Exploring mines, milieu—Kashmiri geologist’s Australian odyssey

Aslam working in underground mine in Australia. [Photo from Chapri Family Collection.]

Kashmir’s Hanji community is beyond its tourism tokenism. Some of them, like Aslam Chapri, are the global ambassadors of their homeland because of their professional brilliance.

In a sunny September day in Sydney, Aslam Chapri retreats on his lawn chair with a morning newspaper and a cup of ‘nun-chai’. 

The dusky, bald man is deeply attached with his Kashmiri things and traits. His easygoing mannerism is a reflection of the quintessential kosher hospitality, while his appearance is a reminder of his struggle-hardened community’s sightseeing slog in mountains. 

After all, he smiles, it’s all about defiant DNA. 

Aslam is a proud Hanji in the land of kangaroos. As a self-made man driven by the passion of exploration and examination, he has cemented his place as one of the best geologists of Australia. 

There’re times when this average-build man remains cut off from the world. He disappears into the deepest depths of earth and reappears on the surface after solving some mining mysteries. 

During his three-decade-long Australian stay, Aslam has been part of some of the biggest mining projects in the country. 

“It seems a lifetime already,” he smiles while sipping his beloved brew. “I still imagine myself that eager Kashmiri boy on the streets of Srinagar—peddling his bicycle to attend some tough classes while getting bewitched by the mountains and mysteries associated with them.”

Aslam in his office. [Photo from Chapri Family Collection.]

The 1957-born Aslam is a native of the Dal Lake’s Hanji community. Growing up in a high-end tourist packed valley of the pre-1990 era, he loved adventure and exploration. 

“I was always keen on investigating the new and adventurous things which only increased my interest for geology and excavation,” he explains with a disarming smile. 

As a Humanities student in his plus-two, he had to study Chemistry during his graduation in Amar Singh College. It was a tough subject, but for the sake of studying his cherished Geography, he took tuition in Old City’s Zaina Kadal area.

“I used to get up early in the morning and leave on my bicycle to shuttle between my tuition and college,” he recalls with a tinge of nostalgia in his voice. “It was a long ride, but I was determined enough to succeed in my passion. I was certain that I had to be a Geologist only.” 

He eventually did his Masters in Geology from Jammu University and returned to work with a Kashmir-based mining entity. He got disillusioned and disheartened due to paucity of opportunities in the valley. 

It was during this time that his companion recommended him to apply in the University of Melbourne for further studies.  

“That guy was our regular houseboat visitor,” Aslam recalls. “He assisted me with visa and documentation and I applied for Masters again. This was my life’s defining moment.”

After securing admission in M.Sc Petroleum Geology and Geo Physics at the University of Melbourne, Aslam packed his bags and went to Australia in 1988. He did his specialization in Grade, Control Geological interpretation and 3D modeling of Orebodies, Resource development and drilling properties, etc.

“I learnt numerous things here and got numerous opportunities in my field,” he says. “It has been an ideal journey for the man driven by a sense of exploration.”

Aslam working in Australian mine. [Photo from Chapri Family Collection.]

Today, as a senior resource geologist, Aslam is the part of some of the biggest mining projects in Australia. He previously executed the George Fisher Mining at Mount Isa and Mine Geologist Newborn Mining Corporation at Golden Grove.

“This journey was loaded with struggle and slog,” Aslam continues. “Acquiring good education is not easy. It requires patience and perseverance.” 

Even as his Hanji community back home isn’t seen erudite enough, Aslam’s family has always tried to change this notion. 

The geologist’s grandfather Gaffar Chapri would run a boat-school during his lifetime. His father had his Bachelor’s degree in 1938, while his mother always believed that education is “the light of the eyes” which will guide a person “through the darkness of ignorance”.

These deep and devotional recollections turn Aslam’s eyes moist in his serene Sydney home that he shares with his better half—Shahnaza—and three kids: Sabah, Shakeeb and Sana.

“I honestly don’t think I would’ve been able to achieve what I have without my spouse’s support,” he says with a wide smile. “She’s keeping me grounded and connected with my roots.” 

For the last eight years, the geologist has been working on a roster where he spends almost half of his time working away from his home. In his absence, Shahnaza manages all domestic affairs. “It’s not easy to look after three young school going children,” Aslam says. “Without her it would’ve been very difficult.” 

Given his family’s devout cultural identity, Aslam’s family was chosen as the first Kashmiri family to participate in cultural diversity program on Harmony Day by Mount Isa Community in Australia. 

Held on every March 21, the harmony day is to celebrate diversity and foster inclusiveness, respect and the idea that people of all different cultures can make a valuable contribution to society.

Shahnaz featured in Australian daily. [Photo from Chapri Family Collection.]

Aslam’s wife Shahnaza and his daughter Sabah participated and celebrated the harmony day for highlighting the Kashmiri culture in Australia. 

The geologist’s family has maintained the cultural taste and taught their children Kashmiri language and traditions. 

At home, Shahnaza makes Kashmiri food and all of them drink noon chai. Their children prefer to talk in Kashmiri language with each other.

“It’s important to maintain cultural heritage,” Aslam says. “Shahnaza and I talk with kids about our cultural backgrounds, like where we were born, about their grandparents and their way of life.” 

All his kids have been to Kashmir and have spent their holidays with their family in Srinagar and with Shahnaza’s family in Sopore. 

Aslam and Co. working in Fraser Underground Mine, WA Australia. [Photo from Chapri Family Collection.]

At the end of his feted life story, Aslam’s sunny lawn turns dismal with the vocal yearning for his roots. Despite some sullen reflections, he takes a great pride in his achievements as an adventurist who could challenge some acerbic perceptions about his community.  

“We need to be good ambassadors of our own people,” the geologist says. “It matters and rests lot of speculations.”

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