Introduction to 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.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Professor Majeed Kak's Passion

Dr. Kak scores a triumph for the Islamia College, Srinagar

(Dr. Abdul Majeed Kak, 63, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He is presently engaged in promoting and strengthening local and regional museums, a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi.)

Ethnographic Museum: Reconstructing The Past

Arif Shafi Wani (Greater Kashmir)

Wonder, how our ancestors lived, or made a living. Do you know that they extensively used natural things to make almost everything. What if you want to imagine that life! Ethnographic Museum, in Islamia College is a reconstruction of that life.

The reconstruction of the early culture is possible only through art inscription and their evidences. With this objective, the first-of-its-kind in the State, Ethnographic Museum has been established in the Islamic College of Science and Commerce. It boasts of having a rich collection of wooden and wicker artefacts. The museum is not only limited to the display of artefacts, but under the Ethnobotany, a recently introduced branch of Botany, will try establish how plants were used in day to day life.

The Conception

The idea to establish the Museum was conceived by Dr Abdul Majeed Kak, a botanist and research coordinator of the Islamia College. Dr Kak was inspired by rich collection of artefacts of various cultures in other states. “But I was hurt not to find the Kashmiri artifacts there. I resolved to set-up one in Kashmir. Any state can be proud of its ancient past, if it is explored and preserved,” he underlined. However, it was not an easy task to set-up the Museum. To collect the artefacts Dr Kak went to far-flung areas of the Valley, including Tangdar and Machil. It was a daunting task. “The people there have developed an emotional bonding with the artefacts. I had not only to motivate but pay hefty amounts to procure the artefacts,” said Kak. Most of the artefacts collected by Kak are made up of wood, wicker and other plant material. Nature has bestowed Kashmir with variety of dense forests rich in all types of plants, so wood has been abundantly available to the locals from the early times. It was used from Kings to peasants for construction purposes, utensils and even for weapons.

The Journey

Dr Kak’s search yielded extinct, rare, outdated, wooden, hay, grass and wicker artefacts. Fortunately, the Museum was created in 2004 at the time of Accreditation of Islamia College by the NAAC Peer team of the University Grants Commission. The team was impressed by the collection and encouraged Dr Kak to develop the Museum. The Minister of Culture, GoI, also sanctioned Dr Kak’s proposal for further research and enrichment of the Museum. During past six years, Dr Kak has collected over 600 antique artefacts.

Prized Possession

Among the artefacts, Dr Kak procured, TilaVaene Wan, an extinct wooden machine used in the past by the village traders for the extraction of edible oil from seeds of Sandij or Til gogol (Brassica compestris), Doon (Juglans regia), Badum (Prunus amygdalis) and Alish (Linum usitatissimum). Driven by oxen, the machine was used to extract butter from milk on large scale. “These machines were locally called Gurus Dhoon. I have collected over a dozen such items. They have been beautifully designed, carved from a single piece of wood, decorated with beautiful small chains of wicker rings helping in vigorous churning of milk. All such items and many more are now outdated and extinct,” he said, There is also an old, larger and heavy plough (Ala Beane) in the Museum. It has been procured from the Shahnard area of Soigam, Kupwara. “It is so heavy that present day oxen being small in size and less vigorous cannot afford to pull it. All such items are on the verge of extinction.

Honey making was a hobby for many people in both urban and rural areas; bees were reared in mud mound or wooden bee hives known as Tromber. The museum has three pieces of these novelty items. Pointing towards a bee hive, Dr Kak said pieces with suitable size of the larger, medium or small trees were made hollow and closed on both sides with a small hole on one of the sides for the movement of the bees. All this is now extinct and replaced by rectangular modified double decker bee hives designed by the Apiculture Department; these being costly, cannot normally be purchased by villagers.

The museum also has many spinning wheels (Yandir) collected from remote areas. They are of different designs. Three of them are having a single plank, (wheel), with peripheral groove, compared to two planked wheel, used for spinning threads of Rafal and Pashmina for Kashmiri shawls. “This spinning wheel is antique, artistic and unique, believed to be some marriage gift from a rich family to their daughter,” Dr Kak explained.

The museum has a wooden lock, Quluf. “It was used on main gates of the houses or compounds during nights. The lock has an interesting mechanism and can become a subject of research. The doors used were heavy, of thick planks, with wooden hinges, now totally extinct.

Many herbs, shrubs and trees, wholly, or their parts, were utilized by the locals as curing, healing and medicinal agents. Many of such Ethnobotanical plants have been collected, identified and tagged with ethnobotanical and ethnomedicinal values and the methods of use. These are preserved in the form of Herbarium sheets and are hanged on the walls of Museum. There is also a rich collection of ancient wood carvings and wood work, traditionally called Zail Pinjri (lattice work). “It is amazing; how the artisans have joined the small wooden pieces and weaved them in such an architectural pattern that it does not need any nail or glue for binding,” wonders Dr Kak.

Wicker Wonders

The museum has fascinating wicker items used for catching fish. Hooks, rods or nets were not easily available and villagers could not afford them. Instead they used soft and flexible twigs of Paratiopsis or willow twigs and made a fish trap locally called Lar with a broader mouth and narrow base, so that the fish is trapped inside when water leaks out from the bucket.
There is also an antique wicker lids, locally called Surposh, used during summers for protection of eatables from insects and regulation of air flow to keep them fresh. The museum has rich collection of Wagoove, Patij and changij (matting made from rice stalks, first woven into ropes.) Once universal matting, it’s almost gone from the Kashmiri houses. Dr Kak says brooms for all specific purposes were made from the local plants; either from the twigs, inflorescences or plants as a whole. “These are also now extinct. Nobody presently uses cheri laschij (Chenopodium sp.) or kaend laschij, (Berbaris vulgaris). Same is the fate of Pulhoor, (shoe made of hay grass); khrawe and khrawe hoor (pair of wooden heavy and light shoes). “These items were till a few decades ago part and parcel of our lives. Now they are confined to this museum,” Dr Kak says in a sad tone. However, Dr Kak is optimistic about the preservation of the museum. “We are applying for the construction of a state-of-the-art museum building with modern galleries. We hope to receive a positive response from the Government; this, in the larger interest of preserving our culture to posterity,” he emphasized.


► I have not seen such an excellent botanical collection, and the articles of old craft as in Islamia College. I am sure it will maintain its lead among all the academic institutions.
Dr. Syed Raza Hashmi
Director Union Public Service Commission New Delhi

► I am glad to know that Dr Kak has strived hard to procure valuable items for the ethnographic Museum of the College and set an example for other researchers who should also come forward and take up research on the promotion of culture and heritage”
Dr. Riyaz Punjabi
Vice Chancellor Kashmir University

► I extend my best wishes to Dr. A. Majeed Kak for his best efforts in building such a monumental Museum.
A. G. Malik
Minister for Higher Education.

► Dr Kak has worked with sheer dedication to establish this unique museum. Our objective is to create awareness among students in particular and the public in general about our past customs, culture and traditions with regard to Ethno botany, till now dwindling and on the brink of total loss. We are committed to enrich our Ethnographic Museum further, so that our young generations can undertake various research projects on our culture and the past heritage.
M Saleem Khan
Principal Islamia College.

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