Onkar Aima

Onkar Aima

Photo courtesy:Dalip Langoo

Photo taken on the eve of Miltsar presentation at Vishnu Das Bhave Navi Mumbai in November 1998

'Pure for Sure - Onkar Aima' ... J.L.Manwati

If I were a poet I would pour my heart out and compose an 'elegy', If I was a Pastor I would sing a 'requiem' and if I were a painter I would paint a full canvass potraying the multifaceted personality of Kashmiri's proud and beloved son, Onkar Aima, who breathed his last on 28th September 2002; But, unfortunately, I am neither a poet nor a Pastor nor a painter, so I take refuge in the Canto (1) of the seventh chapter of Bhagavad Gita which, in my humble opinion, broadly encompasses the persona of Aima Saheb. Lord Krishna enunciates thus the virtues of Godly persons with divine nature in this Canto, which, undoubtedly Onkar was :-

"Fearless, purification of ones existence,
inquisitiveness of spiritual knowledge, charity,
austerity, simplicity, truthfulness,freedom from anger,
compassion, fortitude, cleanliness, passion for honour.
These are the transcendental qualities of Godly men
with divine nature O - partha."

Born in a venerable family of 'Datatreya Kaul- Gotra' Aima was the nickname acquired by the family as it is said, the family was gifted with a boon to be osteopaths (Waatangaer) who provide healing touch to people with orthopaedic dislocations. At their Fateh Kadal jointfamily compound, it is believed, long queues of people with orthopaedic ailments would be attended to by the family elders who were gifted thus. Onkar may not have inherited or practicised osteopathy of his elders, but surely he had imbibed in abundance the art of providing 'healing touch', of harmony and friendliness which was evident by his exemplary behaviour.

Having been endowed with an impressive tall personality with chiselled Aryan features Onkar was born with masculine charm. This God gifted body of exquisite physical features had been enveloped by Aima Saheb by his conscious effort with virtues of a 'human being' which made him the most lovable person.

In the post Independence era when the cultural renaissance threw up talents in the field of art and aesthetics in the Valley, naturally Aima saheb with his handsome personality and irresistible befriending qualities emerged as unanimous choice for spearheading the cultural movement. Drawn into the cultural vortex he soon found himself leading the cultural movement of the time. This movement not only revived the folk and traditional theatre of Kashmir but with the passage of time the movement became 'Progressive Think Tank' of the post-independence era of Kashmir.

By this time Aima Saheb had mastered the art of friendship which remained most amazing characteristic of his persona. Friendship to him meant life long bond even in the vicissitudes of life - a rare quality in the present day shifting-loyalties scenario.

In those days the siblings from the ruling clan Viz. Bakshi Saheb's family were his contemporaries. They could also not resist Aima Saheb's infection of friendship. The friendship in the following years grew so much that Onkar became part of the family. Any other person in his place would have exploited the relationship for his personal benefits, as was, sorry to say, wont of many of our Kashmiri pandits of the time but Aima Saheb with his passion for his honour and self respect knew where to draw the line between friendship and overbearance. This trait of his character endeared him more to his friends and he was considered as a true selfless friend.

When political exigencies forced his politically connected friends to take a different political stance on various burning issues, Aima fearlessly did give vent to his feelings, but it did not create any chasm in the friendship - infact it continued and became more cohesive. Now that Onkar is gone, the bond I am sure, shall always remain with his bereaved family.

When the history of cultural upsurge in Kashmir would be documented it would be mentioned loud and clear that Onkar Aima was the lead actor in the first ever made Kashmiri film 'Menziraat', which bagged the President's silver medal as the best regional film in 1964.

Being an ardent student of aesthetics his passion to satisfy his creative talent brought him to Bombay in 1965 to pursue his career in film industry, leaving his lucrative government gazetted job. The Industry was quite receptive and offered this new face a lot of chances and Aima Saheb played different roles under famous banners of that era. But the irrepressible creative artiste in him remained restive. Here, the composite epicurean traits of Onkar, like the refined and discriminating taste, like subtlety of conduct, like exposition of beauty within, like sartorial preferences, like sobreity of approach and the finesse in all walks of life came to his rescue and he was drawn into modelling which he made his profession. In the mid 70's he rose on the horizon of modelling and rubbed shoulders with the famous models of the time not only rivalling them but at times excelling them- a cut above. He continued modelling till the end of his life.

