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Inspiring Indians

Kashmir’s first woman architect designed her own stepping stones to success

By Mudassir Kuloo | AUG 2017

SRINAGAR: When Ishrat Nowshehri started her schooling, she instinctively inclined towards the art of design and drawing. Her parents had expected her to become an engineer like her brother, or perhaps a doctor like her two sisters.

But Ishrat chose a field that almost no Kashmiri girl had till then __ architecture.

Two decades back, architecture as a career for a woman in Kashmir was unheard of. Her parents were apprehensive and skeptical initially. But once they realized that it was in architecture and design that her heart lay, they backed her unconditionally. “When my parents realised that I am really interested in drawing and designing, they fully supported me,” says Ishrat, who has the distinction of being Kashmir’s first female architect.

To realize her dream, Ishrat travelled to the other end of the country: after completing her high school, she did the five-year Bachelor of Architecture course from Karnataka University, graduating in 1999.

She worked with a senior architect for some time, and then started her own architectural firm. Interestingly, she did not opt for a government job as she had always wanted to do something on her own.

“I work both on traditional and contemporary designs,” says Ishrat, who firmly believes that local architects are in a position to give better designs for that region as they are more aware of Kashmiri tradition, culture and weather conditions.

“Aspiring architects from outside also do internship with us,” she discloses proudly. “If you work hard and respect this profession, it will give you a good income and respect in return,” she says.

Over the years, Ishrat has worked on various large projects including government buildings, hotels and residential houses. Important buildings designed by her include the Home Science Department building of Kashmir University, its Distance Education Department, and the Kashmir University Sheikh-ul-Alam Chair building.

Her design for the Kashmir Haat in Srinagar city won her a government award in 2005. She is now looking forward to working on designs of projects of the Tourism Department.

Happily, Ishrat has not faced gender bias at work. Asked how difficult it is for her to work in a ‘male dominated’ society, she says: “People respect me when they see a woman working in this field. I get respect everywhere — both in office and from clients.”

Ishrat feels people should choose that profession in which they have an interest, and firmly believes that parents should not force their decisions on their children.

There is a huge scope in this field, but one needs to have passion and the desire to work, in order to succeed. “You can only prove yourself in this field if you have better imagination, graphics and drawing (than your competitors). Every new project is examination for an architect,” she says.

Ishrat has now become an inspiration for several women in the Valley, and more girls are taking up architecture as a profession.

“Whoever seeks my advice about their career, I tell them: ‘Don’t be forced into this field. Get in only if you have patience and a good imagination for design’.”

Presently, Ishrat says, there are around 30 to 40 professional architects in Kashmir and there are a lot of job opportunities in this field.

“Even people from far-flung areas want modern and environment-friendly designs for their houses,” she adds. And that ensures that architects are never out of work __ especially talented ones like Ishrat.

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