Shadab Bashir, son of celebrated Kashmiri cartoonist Bashir Ahmad Bashir (or as most people know him, BAB), is used to hearing his father being praised, but recently, one comment took his breath away. “Bollywood has Big B, we have BAB,” said a young law student whom Shadab met at a restaurant recently.
What surprised the mild-mannered Shadab the most is the fact that the cartoons of Bashir senior, who signs his cartoons as ‘BAB’, appear mostly in Urdu newspapers while young people in Kashmir, much like their counterparts in other states, prefer to consume their news and views in English rather than in their mother tongue. Srinagar Times, an Urdu newspaper started by Bashir, is popular mainly among the older generation of Kashmiris who form its biggest readers.
“Bollywood has Big B, we have BAB” — a young law student told Shadab Bashir, son of Kashmiri cartoonist Bashir Ahmad Bashir
Bashir has been creating his pithy, political, often trenchant and deeply satirical cartoons for over four decades — with a new cartoon every day — and he has quite a fan following among readers of Srinagar Times, many of whom buy the newspaper primarily for the cartoon.
But now, thanks to social media, Bashir’s work is reaching a new generation of Kashmiris, as well as readers — mostly non-resident Kashmiris — in other parts of the world. Waseem Ahmad, a student at Srinagar’s Amar Singh College, says he would have remained ignorant about ‘BAB’ if he hadn’t seen a post shared by one of his Facebook friends. “I hardly miss any of his cartoons because I follow his Facebook page,” Ahmad says. Getting introduced to Kashmir’s younger people doesn’t only mean Bashir has a whole new generation of fans, but also those who think creatively about his work.
But now, thanks to social media, Bashir’s work is reaching a new generation of Kashmiris, as well as readers — mostly non-resident Kashmiris — in other parts of the world
Lounging on the sofa in his office near Srinagar’s iconic Budshah Bridge, Bashir tells me he had lost touch with one of his childhood friends, Mehdi Hussain, ever since Hussain migrated to the US for professional reasons. “Though we used to hold brief chats over the phone when he settled in the US, he would most often say ‘I miss your cartoons.’ But after I created my Facebook page to showcase my cartoons, he says he feels as if he is living next-door,” Bashir says.
Hussain also shares the cartoons with his friends in the US, and many of Bashir’s fans settled in countries such as Canada, USA and UK, have told him that his cartoons have made their friends familiar with the situation in Kashmir. A Kashmiri doctor settled in the Middle-East once told Bashir that the daily dose of cartoons online help him and other Kashmiris in the Middle-East get a sense of fresh developments in Kashmir and its political and social scenario.
Bilal Pandaw, who teaches at a university in Oman, tells me during a Facebook Messenger chat that Bashir’s cartoons and those of two other Kashmiri cartoonists often offer him a snapshot of developments in Kashmir.
“Social media has certainly enhanced my reach many-fold. As an artist, I am really very happy that my work is now reaching many more people. Reaching out to more and more people is always the dream of an artist” — Bashir
“Social media has certainly enhanced my reach many-fold. As an artist, I am really very happy that my work is now reaching many more people. Reaching out to more and more people is always the dream of an artist,” Bashir says.
The page has over 38,000 ‘Likes’, higher than the number of ‘Likes’ on the pages of popular cartoonists Ajit Ninan and Sandeep Adhwaryu (around 5,000 and 3,800 followers respectively).
While he also likes the fact that he gets instant feedback from his fans, the only issue he has with social media is that people see the cartoon without purchasing the newspaper. “I think this is telling upon our circulation as well because some people buy our newspaper only to see the cartoon,” says Bashir.
Shadab, who manages his father’s Facebook page also says that while social media has earned his father far more fans, it also means the newspaper circulation can face a serious setback thanks to cheap internet access and massive mobile-phone penetration.
Nevertheless, he doesn’t find the deal undesirable given that it gives a lot of artistic satisfaction to his father. He says that his dad keeps asking him about the details of the discussion generated by his cartoons. One of his recent cartoons, Shadab says, triggered a barrage of reactions when Bashir portrayed the father-son duo and former chief ministers of Jammu & Kashmir Omar Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah in his cartoon with the son asking the father: “Papa, what do we want: autonomy or freedom for Kashmir?” with the response: “We want power/throne.”
Following in BAB’s footsteps
Suhail H Naqshbandi, whose cartoons appear in the popular English Daily Greater Kashmir, says that he has grown up seeing Bashir’s cartoons. The credit for caricaturing news and events in Kashmir and making political cartoons popular goes to Bashir.
Naqshbandi has been a cartoonist for over 15 years now. But, despite the popularity of his newspaper, he says it is social media that has helped him getting more visibility and real feedback.
“Social media tells you all in numbers. And through direct and instant messages,” he says.
Suhail H Naqshbandi has been a cartoonist for over 15 years now. But, despite the popularity of Greater Kashmir, he says it is social media that has helped him getting more visibility and real feedback
One of his latest cartoons, in which he depicted a crying boy who was originally photographed by a Kashmiri photojournalist with tears streaming down his face following the killing of his 15-year old friend in south Kashmir, has got over 9,700 likes and has been shared 1,550 times.
Mir Suhail, a young cartoonist from Kashmir, says that he was inspired by Bashir’s cartoons to such an extent that he chose to become a cartoonist. “There was an artist in me since my childhood, but when I began to see BAB’s cartoons, I thought I can also become a cartoonist,” he says.
Mir is just 27 years old, but he has already shot into prominence despite his cartoons appearing in Srinagar-based newspapers which don’t have very high circulation figures, though one of them, Rising Kashmir, has impressive presence on social media with hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook. Mir also shares his work through his own Facebook page and Twitter handle. He has over 42,000 followers on Facebook and more than 5,000 followers on Twitter.
“I feel so proud when people, after knowing who I am, hug me on the streets,” Mir tells me over phone from New Delhi. Since January, he has left Kashmir for New Delhi for personal reasons and is not currently creating cartoons for any Kashmir-based newspaper. However, over the past two or three years, he has made his presence felt with his incisive work.
One of Mir’s cartoons which criticised the insensitive reporting of India’s relief and rescue work in Nepal in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake, went viral and was featured in many national and international reports. “It has been one of the most used satirical images of the Nepal coverage ,” wrote a columnist in The Hindu.
During last year’s summer unrest in Kashmir, his cartoons wherein he depicted the suffering of Kashmiris by digitally changing posters of famous personalities — such as Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi — putting bandages on their eyes to showcase the eye-injuries suffered by hundreds of Kashmiris because of the use of shotgun pellets by security forces, went viral.
One of the most popular images from this series, however, features a poster of the superhit 1960s Bollywood romance Kashmir Ki Kali, starring Shammi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore, in which a young Tagore (who plays a beautiful young Kashmiri girl in the film), has a bandage over her eyes and pellet gun wounds on her face.
There couldn’t be a more poignant depiction of Kashmir today.
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Update on April 27: The photograph of Suhail Naqshbandi was wrongly captioned as 'Mir Suhail'. The error is regretted. The lead visual depicts a cartoon by Suhail Naqshbandi Update on March 22, 2 pm: Added pictures of Bashir and Mir. Update on March 27, 3.30pm: Corrected minor grammatical errors.