Introduction to KashmirForum.org Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.
www.kashmirforum.org

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hillary, Pheran and Nigeen

Ashraf asks an interesting question: Will the Pheran Diplomacy Lead to Clean Waters? (The background article follows Ashraf's commentary.)

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 66, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)


The Pheran Diplomacy

Kashmiri Pheran wearing US Secretary of State may not be able to defuse what her husband called the “nuclear flashpoint” but she could at least do something concrete to save Kashmir’s environment!

Hillary Clinton during her recent visit to India was presented many gifts including a Kashmiri Pheran by Wangnoo family having handicraft show rooms in New Delhi. They claim to be her family friends. The Wangnoo family is supposed to have developed this friendship during her earlier visit in mid nineties. Even President Bill Clinton is reported to have visited their showroom in Hotel Mauraya Sheraton during his visit to India. Hillary Clinton has expressed a desire to visit the vale of Kashmir sometime in future as claimed by Manzoor Wangnoo. Apart from the beauty of its unique land, Kashmir is famous throughout the world for numerous hand made products including carpets, shawls, embroidered cloth, papier mache, wood carvings, and so on. The export of handicraft products comes third in importance in the state economy after agriculture and horticulture. Not only are the artisans of Kashmir highly skilled creating these exquisite products but even the salesmen selling these are a class apart. There are dozens of stories about their capability in selling their wares to even the most reluctant buyers. One of the leading carpet manufacturers in Kashmir had a very handsome salesman who held a record that no one whom he entertained would leave the show room without buying a carpet. I remember once accompanying a VIP along with the State Chief Minister to the show room. This particular salesman was so persuasive and convincing about the quality, history, and utility of certain carpets that even the Chief Minister bought one!

During the presentation of the Pheran, Manzoor Wangnoo is reported to have requested Hillary Clinton to extend American help in saving the fast deteriorating water bodies of Kashmir. He has been very active in trying to save Nageen Lake from further deterioration through the non-governmental organisation NALCO. There are a large number of Kashmiris both resident and non-resident who have been trying to motivate not only Americans but even the European Union for intervening in Kashmir for resolving this oldest dispute in the world. Off and on meetings are held in USA and many parts of Europe about the political future of Kashmir. However, nothing substantial seems to come out of these meetings and discourses. It is probably for the first time that a Kashmiri has approached the American Secretary of State for a non-political issue. Unfortunately, the people have not yet realised that the issue of environment especially the alarming state of the water bodies of Kashmir is as grave as the basic political problem. The uncertainty of last couple of decades has abnormally speeded up the deterioration of the water bodies. At this rate we may soon have the Kashmir’s famous lakes completely disappear. There are no two opinions that the seriousness of the environmental problems especially the state of the water bodies is so grave that both State and the Central Authorities do not possess the expertise and the resources to handle the problem. There is immediate need of an international effort to save the environment not only from further destruction but to try to restore the lakes at least to a portion of the previous glory. Given the resources by way of expertise and equipment of really gigantic proportions seen in some international companies working on mega projects, it should not be difficult to save and even restore the lakes in a couple of years. But the million dollar question is who will call in the international companies? Neither the State nor the Central Government is interested in handing over the restoration of the lake to an international consortium. This had been suggested a number of times and even such proposals had been presented to the State Cabinet. Even the Overseas Development Agency of U.K., the Austrian Government, and the World Bank had offered aid but all the offers got scuttled for some unknown reasons. All the normal approaches through various government channels in soliciting international intervention in saving Dal Lake and other water bodies have so far miserably failed. The approach through “Pheran Diplomacy” may be more novel and practical.

Keeping in view the reputation of Kashmiri salesmen in selling Kashmir’s handicrafts, it should not be a difficult job to solicit support for the noble cause of protecting Kashmir’s environment! The cause has to be sold to many other buyers as a noble venture.

The initiative taken by Manzoor Wangnoo though an individual effort could snowball into a general public demand especially by various prestigious groups espousing Kashmir’s cause. Almost after every few months Kashmir American Council is holding meetings for deliberating ways and means of moving forward in regard to the possible solutions to Kashmir problem. It seems these gatherings have been discussing every aspect of Kashmir except its fast deteriorating physical environment. It is time for all the right thinking Kashmiris within Kashmir and outside to muster every resource to save the dying Dal Lake and other water bodies including the historical Jhelum River. No doubt many agencies of the State Government and a host of non governmental organisations are engaged in saving Dal Lake, yet their efforts are so miniscule compared to gigantic proportion of the problem that the battle seems to have been already lost. One would like Kashmiris every where to wake up and make concerted efforts not only to highlight the serious problems faced by the environment in Kashmir but motivate all relevant international agencies to intervene immediately both through various governments and non-governmental organisation. Manzoor Wangnoo has taken a bold step by soliciting assistance from a foreign government for what the Government of India may as usual call an “Internal Matter”. However, merely taking the first step will not solve the problem. The effort needs persistence and one has to go all the way. Let us hope Hillary Clinton remembers Manzoor Wangnoo’s pleas and persuades concerned agencies to take some immediate action!

