Kashmir: Nostalgically frozen in time

October 16th, 2011 - 1:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Oct 16 (IANS) The salubrious heights of Kashmir stand frozen — somewhat early in the year perhaps — but with a difference.

An exhibition of photographs, dated between 1857 and the 1950s, in Srinagar has frozen in time vignettes of a forgotten era for those wishing to trek down memory lane.

“Ours is the largest collection of Kashmir photographs under a single roof in the world”, says Wasim Shoukat Wani as he conducts people through the two-storey exhibition centre.

It is open to the public at the exhibition grounds here.

There are photographs of mosques, temples, archaeological ruins, bridges, rivers, roads, education, healthcare, races, customs, tribes, professions, royalty, natural calamities, poverty, trades, lifestyles and so much more.

Photographs depicting the contributions of Christian missionaries in the field of education and healthcare are amazing.

“This was the first school established in the Valley in 1885 at Drugjam. The school later shifted to Fateh Kadal in the old city and functioned there,” Shoukat Rashid Wani, Wasim’s father, who inspired his son to carry the hobby forward, told IANS.

“It was because of the missionaries who started the Valley’s first formal school that the erstwhile Dogra Maharaja also decided to open government schools for formal education of Kashmiri children,” he said.

“Till then we had patshalas and maktabs in the Valley, where only religious education was imparted,” he added.

Shoukat Rashid showed a picture in which school children at the missionary school are seen jumping into the Jhelum River at Fateh Kadal in old city Srinagar.

“There was a rumour that crocodiles lived in the river and this had kept the locals away from washing and bathing for many months during the period,” Shoukat Rashid said.

“To allay fears, the school decided to send its children to the river to swim. Locals watched the event and that finally set the rumours at rest and made the locals resume their routine washing and bathing in the river,” he said.

There is a section showing the exemplary work the missionaries did in the Valley by opening charitable hospitals in both towns and villages.

“Those days Christain doctors with compassion would brave summer and winter to treat the sick and distribute free medicines in the Valley,” he said.

“Kashmiris have every reason to salute those doctors who came here to alleviate pain and suffering,” he said. “And, mind you, they did not ask for conversions.”

The section on hunting has a photograph showing the Maharaja with his day’s kill of more than 2,100 migratory birds or the Maharani standing proudly over half a dozen leopards and bears shot by royal hunters.

Abject poverty, forced labour, fear, despair and despondency written on the local faces during the rule is also depicted in a section of the exhibition.

“A majority of the people wore rags; there were no leather shoes. People made footwear of paddy and wheat straws and wore them round the year,” he said.

“The affluent had wooden sandals, but that was a luxury only the urban elite or the village headman could afford,” said the collector.

“There is one complete section on trades and crafts of Kashmir. It is disturbing to note that many of those traditional crafts like making ring shawls (these would pass through a small ring because of their velvety softness), paper making, local tweed making and blanket making are no longer seen,” he regretted.

“Even the silk industry, once the largest employer in Kashmir, weaving 1,250 pounds a day, is now over,” lamented the collector.

Some photographs also show the transition from small inhabitations to the present urban settlements in Srinagar.

“This picture shows just twelve houses in the Rajbagh area of the city in the 1860s,” Wasim Shoukat said. “Now that locality is an urban jungle of residential houses, shops, schools, hotels and what not.”

(Sheikh Abdul Qayoom can be contacted at sheikh.abdul@ians.in)

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