India and Pakistan may have spent decades looking for a political solution to it, but at the India International Trade Fair (IITF) there are two Kashmirs — coexisting peacefully, just a few walls apart.
Here, however, it is not political boundaries or religion that decide one’s allegiance but art and culture.
While the Jammu and Kashmir state pavilion may be no stranger to pashmina shawls, but thanks to 58-year-old Bakhjahan Khan’s ‘Kashmir Handicrafts-Pak’ stall, neither is the Pakistan pavilion located in hall 12.
“Like every year, we have pashmina and silk shawls for both men and women on sale; the designs and especially the embroidery is almost the same as from the valley,” said Khan, from the Swat Valley in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), on his fourth trip to the annual business event.
There may be more than 300 km separating the valleys of Swat and Kashmir, but in Khan’s opinion, culture and art know no barriers.
“I was always fascinated by the exquisiteness of Kashmiri embroidery. So much so that I learnt how to do it myself, and even made it a point to recruit artisans directly from this side of the valley,” he said.
Noor Mohammad Khan (32), a resident of Srinagar who is participating at the Jammu and Kashmir pavilion for the first time, partly agreed with Khan.
“It is true that culture knows no barriers, but one can't deny the fact that roughly 95 per cent of the artisans skilled in Kashmiri embroidery hail from Srinagar,” he said.
On his part, Khan was of the view that it was necessary to divorce politics from the ethos of the valley.
“We are humble artisans, attracted by the most artistic method of reproducing beauty; let us leave politics to the politicians,” he said.
“Besides, when we can have two Hyderabads and Punjabs, what’s the problem with having two Kashmirs?” he asked.
The trade fair attracted close to 15,000 visitors on Tuesday.
“The response is better than last year,” said Safdar Khan, General Manager, Indian Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO).