Cancer Survivor's Passion For Painting Brings Catharsis to Kashmir
18:43 28.09.2023 (Updated: 09:54 29.09.2023)
Mushtaq Ahmed, a 58-year-old resident of Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital city Srinagar, was diagnosed with last-stage throat cancer five years ago. He found the strength to fight the ailment through his love of painting.
When compact discs finally gained supremacy in the early 2000s, Mushtaq Ahmed lost his cassette business. Bur the Srinagar resident believed the closure of his audio and video cassette-making factory - the largest private business in Jammu and Kashmir - was ordained by God.
Ahmed thus found himself driven towards his lifelong passion of painting
. Although he had been a student of fine arts, he never received any formal training in painting
. The 58 -year-old told Sputnik India that, as a child, he was fascinated by the idea of a moth’s attraction to the flame. This idea has been epitomized in the Urdu and Kashmir languages as Shama (candle) and Parwana (moth), a metaphor for unrequited love.
Gradually, Ahmed’s interest in Islamic calligraphy and Islamic art grew. He started receiving small commissions in both the private and public sector making signs and boards. Even though his profession was neither stable nor well-paid, he was content being close to his art. Soon a lucrative business took him away from his love of painting.
Ahmed, a professional recording engineer, also established a recording studio
in Srinagar but slowly everything was lost having been trampled by the march of modern technology.
“When I lost my factory, I thought it was Allah’s way of leading me towards painting and I accepted the plan. I began to paint again,” Ahmed told Sputnik India.
But Ahmed’s journey as an artist has been no primrose path of dalliance but rather a steep and rugged pathway beset by tragedy. After more than 10 years of honing his skills - between 2003 and 2014 - Ahmed had hundreds of pieces which he finally felt confident could be presented to the public in a major exhibition in Srinagar.
Then came the devastating floods
: the Kashmir region suffered in September 2014 what has been described by experts as one of the worst floods, claiming nearly 300 lives and destroying millions of dollars' worth of property and agriculture.
Ahmed did not escape the widespread destruction. “Every single painting I had painted was stored in a premises I owned in Lal Chowk. All were lost;” Ahmed said.
His 30-year-old son Shariq accompanied his father to the premises after the water had subsided. “It was very difficult to see him. I remember the day. He was heartbroken. In a way, it was a bigger loss to him than when he lost his business. The cassette business was a financial investment, but his paintings took everything: his emotions, his sweat, his blood,” Shariq said.
With all his work buried under mud and rubble, Ahmed picked up his paint brush and began his third foray into the art world. For the next three years Ahmed restocked his library of work and that is when he received the bitterest blow of all.
In 2017, Ahmed's family noticed a hoarseness in his voice. Doctors said that Ahmed, then 52, was in the final throes of throat cancer. His distraught family decided to not give up hope and he travelled to the Indian city of Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra for a second opinion.
The doctors in Mumbai confirmed the diagnosis of throat cancer but weren’t as pessimistic as their confreres in Srinagar. They began the painful treatment which involved the removal of his vocal cords through the dissection of the neck.
Eventually the doctors fitted a voice prosthetics device for him to be able to speak again.
“As an artist, my father is very expressive and during the month that followed his surgery he was unable to speak. That was a difficult period for him and the family. So, my brother and I put his painting material in the hospital so that he some means of expression.
"He began to paint. His doctors were curious and even asked him if he could paint something for the hospital. He gave them a painting and theme was a Kashmiri saying. His painting expressed the view that though cancer may enter one’s body unnoticed, when it leaves, it feels as though one has been trampled by an elephant that has destroyed everything in its wake,” Shariq said.
Nearly 20 years after he returned to his art after losing the cassette business, Ahmed now plans to show some of his best works. This includes the 110 paintings he painted after diagnoses.
“This is Allah’s plan," Ahmed said, "it always is.”