In April 2017, a Kashmir Pandit artist, Meanka Handu, released a satirical video on her Facebook page, which instantly clicked with K-netizens. Popularly known as Dida, Meanka is determined to bring about a social change through her messaging.
How would you describe yourself to your readers?
Emotional, sensitive, and a lover of my land. I take immense pride in the fact that I am part of a place whose history dates back to 5000 years.
Tell us something about your background?
I come from a simple, rooted and well-educated Kashmiri Pandit family. My Family members value relationships and bonds. My father is a Professional trekker, and my mother has been a teacher all her life. From childhood, we were taught the difference between being educated and being literate. Hence, we were encouraged to read newspapers and books that were outside of our academic syllabus. I did my schooling at Kendriya Vidyala, Noida, and after that, I studied engineering at the University of Mumbai. Engineering was never the course of my choice, so I never worked as an engineer.
I always wanted to do something that offered creative freedom. Learning and Development came close to that and has helped me take care of my bills for close to 14 years now. My life and career have always been driven by a strong passion for supporting and bringing about a change. I am an action-oriented person, someone who believes in taking practical action to deal with a problem or situation.
When and why did you start comedy on social networking platforms?
It all started in April 2017 as my humble attempt to preserve our Kashmiri language, which I believe is dying a silent death. Language, as per me, is the backbone of any culture, needs to be preserved. Asvun Koshur is the name of my YouTube channel, which is now a registered entity.
Why did you choose this medium?
It was convenient to do it this way. None of my family members is even remotely connected to any school of art. With the help of SM platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, artists like myself can launch ourselves and showcase our work to the world.
Have you always wanted to be a comedian?
I am a combination of a storyteller, an entertainer and a humorist. And no, I had never thought I would be inclined towards anything along the lines of comedy. I had never planned to make these videos. I just love my place of birth, Kashmir, which is my only home on this earth. I make light-hearted videos addressing social issues and taboos in the Kashmiri language. It is an informal way to teach people their language. I use proverbs and old saying by our Sufi Saints and Rishis too. I try to address social issues and taboos through the prism of comedy.
Why did you choose the name Dida Lale?
Dida is the central character of my light-hearted videos, which I play myself. I play the role of a much older lady, who is the mother of two kids, Sheen (18years old) and Nabad ( 16 years old). Sheen and Nabad don’t exist, not in my life at least! They are fictional characters. Almost every older girl in a Kashmiri Pandit household is called Dida; it is also one of my pet names, and I have six pet names! Interestingly, I have received messages from some Kashmiri Muslim girls, who are called Dida at home, so I believe my audience relates to this name and character! I have also introduced a villainous character Jigga Massi and her daughter Cherry Didi, which are also played by me. Again both are fictional characters.
How do you come up with the content?
My content is based upon my observation. Humour is a powerful medium of communication, and I use it in the right way to convey social messages, talk about uncomfortable topics like child abuse, environment, domestic violence, eve-teasing, etc., that need our attention.
How do people react to your posts?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. It doesn’t mean that I do not get negative comments, but I think I have now developed a thick skin and learned to ignore negative people. People relate to what I do; they relate to the character, incidents, and issues that I address,
plus my content is 100% original. MY punch lines are my own, and I do not copy anyone. I have my own style of presenting that I feel strongly about.
I was a little girl (grade 2) when we had to leave our home in Srinagar, so I haven’t spent much time there, but when I read comments from different religious communities on my videos, it makes me sad, happy and emotional all at the same time. This, I believe, is the power of language; my videos carry messages of oneness, communal harmony and brotherhood, so even if a handful of people are able to shun bitterness, I will consider my job done!
What really makes you laugh?
I really don’t have an answer to this question. However, I can tell you that I am my biggest critic. Till the time I don’t find my content funny, I do not release it. I must share with you that there are about 4-5 videos that I have shot but never released, as I myself wasn’t convinced.
How do you practice the material?
I don’t. I make an outline but do not write an entire script. After I write my punchlines, I go through them once before starting the shoot.
How do you deal with hecklers?
It used to bother me a lot when I had just started, but soon after, I realized that it’s best to ignore them, and that is what I do. However, most of the negative comments come from a lack of comprehension, ignorance, jealousy, and sadism. So, it is best to ignore it.
How is your family reacting to your initiative?
I shot my first video and shared it with my parents, close family members and few friends. My parents have always been supportive. I find myself very fortunate to always have them by my side. My parents are my family; I am a single woman.
Which section of people regularly watches your posts?
Surprisingly, all sorts of people, from school children to the elderly, watch my videos and relate to my content.
Is there anything you won’t joke about?
Socio-financial standing of an individual and, most importantly, someone’s mental health. In fact, I have been wanting to make a video addressing mental health, which I feel is a burning issue. We live in a complex and competitive world; things are moving at a very fast pace, and this
pace impacts each individual differently. It definitely impacts one’s mental health, which unfortunately needs to be addressed more openly.
What are the best strategies for memorizing the comedy?
If your content is real and not stolen, then you need not memorize it. I write my own punchlines and direct the videos myself. I take care of other technical and non-technical aspects too. It takes me one full day to shoot and finally release a video.
Have any of your comedic posts been harshly criticized?
Yes! I had made a video on eve-teasing in Kashmir that did not go very well with many people there. Many college-going female students had been writing to me in private to make a video on eve-teasing, but that would not have been fair as I did not have a first-hand experience of the same.
However, I visited Kashmir in September 2019. On purpose, I would take long walks (not go by car) with my female friend and experienced it myself during my 10-day stay in Srinagar. I realized that if an adult woman like me who is in her late 30’s has to go through this, then indeed life must be hell for female students who often have to walk or are dependent on public transport. I returned to Delhi, released a video, and many e-bricks were thrown at me in the comment sections.
They abused me, my family members in all ways possible. I had to ban more than 60 people on my Facebook page and delete several comments.
Tell us about your Project Asvun Koshur Zaan?
Project Asvun Koshur Zaan is an attempt to bring kids together from Kashmiri Pandit, Muslim Sikh communities. The kids will interact with an intention to understand our shared culture and spread positivity. The parents of the kids send me their entries over an email, and that is how I gather the details of these participating children. I host these episodes on Sunday on my Instagram page (live) and have two kids (one Pandit and one Muslim/Sikh) interact with each other. I help them learn about the Kashmiri language, Kashmiri poets, and Kashmiri artists. I have already done six episodes. The response has been overwhelming from all three communities (Pandits, Muslims, and Sikhs).
What’s your message to your viewers?
If you love your culture, then you should be proud of it too. I take immense pride in the fact that I can fluently speak in my mother tongue, so should every Kashmiri. And I am grateful for all the love and blessings that you send my way. Please continue doing that, and like I always say, STAY ASVUN!