A socially relevant innovation aimed for revival of the traditional Kashmiri Numdha, developed by a 12th-standard student of Presentation Convent School, is not just winning this young innovator praise and prayers from the marginalized craftsmen but also awards at the national level.
Innovator Zufa Iqbal came into limelight in 2015 after her innovation "Numdha Rolling Machine" became public and she won a state award instituted by DIET Srinagar. This innovation recently helped Zufa to add one more feather to her hat when she won the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam IGNITE Award 2016 on November 7. The award is instituted by the National Innovation Foundation, New Delhi.
According to this young achiever, the award has provided a boost to her confidence but the actual recognition would arrive only when the innovation gains commercial success resulting in a social change.
"I was on cloud nine while receiving this award but what is of more value to me is that this machine could help the local Numdha artisans," Zufa says. The award has done wonders for Zufa, who has not just grabbed attention of artisans, engineers and scientists but also the media.
Since the introduction of manual technique of Numdha making, there has not been any technological intervention in this regard. The Numdha rolling machine is the first of its kind for automating the process of Numdha production. This machine takes almost seven to eight minutes to make a simple Numdha. The washing and designing process is also finished within 15-20 minutes. Zufa plans to refine her innovation and commercialize it as a cost- and time-efficient machine.
"I started working on this project since 2014 end. What matters is the utility of the product and the fact that Kashmir's cultural identity should be maintained," Zufa says.
The award holds significance for Zufa as National Innovation Foundation – gives Dr APJ Abdul Kalam IGNITE Awards to students up to class 12th for their ideas and innovations. Moreover, only 30 students were awarded this year out of the over 55,000 applicants from 458 districts.
According to Zufa, her innovation has been welcomed by the Numdha manufacturers here and GYAN cell at Kashmir University.
"The use of this innovation will help to keep a check on the declining trend of Numdha in Kashmir and the adjoining cold regions, as production costs and quality will significantly improve with help of this machine," she points out.
Since Numdha is a kind of exquisite Kashmiri carpet which the manufacturers make with their bare hands in the thrashing cold and freezing temperature yielding them not enough profits, Zufa thought of bringing in the technological intervention. 'Numdha', is a traditional felted Kashmir carpet, made by rolling and pressing wool by the application of moisture.
"When I came across various people associated with this industry during my survey, I found out that my people were facing a lot of health, production, manufacturing and unimaginable economical problems. Along with these the unbridgeable problem was that craftsmen are leaving this sector due very fast. They even said that if somebody does wonders with regard to this they are fed up of their craft and will never return to it again, regarding their craft as a misery. This made me feel conscious towards the craftsmen and I intend to bring their hopes and spirit of craftsmanship back into the field so that our culture remains at its zenith always and forever," Zufa says.
According to Zufa, a documentary based on the Numdha industry ignited the passion in her to make this innovation. It was while watching the documentary that Zufa noticed the great level of pessimism among people associated with the Numdha making craft.
"On these TV shows the artisans were discussing their craft and miseries with the interviewer. During the interview they were complaining about no valid technology present in their field and were requesting the scientific community to develop a machine with regard to this. This was the time when the idea of making something very culture oriented (as suggested by the GYAN cell KU) and beneficial came into my mind," Zufa says.
Despite unavailability of any recognized technology with her, Zufa decided to make this innovation for the benefit of artisans.
"I was visiting a craftsman at his home during a survey and during the conversation he disheartedly said that he had left his craft for good and never wanted to return back to it come what may. This hurt me the most and I decided to develop this innovation," Zufa says.
Zufa recollects the day President Pranab Mukherjee presented Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam IGNITE Awards to the winning children of IGNITE competition as a "memorable occasion".
Zufa's grandfather believed that every person is born for some purpose, and he wanted her to realise the purpose of her life and have faith in the Almighty. "My beloved grandfather wanted me to become a doctor. His only dream was to see me wearing that white coat and serve people," says Zufa. She claims to be a science fiction lover and loves to write but also points out that innovating has gradually become a strong passion for her.