When Television made its foray in Bombay in 1972, Aima Saheb was perhaps the among the first a few who played important roles in the Sitcoms which were featured by the Bombay Doordarshan then. Yet the creative bug in him did not sit idle and it made him write, produce and direct many a popular morning shows for Doordarshan.

While he was pursuing his successful modelling career in Bombay, Sadiq Saheb, the then Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir formalised plans for his pet project of making a film on Mahjoor - the poet laureate of Kashmir. Prabhat Mukherjee was commissioned to produce and direct the film. The choice of playing Mahjoor naturally fell on Onkar who played with aplomb the role of Mahjoor. 'Mahjoor', incidentally was the first bilingual film which was made in Kashmiri and Hindi versions.

The film may not have done well commercially but it fortified the belief of Onkar that film medium could well project the essence of 'Kashmiriyat', of which he was an ardent advocate. As a sensitive artiste, Aima strongly believed that 'Kashmiriyat' was quintessence of harmony which, according to him, had its origin in Kashmir Shaivism, in the Vakhs of Lalla-Ded and the Shrukhs of Nund Resh which taught Kashmiri's never to discriminate between the Muslims and the Pandits. Aima would often quote Lalla-Ded's Vakh to prove the point.

Naturally, for such a peace loving person the ethno - cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits by their Muslim brethren from their homeland lacerated the innocent heart of Onkar and he nearly gasped for breath of harmony. The problem faced by the community in the wake of this turmoil agonized him beyond measure. To help the community members he joined Kashmiri Pandits' Association - a nonpolitical, social organisation and put his mite in mitigating the miseries of the uprooted youth and provided them whatever succor through the Association.

The diaspora of Kashmiri Pandits, he felt, would wean away Kashmiri youth from their culture and ethos and they would gradually get usurped by the alien culture and in the process Kashmiri's would loose their identity. Aima Saheb felt that the least the youth could do to safeguard their identity would be to preserve their language. For this purpose he instituted 'œMohan Lal Aima Music Award' in the memory of his brother Mohan Lal Aima - the doyen of Kashmiri music, under the auspices of Kashmiri Pandits' Association. Under the scheme Kashmiri youth upto the age group of 18 years are given cash awards to sing in Kashmiri. The underlying idea is to inculcate interest in Kashmiri language through music.

Notwithstanding the turmoil of 12 years in Kashmir, being an optimistic to the core, Onkar firmly believed that things would turn in his 'Reshwaer' and he would often quote Nadim Saheb's famous verse :

To the dozens of youngsters who had landed up in Mumbai after the Pandit exodus, to pursue their career in the field of films, Aima Saheb was a father figure for them. He would befriend them irrespective of their age, encourage them and give them tips and share his experiences with them. Infact he was to them a friend, philosopher and guide.

From the family point of view Aima Saheb was not only a loving husband but caring and understanding too. Their long years of separation when Shakuntalaji was working for State Education Department in Kashmir and Aima Saheb was struggling to make his mark in Bombay, It was their caring attitude for each other which fortified their relationship. Finally when Shakuntalaji retired and joined her husband in Bombay, the understanding nature of the couple won the hearts of the Mumbai Biradari and they were rightly christened 'made for each other'. As a doting father, Onkar always treated his two lovable sons as his friends. He believed that if the children are given good Sanskars they would grow in the right direction.

Onkar is survived by his wife Shakuntala, Aloke-son, his wife Lakshmi, granddaughter Rahel, son-Abhay and his wife Radha. I am sure Sanskars of the family would keep Onkar's name always alive.

Rich tributes have been paid to Onkar Aima throughout Jammu & Kashmir by his admirers and contemporaries. A lot of e-mails have been received from abroad lamenting the sad demise of Kashmiri's noble and proud son. But the fittest tribute, I presume, has been paid through his last modelling assignment of Bharat Petroleum which he completed midway through his chemotherapy treatment braving the monstrous disease. The bottomline of the advertisement was "Pure for Sure' - 'Surely' Aima Saheb was a 'Pure Soul', and such souls rarely tread this earth.

Source: Milchar

Har-Van Special: http://ikashmir.net/harvan/issues/august2008.pdf

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