US-based Kashmiri Pandit raps for homeland
24 January 2008
The Hindustan Times
Sarwar Kashani, Press Trust Of India
New Delhi: Violence in his ancestral land has not hurt him personally. But a US-based Kashmiri musician is creating ripples with a rap number that reflects the struggles and tears of displaced Kashmiri Pandits. Ashish Koul, 26, an IT professional in California, feels deeply for the agony the Kashmiri migrants have witnessed since 1990 when they began leaving their homes and hearths due to terrorism in the Kashmir valley. 'Live long, pray, our story recited; for y'all to hear; refugee from the place called home; our family tree began there homes; now we set free, with an AK; ready to deliberate,' Koul sings in his song Panun Kashmir. His song is gaining popularity and has already witnessed close to 3,000 hits since November last year when it was posted at http:-www.myspace.com-emceehash. Koul wants to 'inspire the Kashmiri community as a whole (Hindus, Muslims, and all)' to realise that it is time to take a stand and unite to destroy the 'monster of terrorism that has molested our people for over two decades'. 'It's not about religion or region, it's about terrorism,' Koul told IANS in an e-mail interview while referring to 'Panun Kashmir'. Born to immigrant Kashmiri parents who lived in Australia for a while before arriving in the US in 1992, Koul has only heard about his people and their trauma, but he feels he too is a 'sufferer as a Kashmiri'. 'Although I have not personally experienced the exodus and the atrocities that my brethren have gone through, I feel that my inner-self can express feelings of similar pain and frustration and through songs like 'Panun Kashmir' I am venting out that only,' said Koul, who is also known as Emcee Hash in California. 'Most of the knowledge about the pain and sufferings (of Kashmiri Pandits) comes from the media and internet content,' he said. However, more than the media reportage, what has depressed Koul is what his grandfather, who stays with him in the US, is experiencing. 'At my own home in the US, I am deeply hurt by witnessing the condition of my grandfather, living with me, (who is) suffering from dementia caused by a stroke he had after circumstances forced him to sell our lovely home in Srinagar (where I spent the formative years of my childhood),' Koul said. He had been visiting the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir every summer until 1989 when the armed separatist struggle erupted. The singer likes to be described as a Kashmiri first and then a 'hybrid of Indian, Australian and American cultures' and feels 'proud to be so'. So what prompted this rapper to write a song about the community he left so long back - even before the pandits were forced out of their homes? 'I wanted to cry and make the world hear our story, struggles,' he said. 'I have wanted to do this since very long, ever since I started my career as a musician (a rapper). After completing 'the lyrics for the song, in August 2007, I forwarded them almost immediately to my harshest critics, my family and friends, and all of them came back with a positive feedback,' he recalled. Koul is at present working to complete his album, tentatively titled 'Dreams & Nightmares', which he says will contain 13 songs - including 'Panun Kashmir' - and will be released in the coming days. He is planning to bring it to India too. 'The content of the album is diverse; it contains songs that are stories of terrorism, love, pain, the struggles of being a musician and some fun tracks that depict the experiences of my life. As of now, we have completed around 10 songs and they can be heard.' Interestingly, the album also contains a number Meri Girlfriend, Aie Meri Zohrajabeen (Remix 1 & 2) where he has used the chorus from the Himesh Reshammiya song to give a 'new feel' to the classic track from the 1965 Bollywood movie Waqt.