A spark of genius

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Young people in Kashmir are putting their creative genius to use and innovating products to mechanise day to day activities. HAMIDULLAH DAR narrates the story of some of these innovators.

Imtiyaz Ahmad wears an ordinary countenance. He is not ordinary. He is the first Kashmiri to establish a radio station in his house at Dialgam in Islamabad district in early eighties. Today, talk of his ‘once cherished’ dream coming true, he shrugs his shoulders. Insist a bit, he refuses. Request earnestly and he turns hostile. “I don’t want to rake up the tormenting past, that’s all,” Imtiyaz blurts loudly with his forehead full of deepened furrows.

In some other country Ahmad would have been taken to some research and development institute so that his talent could be exploited. Here, he was taken to a torture cell by authorities. Once released, he had left his innovative ideas behind for the fear of unbearable physical pain. His contused frame kept him crippled for a long time. He appears remorseful. “Do you want me to go back to the torture cell,” he says, his voice grows raucous. He regrets exhibiting his talent and potential at a place where authorities take a matriculate’s capability to make a radio station a threat to the state.

Not scared of the fate Imtiyaz Ahmad had met, a private school teacher Bashir Talib honed some big ideas. He wanted to convert earth’s gravitational pull into mechanical energy. “I had a dream to invent perpetual motion machine that does not need any conventional or non-conventional form of energy,” says Talib, now principal and owner of Shah-e-Hamdan college of Education in Siligam Islamabad.

“However, after 20 years of wandering in the complex quagmires of gravitation, I proved myself wrong. But one thing came as a by-product. I read a paper entitled ‘Vehicular Gravitational Potential Utilisation System’ in a conference of scientists at Indian Institute of Technology at Madras in 1997 where I demonstrated that gravitational potential of vehicles moving upward on a hilly road can be converted into electricity,” says Bashir Talib. However, a patent application by Bashir for his innovation was rejected several times over ‘one pretext or other’.

Talib’s innovative instincts did not stop here. He, in collaboration with Dr Ghulam Mohiudin Bhat, Director of University Science Instrumentation Centre (USIC) at University of Kashmir invented a Path Detection Device. It could be used by visually challenged persons. “All applications for its patent rights were rejected as well,” says Talib. He has just one patent, for Gas Press, an ironing device. Bashir Talib is dismayed. “No industrialist came forward for its manufacturing. Instead, a non-patented version from a Guajarati was taken for manufacturing. I have given up that idleness now,” Talib says.

The zeal for practical sciences once exhibited by Imtiyaz and Talib has takers from many parts of Kashmir these days. Innovative instincts of Kashmiris have started to take a practical shape and ideas are slowly translating into inventions and modification. Some 20 inventions and innovations have been registered at University Science Instrumentation Centre (USIC) and Entrepreneurship Development Cell (EDC) at University of Kashmir. The innovators have myriad backgrounds. Almost all of them are from rural Kashmir with little science background.

“People in rural areas have numerous problems so they think of solutions consequently generating ideas. We just help these ideas translate into products of benefit,” says Dr. Ghulam Mohiudin Bhat, Director USIC.

Kreeri village in Shahabad area of south Kashmir Islamabad district is no different in landscape and settings than other villages across Kashmir. It nevertheless is distinct. Its inhabitants have a knack for innovations – three persons have come up with five interesting ones in last few years. Mushtaq Ahmad Dar (26) from Kreeri had a penchant for putting his creative ideas to practice right from his childhood.

While watching the cumbersome process of walnut cracking at home in 2005, Mushtaq says he thought a more efficient machine that would operate on electricity.

“I used two wooden drums between whom the space can be adjusted according to the size of the nut. Walnuts are cracked between them as the drums start rolling while the cracked nuts are left beneath,” he explains.

Mushtaq’s words are corroborated by Dr Bhat. “Mushtaq came to us with a crude model of his walnut cracker. Our team along with Dar modified the machine to increase its efficiency. Once ready, it can crack 250-300 walnuts per minute,” Dr Bhat says.

Impressed by the innovation, agencies from many countries including Gigi Cheung of China, Joe of Australia, Papakonstantinou A of Greece and Peter Kondrat of Poland have approached Dar for manufacturing rights of walnut cracker. “I feel elated. It is great feeling when requests for manufacturing rights by international agencies come,” Dar says.