While trying to get external expertise and assistance we have also to remember that these water bodies have not been brought to such a pass by any foreigners. We have ourselves out of blind greed destroyed these. Our first priority should be to educate all the Kashmiris within the valley especially those living around and within these water bodies to realise the consequences of their total destruction. If these lakes disappear, Srinagar loses its charm for living and ultimately whole Kashmir suffers. It is not only the tourists who would be the losers but the entire society will face an environmental disaster. Kashmiris in general have to be woken up and motivated to take practical steps to save the lakes. If people can come out in million strong processions for the land transfer for Amarnath which was not going anywhere, why can’t they do the same for saving the lakes? If only someone could emotionally charge the residents of Srinagar for saving the lakes, we may not even need external assistance! Again the million dollar question is who can motivate and persuade local people to come out and save the lakes? Can’t our leaders from all streams at least join together for this common goal which is in the interests of all of us?

KASHMIR – ART AND ARTISTAN

Manzoor Ahmad Wangnoo

Kashmir attracts America with White House being no exception. Clintons are my loyal customers and I alone don’t take the whole credit. My family, friends and above all my artisan brothers have a moment to celebrate as Kashmir art scales a new high, Manzoor Ahmad Wangnoo writes his experiences with Clinton Family and the admiration this art has enjoyed at a global level.

My association with Hilary Clinton is more than a decade old now. It is an association of trust and loyalty between a customer and manufacturer. Of the customer who would knock at your door often in a very surprising manner. The March of 1995 was indeed a momentous occasion for me and my hard-working artisans, who burn the midnight oil in preparing quality carpets that we export to different parts of the world, including the White House. In an evening of that month, Hilary dropped in at our showroom named “National Cottage Emporium and Kashmir Mahal” at Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi to buy some carpets. She and her daughter, Chalsea, spent more than three hours at the showroom which was later reported by the New York Times as “Mid-Night Sale” while some other dailies wrote, “when Hilary spent three hours buying carpets.” The time marked the beginning of my association with her. Since then, we would receive the orders from the White House occasionally while Hilary, the then First Lady, would seek Peshmina shawls for her.

In 2002, I was in my showroom when somebody dropped in and said: “One week after, President Clinton is coming to meet you.” I could not believe it initially but it turned out to be a reality when, exactly the week after, Mr Clinton and Chalsea spent 45 minutes with me. I offered the then president a cup of traditional Kashmiri qehwa following which the president said: “Can I have another cup of kehwa” I immediately asked for another cup for him. That was an exciting moment for me and the entire family and infact the whole group of artisans as their art was being acknowledged at a global level.

The president wanted 85x85 sized carpets (7325 sq mts) but I refused to sell it for the reason that it was “our ancestral gift.” However Mr Clinton purchased some other carpet while I gifted him a copy of the Holy Qur’an and the book titled “Islam—the religion of peace.” Following this meet, the president’s senators and other dignitaries accompanying him visited our showroom continuously for two to three days and placed some orders which we directly shipped to the White House. The association continued and Mr and Ms Clinton would visit the Showroom as and when they visited India.

On 19th July 2009, Ms Clinton again visited our showroom. I presented to her a pheran on behalf of the people of Kashmir. Pertinently, a few days ago Hillary had asked India and Pakistan to take into account the aspirations of Kashmiris while finding a solution to the Kashmir dispute. Despite her hectic schedule, Hillary ensured to meet me and purchase the traditional Kashmiri handicrafts. At 10.15 pm the visibly exhausted Hillary met me and exchanged pleasantries. I presented her an embroidered red Kashmiri pheran saying it was a present on behalf of the people of Kashmir. She was so happy that she immediately put on the robe. I told her that simplicity was the hallmark of Kashmir. She was amazed after learning about the hard work put in the making of Kashmir handicrafts and was all praise for Kashmiri artisans. I also gave the visiting dignitary a Pashmina shawl as a gift on behalf of my parents. She sent greeting to me and my brothers Haji Ashraf and Abdul Saboor Wangnoo, who heads the Nigeen Lake Conservation Organization, a non-governmental organization taking care of the Nigeen Lake. I informed Hillary about the deteriorating condition of water bodies in Kashmir. She was pained to hear that lakes of Kashmir were on the verge of extinction and promised support for their revival. She even accepted my invitation to visit Kashmir saying she would love to visit the beautiful Valley. Not only this I urged her to open an emporium for Kashmiri handicrafts in the US to give a platform to the Kashmir artisans and boost our economy. I was surprised when after some days of her visit, I received a hand-written note from Hillary which read:

“Dear Mr. Manzoor. Thank you for your kindness to me, my family and our friends over the years. I am happy we found you during this trip. My best wishes to you and your family.”

