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Children of the Chinar Season 4: Kashmir’s male crochet artist, breaking gender barriers

Nazar Nasir is known for being the only male crochet artist in Kashmir. What grew as a hobby eventually turned into a very successful business venture. More than just a profession, Nasir is using his art to break through the existing social norms and normalising the art of knitting and crocheting in our society. He aims to grow his venture for addressing the persisting issues within our society and start by introducing this art form to young children and students.

Nazar Nasir was merely 17 years old when he found his love for the art of crocheting.

Aayushi Sharma (AS): So as my first question, I want to understand how you started your journey towards becoming the crochet artist that you are right now.

Nazar Nasir (NN): Yes, so actually I didn't go and find crocheting. It was a miracle, it fell into my lap actually. It was back in 2016 when Kashmir was in a lockdown. There was a prolonged lockdown when the Burhan Wani case happened. So we were stuck in our homes. We had nothing to do. There was no internet, no communication services. We were practically stuck in our homes for a very long time and initially it was two months of complete communication ban and after that it gradually restored.

During that time, my sister happened to visit my aunt. We used to go to our relatives every now and then to check on them. So, my sister happened to visit my aunt, and she was a crocheter. She had taught my sister some basic chain stitches. When my sister came back home, she came back with a ball of yarn and a hook and she was doing something with it and out of boredom and curiosity, I asked her to teach me something because there was nothing better to do. So I remember the moment I held the hook in my hand. It felt so natural. She was showing me this is how you do a chain and I instantly got it. She was telling me "it took me two or three days to learn how to hold the hook and you're doing it so effortlessly." I remember, that day itself I was up until 2 a.m. in the morning, trying to figure out what I could do with it. I was just wiggling with the hook and the yarn and figuring out the movements at 2 a.m. I finally made a small flower out of nothing. I got so excited that I made something. In the morning, I was showing everyone what I made and they were surprised as well as shocked at the same time. After that, I was not very interested, but I remember when the internet came back, the Broadband came in first. We didn't have a broadband connection. So I went to an internet cafe and I started to search about it because I didn't even know the name of the craft itself. Knitting I had heard about, the thing you do with two needles, but the hook was very new. So I went on to search on the internet, what is the craft called? I was searching, I was reading a blog of knitting and there I found the word 'crochet' and in Kashmiri, it's called qureshi so that rang a bell. So I thought, okay, this is crochet. I started researching crochet and I saw a whole new world of stuff. I was completely awestruck. There were so many things I wanted to make. So I instantly downloaded some videos from YouTube. I came back home with some videos of course because there was no internet. We used to actually smuggle videos and movies during that time. So when I came back home, I went out to search for some yarn.

Next, I found a yarn shop and I got some yarn and made a hat for myself. Then my friend asked me to make one for him too. His other friend also saw it and was interested and asked me to make another. That's how it propagated actually. When the internet was back, I started my Instagram. I started to post things that I used to make, so it was a small hobby. Then I had no plans for it whatsoever, but after I started to share things and I instantly got orders. People were asking me to make this and that and I used to come up with new stuff. Everyone was really excited as well. It grew into kind of a side hustle because I was also studying, I had started high school then. I was 17 years old at that time. I was also actually diagnosed with PSVT, it's a heart condition. So I wasn't allowed to get into active ports so I used to stay back home and just work on my hobby.

With that the work grew and eventually turned into a small business, I used to get orders from all around India and then sometimes foreign orders also. I also started college and I was very passionate about literature. So I took literature. I have a degree in English literature. But then the craft is very demanding, it's very time-consuming. So I had to think of where to take the course of my life. I finally decided that this is [ crocheting ] what I am going to do for the rest of my life. So that's how I came to be called the crochet artist.

AS: Now that you're doing it full time and you're totally focusing on it. It's a business also. Apart from a source of earning, does your art hold a deeper meaning for you?

NN: Yes. Of course, of course, I would say because how it came to me, it was like a saviour during the time of the lock down. Basically, India locked down in 2020 but we have been seeing lockdowns since a long time. So a lot of people know how depressing it is to go through a lock down, but going through a complete communication blockade is another thing, you are very susceptible to getting depression.

Crochet in itself is very therapeutic. That's how I got hooked on it in the first place. I saw, it gave me so much mental peace and I stopped worrying about everything when I started crocheting. So that's one meaning I'd give to it. It has helped me with my mental health, it has helped me fight all the depression, all the negativity, all the torture.