Dar did not stop there. He kept his mind open to observe everyday needs of common workers and invented a Pole Climber. “The plight of electricians who used long ladders to climb poles struck my mind. It was putting their lives at risk. I decided to make something that can help them to reach the top of the pole in lesser time and safely,” says Dar while explaining the motive behind creating a pole climber. “It is simple and portable, can be carried along to any place as its weight does not go beyond 3 or 4 Kgs,” says Mushtaq.

His climbing device comprises of a wooden lower support base that includes foot rests and a mild steel tension wire. The lower support is made up of two rectangular wooden blocks – one fitted inside the other at an angle ranging between 30 to 45 degrees. The device gets locked around the trunk of the pole or tree through a wire whose tension increases by the weight of the user. The user needs to transfer his weight from one footrest to another (fixed with either leg) and each transfer of weight takes the user higher up the pole. It can also be used to climb trees.

Dar also made an almond cracker. He participated in a workshop on Inventors of India, organised by prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad held between October 25 and 28 in 2006 and was awarded a certificate for ‘knowledge network for incubating innovations into enterprises’.

Shafiq Shahbaz, 30, is Mushtaq’s next door neighbour and for some time now they have been spending evenings together discussing new ideas. Shafiq, son of famous singer Mohammad Abdullah Shahbaz, has created a paddy cutter which will enable farmers to cut their crop at an increased pace. “Today farmers wear loose garments during harvesting as they have to manoeuvre crawling while cutting the crop. After my product hits market, they can do the job even in jeans. The machine is operated by one person and is as efficient as ten workers in the field,” says Shafiq, a mason by profession who left his studies after class 6.

Kreeri has one more star on its innovative horizon. Zahoor Ahmad Shah, 30, has created a grass cutter. “I started with traditional remedy for hair fall and Asthma. I talked to old people about the traditional methods of curing these diseases and the findings are passing through clinical trials. Then I went on to make a grass cutter. Today Mushtaq and I are working on Water Shoes which can enable a person to float on the waters of, say, Dal lake,” says Shah, a class 12 dropout who also plans to establish a cut- flower project in the serene environs of Kreeri.

Strangely, the innovations are coming from people with little science background which makes their efforts and innovations more incredible. Even some of them are of tender age. Pir Showkat Ahmad, 15, a class 9 student from village Soafshalli in Kokernag area has developed a “Solar sprayer”.

“Technologically speaking, it is a great idea and will be of immense use once it comes into market after trials for increasing its efficiency and quality,” says Dr Bhat.

In Showkat’s neighbourhood, at village Tangpawa resides another innovator Ghulam Mohammad Mir who has modified the traditional lantern and has replaced its kerosene container with a battery and its wick with a bulb. “We have named it Singing Lantern. It is battery-operated with an FM radio circuit. Mobile phones can also be recharged from its battery,” affirms Dr Bhat.

There are 20 innovative products ready at USIC. These include an Electronic Automobile Lock which will be three times cheaper than its Chinese counterpart; a Table Lamp which once charged can last for 30 hours and is best suited for rural areas where power supply usually is unreliable; Search Light and Hot Fomentation which has a facility of adjusting temperatures to suit the requirement.

The innovations could not have taken the shape of high-end products without USIC. “People in valley are quite innovative and can do miracles if provided facilities. USIC, established in 1979 has a well equipped Analytical Instrumentation laboratory. It also has a well-equipped workshop where prototype models for research projects and specific instruments are fabricated. The availability of heavy-duty electro-mechanical instruments and a battery of skilled engineers and technicians provide people with ideas and environment where they can see them translate into reality,” says Dr Bhat.

“Our aim is to get innovative ideas and models from people and shape these ideas into marketable products,” concludes Dr Bhat.

Given exposure, Kashmiri children show enough talent. Twenty four children from valley participated in National Abacus and Mental Arithmetic Competition at Chennai this year and 17 of them came out with medals in different age group categories.

“Two of the medallists Malik Arsalan (10) and Hafira Ishaq (8) were among the four winners at All India Level. Malik Arsalan, a 4th standard student from Sopore, was sponsored for International Abacus and Mental Arithmetic Competition to be held at Kuala Lumpur Malaysia”, says Mubashir Ahmad Wafayee, Director, Oasis Child Development Centre, Karan Nagar, who was accompanying the children.

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