Thursday, July 25, 2013


Where innovations masquerade as traditions

Tags: News

In his book, Unsung Innovators of Kashmir, Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad documents the creations of the Valley

in Daily Financial Chronicle (published in collaboration with International Herald Tribune, New York Times)

Undoubtedly, Kashmir has gone through the rough terrain of history – being always ruled by people who were not its own until 1947 when rays of democracy began to shine on its lands and local leaders finally got hold of power. The foreign rulers, be it Afghans, Mughals, British, Sikhs or Dogras, offered no conducive atmosphere for education to reach common people, who were condemned to oppression. Despite such big disadvantages, Kashmir has always been a place of great inventions and discoveries.

Dick Teres, the author of the Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science refers to Kashmir as the place, which gave iron suspension bridges to the world. The earliest seamless globe — considered one of the most remarkable feats in metallurgy — was invented first in Kashmir by Ali Kashmiri in 1589. Even the main calligrapher of Mughal times, Mohammad Hussain, was a Kashmiri. The Kashmiri products, be it pashmina shawls, handicrafts, rugs and papier-mâché, which are acclaimed worldwide, are actually products of local creativity, indigenous ingenuity and the innovative potential of Kashmiris.

A recent book on Kashmir innovations titled Unsung Innovators of Kashmir presents the creative genius of informal innovators, whose great contribution to the field of innovation is hardly known or recognised by the government or people at large. Authored by a young Kashmiri researcher Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad, the book catalogues the successful stories of some informal innovators from the Valley. Ahmad, who is an Mphil research scholar in JNU’s social science department, has meticulously documented Kashmir innovations. Flip through the book and you will find nuggets of information such as polythene is biodegradable, that electronic brush could create equally striking paintings and that home appliances could run on solar inverter.

“No doubt Kashmir is an abode of rich art, but at the same time it's a hub of unsung innovators,” assures Ahmad.

Ahmad, who hails from Kupwara — a frontier and backward district of Kashmir — came across Kahmiri informal innovators when he did a brief stint as a reporter with one of Kashmir’s English dailies. He wrote extensively on the subject. The book also reproduces reports and articles that were published in the newspaper. Ahmad’s book stresses that innovation can’t always be a linear process as advocated by many innovation theorists. “In Kashmir, hundreds of innovative products are in the market and all these products are not the outcome of formal and systematic funding,” he says. For instance, he cites the creative genius involved in the creation of kani, pashmina and kangri (fire pot). “All these innovative products belong to the informal sector.” Ahmad is presently writing his research thesis on innovations in Kashmir’s pashmina shawl.

We see the present Kashmir embroiled in a 20-year-old conflict and one wonders if that has not affected the creativity of the people. “Yes, conflict had affected adversely the innovative potential of Kashmiris. Government hardly shows any interest in local innovations,” says Ahmad. Despite facing enormous odds, some unsung innovators continue to thrive and create new things, registering the fact that even in the midst of violence creation is possible. “The book is a tribute to Kashmir’s unsung innovators whose innovations went unacknowledged and unappreciated,” says Ahmad. Indeed, Ahmad’s book has represented the aspirations and the hardships that the innovators are/were facing well.

For Kashmir’s informal innovators, market, profit, consumerism or even monopoly seems not a priority or an extrinsic motivating factor. “They innovate simply to solve the problems being confronted by their societies. Many of them do not have any idea of market monopoly or the patent system,” says Ahmad.

According to him, the title, unsung innovators of Kashmir, is befitting as well. “Because I have tried to profile all forgotten heroes and heroines of the valley. The innovators mentioned in my book are from the informal sector, they had never been to the school or to the college,” says the young author.

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