Also as I told you that I've been suffering from PSVT so I used to get these attacks all the time. My heart rate would go up suddenly and you know the symptoms of that also faded with time as I started crocheting. The more and more I got into knitting and crocheting, the symptoms of that as well started to diminish. So as it has been, my physical ailment has also healed to some extent as well as my mental health has improved. When you're living in a conflict zone, you have so many ideas and it helps you to express yourself much more beautifully. So I think that would be something that's giving meaning to it more than just a hobby or a profession.

AS: You talked about living in a conflict zone and a lot of youth like you living in Kashmir are finding different ways to deal with the conflict. Where do you think art helps in channelling all the stress and the psychological turmoil that exists in a conflict zone?

NN: If you come here to Kashmir and you experience it for yourself, you'll see that the youth that haven't been exposed to art are going in a very wrong direction. They're going towards substance abuse.

I think if you expose your kids at a younger age to art and crafts, they'll have a better prospect to channelize their negativity into something positive. I think that's very helpful. It has been helpful for me. Maybe I would have not been in such a positive light, if I had not been exposed to art at that point in my life. So yes, art and craft helps to channelize your negative emotions into a much more constructive way. Especially when you're coming from a conflict zone and you don't have better means to communicate your mental angst. So, It helps to relieve that as well.

AS: So you got exposed to your art at a very young age. There is another reality of our society also that is very gender based and it assigns gender roles. How has being the 'only male crochet artist in Kashmir' affected your identity when you have broken those stereotypes. How did the society and your family around you take it?

NN: I'd say the response was a mix of things. People were shocked, but they were also surprised at the same time because the stereotypical image of crochet in Kashmir was that it's just used to make sweaters and shawls and stuff. But I used to come up with much more different and creative ways in crochet. So the people who practise this craft would appreciate me so much that other people were also forced to appreciate me but I would say it hasn't been all positive. I have been subject to a lot of criticism. A lot of stereotypes because we have been very harsh to this graft actually. It has been reserved to female folks but even in the female community it has been reserved to grandmothers. Even females are shy to take it up.

I think that is because we don't know the possibilities of this craft. The stereotypical image of crochet and knitting is that we will make sweaters and socks. Of course that's very therapeutic and it's very beautiful but now if you give it a contemporary and modern touch, you can create wonders and it's a very good prospect for earning as well. So I think that image is shifting now because of the whole gender revolution and art and craft basically should be the least gender-biassed field. If anything gives you peace and you're not hurting anyone, why should it bother someone? So yes I have been also facing this, but I feel like I have been able to change minds. That's what I basically advocate for.

AS: I want to ask you, what are your plans for the future regarding your business and your art?

NN: I'd say I actually believe in looking at the issues first, then going on with the plans. So looking at my society, I have identified a couple of issues that I can work on. Otherwise I would have chosen a career with my academics but I saw a problem. I think I can fix it and I feel that it is my duty to fix it.

So one problem I've seen with the younger generation is that the kids are basically very addicted to digital media, like mobile phones. It's very important that we introduce crochet and knitting as crafts to kids so they can channelize their creativity. Kids are filled with creativity and they pick up hobbies very quickly. If we also see in foreign countries, it is a full-fledged subject in the schools but in Kashmir we don't have that. So maybe doing workshops in schools. I feel that it's a responsibility on me now that I know this craft very well and we can do it with kids of all age groups and genders as well.

Another thing would be to employ more people. I know a lot of knitters and crocheters in Kashmir who don't know the market of this field. So, employing them, giving them new ideas and generating a bit of employment in Kashmir would also be great because Kashmir is one of the most unemployed states in India. So that would be another thing. I can overall host workshops for all age groups, because of the mental health issues that are here. It's very therapeutic for so many people, so everyone can come in and learn and take it up as a therapeutic hobby, not necessarily something they can earn out of.

AS: You're actually pressing on some really grave and important issues through your work. As we end this, do you have anything you want to say to the readers?

NN: The message I would have for the people would be to not look down on crafts as just a hobby. If someone is taking it up, they can pursue it professionally as well and if they are passionate enough about it. Another thing would be to note associate any gender to art and crafts because it is a very pure profession.

AS: Thank you very much for speaking with me, this has been great!

NN: Thank you!


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