Baitul Meeras: Housing centuries-old heritage in Shaher-e-Khaas

"There is no better time for this library to come into existence because our new generation is completely unaware of their history and identity and to strengthen the roots of children is the sole motive behind opening this place."
After completing the renovation, the challenging task was to gather artifacts and other traditional items that define Kashmiri culture and history, said Javeed.
After completing the renovation, the challenging task was to gather artifacts and other traditional items that define Kashmiri culture and history, said Javeed. Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Srinagar: Situated near the banks of Jhelum in Old City's Ali Kadal is a decades-old building on a corner overlooking the Shaher-e-Khaas. From residential to military purposes, the place has been used for various purposes and looks worn-out on the outside.

However, it was a perfect spot for the Help Foundation- a registered society involved in several social works including women empowerment, children's health, education etc- that was looking for a place to set up a heritage museum. In August 2021, Help Foundation Project Coordinator, Hakim Javeed along with other members started renovating the building.

After completing the renovation, the challenging task was to gather artifacts and other traditional items that define Kashmiri culture and history, said Javeed.

"We asked people including our team members and children to look for these things that might be unused in their home attics and donate to the museum and by the grace of Allah everyone came forward with something," Javeed recalled.

After there were enough donations, the Help Foundation team set up the gallery and the museum was living up to its name 'Bait-ul-Meeras' (The house of Heritage) and was thrown open to the public in February this year.

Narrow wooden stairs from the ground floor with heritage pictures on sidewalls lead up to the second floor of the heritage building giving a whiff of the heritage treasure in store ahead.

Opposite the main office is an entrance to the main hall, accommodating workshop for Pashmina and carpet craftsmen, library and the main gallery-where all the heritage items are displayed- Pashmina and carpet craftsmen have been kept to give children an idea of what it takes to make world famous and costliest shawls and carpets, said Javeed.

Some steps ahead lies the library, where textbooks for competitive exams to literature to religious scriptures are kept. Javeed says, during 2014 floods their library of 7000 books was washed away in their old office at Jawahar Nagar. However, they have managed to gather enough books to set up a library in Meeras.

The smell of books, clay pots and other artifacts inside the hall gives a sneak peek into the rich culture and heritage of Kashmir. From traditional jewels to straw mats to cooper utensils to handmade tools to traditional ethnic wear, Meeras' library portrays rich Kashmir culture

"There is no better time for this library to come into existence because our new generation is completely unaware of their history and identity and to strengthen the roots of children is the sole motive behind opening this place," Javeed said.

Since joining the foundation, Javeed, who is an old head at the stage direction, has been involving children in stage plays both at state and national level. As per Javeed, the children of their foundation have won many of them.

The foundation was registered as a society in 1997 when its founder Nighat Shafi wanted to do something for the Kashmiri women because they were the ones most affected by the conflict that had reached its peak during the 90's, Javaid said.

Since then, the Help Foundation has worked on several projects for the betterment of society and till date have changed the lives of around 15,000 children, Javeed said.

Javeed says it was always their dream to do something big that helps in reviving the culture "and the Bait-ul-Meeras is that accomplished dream," he said.

Asked if parents were cooperating in sending their kids to the foundation, Javeed said, after they witnessed a positive change in their wards, parents were happy to let their children spend time here.

Not only are children assisted in education here, but from theatre to vocational courses to community responsibilities, kids are trained to be independent, self-reliant and thinkers here, Javeed said.

To instill a sense of responsibility in children, Javeed and his team had started an initiative known as "Shuer Panchayat" where children were told to sit together during evenings and discuss the happenings of their neighborhood.

Since the inception of Bait-ul-Meeras, Javeed said over 500 kids have registered to be a part of this foundation and are zealous to visit the place every day after school.

"This is not only for kids anymore, this is for everyone, this is for the people of Kashmir, this is their house, where they can see, feel and regroup with their culture," Javeed said.

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