A partially-blind quack with a bandage covering one eye is treating a blind patient in a hospital in Kashmir. Following a careful examination, he prescribes the medication: a course of 32 tablets, along with eye drops that must be administered 92 times a day. After that, the patient has to be strangled to squeeze out the poison. The patient’s attendant says they will return to the clinic within an hour, to which the doctor replies: “If he is breathing, you can come back in half an hour, or even later. If he is not breathing, then there is no problem.”

This video, which pokes fun at the healthcare system in Kashmir, was uploaded on the YouTube channel Kashmiri Kalkharabs, or Crazy Kashmiris, in December. It has so far over 3.41 lakh views. Another video added to the channel in July highlighting the duplicity of faith healers in the region has been viewed around 2.17 lakh times.

Kashmiri Kalkharabs was created by five locals, all in their 20s, close to two years ago. It has around 40 videos – all skits that talk about the everyday struggles in the Valley. While some mock the police, others try to foretell political developments. One talks about the profusion of settlers from India, while another has reactions to a India-Pakistan cricket match. The humour is often slapstick, the acting and graphics are amateurish, some jokes have racist overtones, and a few videos are inordinately long – one is nearly 24 minutes. But they are racking up the views, averaging nearly 420,000 views per video.

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Growing fame

The idea of creating comedy videos came to Parvaiz Ahmad, a liberal arts graduate, in 2016 when he filmed his cousin Showkat Ahmad attending to customers at a grocery store. “It was a funny video,” recollected Parvaiz Ahmad, 26. “He was making jokes while tending to the customers.” He uploaded the video on Facebook, where it was widely appreciated. “Then I thought: we can do more such stuff.”

The enthusiasm quickly turned to doubt: the cousins were worried that their videos might hurt local sentiments and earn them disrepute. The YouTube channel remained inactive for about a year, before they uploaded the first video featuring a skit involving a shopkeeper, around nine months ago.

In less than a year, Kashmiri Kalkharabs has garnered around 175,047 subscribers. It has also been awarded a Silver YouTube Play Button, a memento given to channels that cross the one-hundred-thousand subscriber mark on the platform.

“People accepted it,” said Parvaiz Ahmad. “They now call us to give feedback, and thank us for making them laugh.” The idea was to create awareness about important social issues, but in a light-hearted manner. “If there is someone corrupt who is watching this, we want them to introspect about what they are doing,” he said.

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Kashmiris and humour

In the 1920s, Cecil Earle Tyndale-Biscoe, a prominent missionary in the Valley, wrote in his memoir: “The Kashmiris have a virtue, a very important one – viz. the saving grace of humour.” But in the past several decades, as the conflict ebbed and swelled, moments of humour have been hard to come by, especially in public spaces. Traditional forms of theatre like Bhand Pather and Ladishah have faded, creating a vacuum that is only now being filled by memes, videos and jokes on social networks such as Instagram and Facebook.

Ifrah Saleem/Jajeer Talkies on Facebook
Ifrah Saleem/Jajeer Talkies on Facebook

Several young Kashmiris have become viral sensations. Prominent among them is Taha Naqash, or The Humorous Kashmiri. The 18-year-old produces short videos that reflect life in the Valley and uploads them on Instagram. On Facebook and YouTube, pages like Jajeer Talkies and Kashmiri Kalkharabs are reclaiming the laughter that is often missing.

The growing popularity of Kashmiri Kalkharabs has helped boost the confidence of its creators. When they started the skits, they depended on basic scripts and improvisation. They would pick topics based on what was being discussed around them. Some of the things are still the same: they shoot their videos on a mobile phone and edit them on a laptop. “Soon, we will start writing [proper] scripts and invest in equipment such as a DSLR camera, a green screen, microphones and indoor lighting,” said Parvaiz Ahmad.

With a surging subscriber base and increasing number of views, the advertisement revenue has started to flow in. “Each month the revenues are growing,” said Parvaiz Ahmad. “We are now able to earn and save money by making these videos.”

For this group of youngsters, based in a strife-torn region, making a living out of these videos has been a ray of hope. Parvaiz Ahmad has been unemployed since he graduated in 2016, and so has his cousin Showkat Ahmad. The other three members of the group are still students.

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Parvaiz Ahmad now employs non-professional artists in the skits, paying them a monthly stipend of Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000. “We have signed an affidavit that they will work with us as long as the channel is running,” he said. “As our revenue increases, we will give them more money.”

He believes their model can work for others as well. “We can’t say how much we earn, but we are satisfied so far, and the revenue is only increasing by the day.”