‘From the time we landed to the time we left, we got so much love that I didn’t feel like coming home.’

On September 13, Saqib Saleem posted on Instagram, ‘History was made yesterday when almost in 4 decades there was a fashion show in Srinagar and who better to do it than @varun_bahl.’

‘Thank you, Varun for getting Huma and me back to our roots. Back to our maternal home. For making us a part of this magical show… I love you.’

Saqib and his actress sister Huma Qureshi were the show stoppers for Varun Bahl’s collection, aptly titled Love Letters to Kashmir.

Bahl’s father is from the Valley, and the couture showcase was an ode to his Kashmiri roots and ancestry.

Huma and Saqib have also spent a lot of time in Srinagar as their mother Ameena Qureshi was born and grew up in the city.

Huma was gorgeous in a custom-made bridal lehenga, dressed up with beads, sequins, tassels, nakkashi and dabka work, set off by a retro hairdo and a scalloped veil.

Saqib complimented her in a black sherwani, his neckpiece as eye-catching as Huma’s statement necklace and sheesh patti.

Flashbacking to the Srinagar style night and the time he spent in the city with Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, Saqib says, “The three days I spent in Srinagar, I feasted on all that I had loved as a kid, from Rista to Tabak Maaz. Also, Kashmiri Rajma. Whatever I ate, I posted on Instagram. Soon my trainer was calling to say, “Sir, kya kar rahe ho?.”

It was a beautiful fashion show, out in the open, in the garden of The Lalit Grand, with the palatial hotel in the background and the Dal Lake in front.

We had an audience of 400-500, with people from all walks of life, including representatives of the Jammu and Kashmir government.

I had invited Sudhir Mishra, who was shooting a series there, saying it would be nice if he could come, and he was there.

When Huma and I were walking the ramp, it felt as if all of Srinagar had turned up to welcome us.

We were the showstoppers for Varun Bahl, who has been a friend for 18 years.

He believed that I had it in me to become an actor and urged me to come to Mumbai and meet casting director Shanoo Sharma.

Since Varun and I go back a long way, when he told me he wanted us to walk for him, my immediate response was, “Okay, tell me when and where.”

When I learnt that the fashion show would be in Srinagar, I was ecstatic.

My mother is from the Valley, and till I was in school, every summer vacation was spent there.

I loved going to Srinagar, which is one of the most hospitable places in the country.

In college, I even played cricket at the state level for Jammu and Kashmir.

So, this was a homecoming of sorts for us, going back to our maternal roots.

While there, we took a shikara ride.

I was reminded of all the times my cousins and I had sat by the Dal Lake or driven along it.

Then, there was the food.

I’ve always been crazy about Kashmiri cuisine and growing up, food was an important part of our day.

I have relatives all over Srinagar and while having breakfast at one uncle and aunt’s place, my cousins and I would be planning where to go for lunch and what to have for dinner.

The three days I spent in Srinagar, I feasted on all that I had loved as a kid, from Rista (Kashmiri meatballs in a saffron flavoured red curry) to Tabak Maaz (fried mutton pieces).

Also, Kashmiri Rajma; the beans are smaller and the taste very different from the Rajma served in North India.

Whatever I ate, I posted on Instagram.

Soon my trainer was calling to say, “Sir, kya kar rahe ho? (Sir, what are you doing?) All the hard work we have been putting in will go down the drain.”

I felt momentarily guilty since as an actor you become conscious of your abs.

I told him to let me enjoy myself, promising that I would get back in shape once I was back in Mumbai.

The people there are so loving and helpful.

From the time we landed to the time we left, we got so much love from the airport authorities to the hotel staff and the team handling the show, that I didn’t feel like coming home.

Amazingly, this time Srinagar didn’t feel any different from Mumbai.

When I was around eight to 10 years old, I remember being told to get home before it got dark.

We didn’t stay out beyond 8 pm and always had to carry our identity cards around.

Fortunately, there were no untoward incidents with me or my family, but there was always that apprehension that something could happen.

But this time, there was just so much positive energy and heart-warming happiness.

After the show, the dinner went on till almost 1.30 am and it was great to see people milling around, enjoying themselves.

We used many local models, they were happy and excited to be a part of the show.

Kashmiris speak Hindi with a distinctive accent and will say, “Aap khana mat kahiyeye” when what they really mean is we will not let you go without eating.

I have been trying to perfect that accent, maybe I can use it in a film sometime.

I was in Pahalgam last year for the shoot of my spy thriller web series Crackdown.

We shot portions in the snow and it was a lot of fun.

I wanted to stay a day longer and go to Pahalgam again. But work called me back.


Not just fashion, even films have returned to the Valley.

Christopher Nolan’s epic biographical drama, Oppenheimer, opened to full houses.

Now, Jawan is going housefull.

Someday, I want to go there with my own film.

It would make my mother really happy and I can do anything to make her happy.

I also want to go and shoot a film in the Valley, but we need a good script.

We have seen Kashmir in many Hindi films in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

But in the last 30 years, we haven’t seen much of the Valley on screen.

It is a pity because if Switzerland is beautiful, then Srinagar is just as beautiful.

As soon as I got back to Mumbai, I jammed with some writer friends on some ideas for a film.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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