Ahmer Khan’s future was sealed very early in life, while still a student at Burn Hall School, considered one of the best educational institutions in the Valley. His family wanted him to be an engineer, but fate it seemed had other plans. When he didn’t clear his Physics exams in high school, he had little choice but to drop a year.
That year was the turning point of my life; I realised I could never do what I wasn’t good at,
says 23-year-old Ahmer, who has no regrets about the course his life has taken.
So, what did Ahmer do during his gap year? “I started spending more time with my long-time friend, my camera. Around the same time, Reeve Rixon, a BAFTA award-winning photographer was in the Valley and he liked my work. Before I knew it, I was assisting him for a month on a film. I then started publishing my work in international magazines and news portals (Vice, National Geographic, BBC, and the Guardian, among others). Along with photography, I was also conducting festivals and events for local youth. That year made me realise that I want to be a photo-journalist and conduct world-class events in Kashmir.”
The genesis of LoudBeetle
Ahmer went on to complete his undergraduate degree in Journalism at Baramulla College. He travelled 90 km every day to attend college and come back. More importantly, to pursue his passion. While organising an event during his first year of college, he met Abid Rashid, an avid gamer and winner of the All-India Reliance Gaming Championship. Over a chance conversation, Ahmer and Abid realised that Kashmir had never seen such events. And that’s how they decided to hold the Valley’s first cyber-games championship, and went on to start what is possibly Kashmir’s first event company, LoudBeetle, in 2013.
What’s different about Loud Beetle?
Ahmer recalls how the cyber-games championship was a huge success. He says,
For the first time, after the Junoon concert (2008), the Valley witnessed the enthusiasm and potential of over 600 youth. Given the fact that public events were almost non-existent, even government officials congratulated us on this feat. Their support bolstered our confidence and we wanted to do more. We knew there were exciting times ahead.
The Kashmir Cyber-Games Championship has now completed two successful seasons. Ahmer then started to think of more ways to engage and mobilise Kashmiri youth and expose them to the kind of events that were happening in other parts of the country. Around the same time, Abid moved on to his next venture, MyRahat.com, and Ahmer’s childhood friend, Samiullah (24) stepped in to take charge.
The duo went on to conceptualise events such as the Sky Lanterns Festival and Snow Festival, which even attracted artists from the US and the UK. They also held several drug de-addiction campaigns.
In 2014, LoudBeetle held an international film festival playing 30 films from 8 countries, in a bid to introduce the Valley’s youth to world cinema. The film festival opened with Kashmir’s first film – a black and white production from the 1950s. But, unfortunately, the event didn’t receive the kind of response Ahmer and Samiullah hoped for. Ahmer says,
People were only keen on watching Kashmiri films; they were disappointed. That was also a cue that we needed to have more such events; our youth needs to diversify its perspective, and open up to what’s happening globally. Only then can we all, together, re-imagine Kashmir.
The same year, the Valley witnessed the most devastating floods, which cost the state more than its GDP. LoudBeetle stepped up almost immediately and collaborated with Kashmir Art Quest, an art gallery and initiated a month-long showcase in New Delhi titled, ReSTART. The event received Rs 8 lakh in profit, which was disbursed to pre-identified families through SOS Kashmir, a partnered non-profit.
Making a mark in the Valley
As much as LoudBeetle is about making a difference to the Valley and engaging its youth, it’s also about fun and creating new records. Ahmer says, “In July 2015, Alexandria in Egypt broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest iftar spread that hosted 7, 000 people. It got us thinking, why not attempt something similar at the Asia level.” He further says,
The larger idea was that Islam is a religion known for humanity and unity and by enabling a public event like this, we could display the essence of what a community can achieve by coming together.
And a month later, Loud Beetle organised a 1.6 km long chain over ‘dastarkhans’ (a dining cloth) with the scenic Dal Lake as the backdrop. Over 3, 500 Kashmiris were treated to biryani, juice, dates, and fruit – all free of charge! Nearly 130 volunteers were involved in this effort, and it was perhaps the first time Kashmir had witnessed such unity. This was also Asia’s longest iftar.
Crafting Kashmir’s tomorrow
From films to cyber-games, from fundraisers to celebrations, Ahmer has shown endless possibilities to Kashmiri youth in a mere two-year span. He says,
Two years ago, we were one of the first event-management companies in the region. But today, I can say with pride that at least 20 more have sprouted. The Valley is slowly moving forward because the perception of its youth is changing.
This year, LoudBeetle is planning a Kashmir Young Leaders Summit, which will bring together leaders of the Valley, such as young entrepreneurs, youth, artists and journalists who will show the world the “other side of Kashmir.”
In small and significant ways, LoudBeetle is showing Kashmir, a glimpse of its own potential.