Atiqa Bano, the lady who single handedly built a museum

"What is not recorded is not remembered, I have always believed in the importance of our unique history and heritage. It is important that our future generations remember our “Actual Kashmir”, its background, culture, tradition and keep it alive. My dream is to keep the ancient Kashmir alive”

Dr. Muhammad Zaka Ur Rub
Srinagar, Publish Date: Oct 6 2017 9:49PM | Updated Date: Oct 6 2017 9:49PM
Atiqa Bano, the lady who single handedly built a museumGK Photo

This week, Kashmir lost one of its most prolific personality who had devoted her life for preserving the rich culture and heritage of the valley. Atiqa Bano for a long time will be known by the legacy she has left in the shape of Kashmir's only private museum Meeras Mahal.

Atiqa Bano was born in Sopore in an educated family in 1940s. When she was few months old her father Molvi Mohammad Yasin Masoodi- a freedom fighter and companion of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah’s Muslim Conference in 1930s- died. His passing away put the entire burden of keeping the family together on her mother, who courageously took the responsibility of bringing up five children. Atiqa, who all her life was thought fought her way through challenges and various obstacles, perhaps inherited the courage from her mother. It was in her blood and she used it along with her knowledge to new heights.

Atiqa Bano received her Bachelor’s degree from Women’s college Srinagar followed by a double M.A. in Economics and Urdu and M.Ed from Banasthelay Vidya Peath, Rajasthan. She started her career as a school teacher in 1958. She later became the inspector of Schools in 1965 and Chief Education officer in 1977. In 1994, she became the Joint Director for School Education and Director Libraries and Research, Jammu and Kashmir in 1997. The nature of her jobs made her travel across Jammu and Kashmir thus acquainting her with the cultural and artistic diversity of the state. It was during this time that the idea of establishing a museum came to her mind.

Her life traversed bridged three generations all of which had their mutations in culture, lifestyle, technology to Rights-Women Rights for her was the highlight to start with. Although, she came from the Silent Generation where people would fear and hesitate to speak, she took the route of ‘Let the actions speak’. At a time when working woman was seen as a taboo, she took the challenge. ‘Ours was a conservative family and no woman had ever stepped out of home to earn,' Atiqa lamented during one of our conversations. When the nation was striving for its existence she exhibited the might of Education irrespective of the circumstances she was exposed to.

With Atiqa devoting all her time to her job and preserving Kashmir's culture, her personal life took a back seat. She never married and ever lived with her brothers. To ask why she did not consider having a family of her own and she would quip with a smile implicating the whole Kashmir was one for her. Her only passion in life was to keep the face of ancient Kashmir alive, despite her growing years; she could often go from door to door in search of valuable additions to her 'heritage palace'.

Throughout her career, Atiqa had always dreamt of working in the field of culture but it was only after her retirement that the idea of Meeras Mahal took shape. 'While I was in service, I ensured that we set up exhibition halls in every educational institution to which I was posted. I was always interested in Kashmiri culture,' she said. In the 1970s, Atiqa had also single-handedly set up a welfare organisation called Majlis-e-Nisa that worked for the welfare of women. The idea was to ensure their financial independence and develop a sense of self-confidence in them. 'In Kashmir, women see themselves as someone's wife or daughter; I wanted them to think of themselves as individuals. I encouraged them to be good at whatever they did, even while fighting social evils like dowry'.

Atiqa started collecting old objects from neighbours, relatives, and the local people. She went from door to door asking for any such item that had any importance with the culture and history of Kashmir.

She mostly looked for poor households that continued to use old items without knowing their importance. From a few things she managed to gather initially, her collection grew with time numbering into hundreds. She then chose an abandoned hostel building in a college her family had owned to showcase the past to his visitors. With the progress of time her collection grew but her space remained limited. 'I am facing a dearth of space now. We need many more rooms. I have to pile these objects, one over the other,' she remarked. Kashmir has only one important museum, the Shri Pratap Singh (SPS) Museum in Srinagar, which till recently was in a deplorable condition. The SPS museum houses objects of ancient Kashmir, mostly depicting royalty and the elite class. Meeras Mahal, on the other hand Meeras Mahal, gives a clear picture of the common person's life in Kashmir dating back to over 150-200 years.

'I have collected needles, tooth picks, mouth fresheners and every little object of our use. It is a history of the common person, not of royalty,' emphasized Atiqa. From fossils to the marks of Ashoka, Buddhist sculptures to Shiva's family we can find a lot in the stones. From the kitchen setting, cooking fireplaces to store-vessels, utensils in wood, clay, stone, of past many centuries, wonderfully carved, baked to such perfection that it would take time to realize that it's not metal. In those small huts one can find out how cloth was made in Kashmir and how molten metal would be poured by the skilled Kashmiris in special pots.

The Meeras Mahal mesmerizes the visitors with its live history. More than a dozen beautifully woven Kangris, tens of wood and jute footwears, different Men’s & Women’s costumes, elaborately designed Kidsware of the old times, Ladakhi caps, Kashmiri Shawls and gowns, Scarfs and Hats; countless kinds of Jewelry, Headgears, Necklaces, Bracelets, Rings, Ear-rings, Anklets, all exhibiting the witness of the Culture of Great Kashmir and the series of its evolution to this date. Number of Musical Instruments range from String to Plates, Drums to Flutes and Wooden Combs to Chandeliers. She utilized every nook and corner of the building to freeze the time in space. It is the celebration of Kashmiri culture and magnificent history that radiates from every inch of Meeras Mahal.

Atiqa had collected thousands of coins, including of copper, brass and clay. How old are they? What kind of figures they have? these are the questions one gets answer at Meeras Mahal. The most important things at the Mahal comprise of the rare literature she has managed to preserve. Hand written copies of manuscripts, books in scripts of Sharda, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, Shiv Puran, old manuscripts of Quran that are magnificently written, beautifully calligraphy are bundled in an Almirah.

All I could understand from her life is that she has spent all her life collecting these with absolutely no support from the Government. Now it is time for the government and the Netizens of this great land to take over the responsibility of the committed Lady who had conveyed to us through her message ‘People here do not realize the value of their culture and that is hurtful,' and to fulfill her dream of preserving the Golden history of this beautiful land.“What is not recorded is not remembered, I have always believed in the importance of our unique history and heritage. It is important that our future generations remember our “Actual Kashmir”, its background, culture, tradition and keep it alive. My dream is to keep the ancient Kashmir alive,” Atiqa said.

Her request is so important. It would be difficult to compare the amount of stuff collected in Delhi Museum to that present in Sopore. As a matter of great concern. I wonder  what would happen to this place in a flood or an earthquake. Or may be just a small loot or a fire. How could a government or a whole community just keep its history here in one small building where ironically the town has burnt many times for the cause of 'Unique history and Identity'. What would happen to all this when the great Atiqa is no more. Even as I am sure some progress will be made on her everlasting wishes, I just wish to ask everyone to do every possible bit to make her dreams come true and let's preserve what she gave her life for.

Atiqa had indeed set herself apart - recreating a slice of Kashmir for avid history chasers. With tearful eyes, we bid Adieu to Atiqa who has left a Meeras (heritage) for the Soporians in particular and Kashmiri’s in general. From her assets each one of us would inherit a share of adequate Courage, Self Belief, Resolve to fulfilling of dreams irrespective of the circumstance one has. May Allah accord Jannah to the departed soul (Aameen).


The author is Doctor of philosophy in Management Science from Calcutta University, a resident of New Colony Sopore and can be reached









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