond of photography. The laodicean support by his parents, dashed his hopes and downcasted his passion of becoming a visual storyteller. This greatly influenced his life goals and career decisions as well. His parents deciderated to see him as an engineer. He decided to go with his parents’ wish and went on to pursue his Bachelors in Software Engineering and later his Masters. Recrudescing back to reality, he gave a tight hug to the boy and patted his head. The day panned out to be a turning point in his career and changed the entire course of his life. He realised that he was at the wrong place and the preponderate profession was not meant for him.

Determined to go against the career he was forced into, he came up with his own feature magazine
entitled “Captured Illusions”, the first of its kind in Kashmir- an unabridged platform for the youth to
showcase their talents. He was too behindhand to regret over his career choices but he decided to
provide a forum for the third millennium.

To break out of an entrenched stereotype is not easy. Part of it involves knowing, or researching what
others believed us to be in the past, what they believe now and what they see for the future. It is quite
challenging to start a venture like Mumin Bhatt’s magazine in a place like Kashmir, where stereotypes and ableism are omnipresent. One of the most visible negative results of these ingrained roles is the deep segregation of professions in Kashmir. Bhatt calls the notion of stereotype accuracy consistent with the powerful Information-processing paradigm in cognitive science, in which stereotypes are conceptualized as “schemas,” the organized networks of concepts we use to represent external reality. Conceptual coherence notwithstanding, the question of stereotype accuracy is at heart an empirical one.

Giving a tough time to the hornets’ nest, he started striding an untrodden path. He laid the first stone of his publication and took the charge as the Editor in Chief of the Magazine. The first edition of Bhatt’s magazine hit the streets in September, 2017 as a bi-monthly magazine. But after gaining huge public support and praise from ardent readers, Bhatt was mandated to release a monthly issue of his
magazine.

Bhatt also revived his adrift skill and started working as an amateur photographist and has been recognized as the second best photographer of the Valley in the 35 Awards International Photo
Contest 2019.

Bhatt identified the intertwine of old and new traits and approached the practical challenge of breaking out of the stereotype. This was possible only when he articulated who he was (or is becoming), what he wanted to be known for, and who are the people he wanted to inform. This is not to say that he had to establish new absolutes to replace the old “givens”. Perhaps the most profound changes in life is the recognition of plurality rather than uniformity, of evolutionary growth rather than unchangeable dictums. One cannot perpetuate problems by replacing one stereotype with another.

He believes that stereotypes when provided dominance, target the intersectionality of our identities. To him, breaking the stereotype, each congregation must do two things: working on its own specific articulation of what needs to be communicated to whom and understanding the gravity of historical relics.

Unfortunately, homophobic attitudes and proclivity are common in Kashmir. Stereotypes and prejudice have a pervasive and often pernicious influence on the minds of people leading to stereotype threat – performance decrements that are caused by the knowledge of cultural stereotypes. It is so insidious, takes so many forms, and has such negative effects on the masses.

Withstanding all the impediments and enduring with a new hope, Bhatt introduced Captured Illusions
into the literary market with a motive to accept and appreciate new ways of expressions that evoke the soul and panegyrize the true essence of art and literature. Bhatt crafted his magazine for the liberal art lovers, who still romance with a book and are driven by the aroma of pages.

Bhatt longed to see his people comprehensively contributing towards literature and virtuosity and was well aware of the dearth of little avenues, platforms and stages available to Kashmiris to showcase their talents. So, he took the allegiance upon himself and did utter fealty.To him, it is a Magazine, capturing the misinterpreted Illusions – what has been ignored for a pretty long time in Kashmir, thus justify it’s name. That is what Captured Illusions is there to revive.

From acquainting with artists, prefacing the sketch begetters, priming the occult magicians to introducing the traditional Rabab players, the magazine offers a hand to all the promising fortes.
The magazine has featured scores of esoteric artists. Captured Illusions has also successfully organized eleven Open Mic Sessions, under the tagline of “ Let Me Speak “ to provide a platform for young poets, aspiring artists and budding writers to showcase their works.

The Magazine has always been there to venture on avant-garde abstractions. The Magazine is designed upon international standards with extraordinary managerial competencies It aims at propounding all the idiosyncratic talents of the valley, defying the cliché-ridden practices in the prevailing social setup. Bhatt’s goal is to is make Captured Illusions ‘Allonym’ of Kashmir.
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AUTHOR: Mir Seeneen | Seeneen is a blogger, freelancer, columnist and social media marketing
manager from Srinagar. She can be reached at mirseeneen44@gmail.com

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