Our meetings with Mr and Ms Clinton were never limited to the customer-shopkeeper relation, though it formed an important component of it. The meetings conveyed a clear message to businessmen in general and artisans in particular: That if they maintain the quality of their products, there is no end to the customers like Clintons. Presenting a shawl to Hilary Clinton may be a symbolic gesture, yet the underlying meaning cannot be overlooked. Her purchasing carpets from our showroom in 1995, then again visiting for the same purpose, then again and again, is a matter of immense satisfaction for me and my whole team of artisans, who work harder and harder with each passing day. This not only allows us to maintain the quality of our products but gives us a chance to recognize and appreciate the hard-work of the artisans. After all it’s the sweat of an artisan that result in the beauty and elegance of the product.

Moreover, Hilary Clinton’s visit to a showroom owned by a Kashmiri not only indicates the recognition of the ‘quality’ of Kashmiri carpets, but is indicative of a bigger issue of appreciation of the Kashmiri art, which has its own uniqueness and quality. Such sales and acquaintances also give us a chance to sell the quality Kashmiri art and talent “globally” in today’s globalised world.
My intention to raise the issue of water bodies before Ms Clinton was only to make her aware that the beauty of Kashmir is deteriorating with each passing day. My objective to present her a Pheran on behalf of Kashmiri people was to demonstrate our graciousness for our guests. My purpose to invite her to Kashmir was to give her an idea that Kashmiris are awaiting people like her to raise their issues, which are consuming them in day in and day out, before her. After all, some voices in the world matter a lot, if not fully and always.

All said and done. It is time for the Kashmiri artisans and businessmen to introspect and look into the broader and widened meanings and connotations of such acquaintances where we can sell our talent, our art and hospitality. However all this would not have been possible without the constant and sincere support of my brothers and parents, who have always been a source of encouragement for me when it came to my business dealings. So my heartfelt thanks to them. But this thanks giving would be incomplete if I don’t salute my Kashmiri artisans whose skill ultimately bears the fruit and we get a chance to interact and do business with the personalities like Mr and Ms Clinton. So I place on record my deep appreciation and thanks to this young skilled talent in the form of artisans. I also give credit to Mr Ihsan Mirza and Mr M Ashraf Khan (Budshah) for maintaining the quality of carpets which are ultimately recognized throughout the world.

Clintons are my loyal customers. It’s not a casual relationship that results in an occasional buying and selling. I don’t believe only in clicking a picture or two with the dignitaries to throw an impression of intimacy with them. I believe in the quality of business, quality of art. This time too Hillary visited an orphanage (as American high ups usually pay visit to widows and orphans in India). On their way they are being swarmed by the business people around to record their memories by having a few photo sessions with them. But ours is an exclusive and intimate relationship. Wherever they go in the process of their visit, but they make it a point to visit us and to buy our products.

I believe in the fame of art, not individuals. I believe in the popularity of Kashmiri skill. I trust the elegance of an artisan’s hand. He weaves magic, and it has brought him a name. Long live Kashmir art. Long live Kashmiri artisan.

4 comments:

Fredrik Svärd said...

Back in the early 2000 I was visiting the shop! I saw some framed pictures from news papers of President Clinton and the owner! I even today regret that I didn´t bought that fantastic silk kashmir carpet with a knot rate of 1,5 million knots/square meter!
I have been looking for this shop ever after but have not found it on my five visits to New delhi after that!
He also show me a carpet with a knot rate of 3 million K/sqm... Say no more!

I will be visiting the shop again (if it's still left)next time I will visit New delhi!


Fredrik
From Sweden

suhail ahmed said...

Dear Fredrik
Greetings from New Delhi, Hope all is well. How small is the world, my son was just going through this blog and found your message, For you information I have shop at Hotel Hyatt Regency New Delhi. Let me know when you are in Delhi and would love to show my carpets.
Kind regards
Saboor wangnoo
Saboor@ncerugs.com
+91-9810155521

Ruby said...

In 1994 I was at the Wangnoo export in Raza Market Janpath, New Delhi. I bought
some scarves to take to Brazil , I also bought some jewelries for my personal use and I got to know Mohammad and ( his brother that lived in Italy) they were very nice people and after some years I wanted to contact them but I couldn't cause I lost their contact details.
I am planning to visit India soon, so could you please write me if you are still at the same place. . Thank you

Ruby
From The Philippines
July 17, 2016

suhail ahmed said...

Dear Ruby
Greetings from Kashmir
Mohmmad called you many times he is enable to reach you
Please email Mohmmad at
treadsofkashmir@yahoo.com
Plz write me your email
Will forward same to your friend
Mohmmad