Guardian of history

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He was inspired by the family antiques he inherited. Public apathy towards heritage transformed his passion for historical collections into duty. Shazia Khan peeps into the museum of Hakeem Ghulam Jeelani at his Rawalpora residence.  
His love for antiques began early. After all it was his history.
Born in a family of famous Hakeems (Traditional physicians) of 18th century, Hakeem Ghulam Jeelani was always amused by his family collections.  
“The surgical instruments, ancient utensils and books authored by my great grandfather Hakeem Maqbool Shah and grandfather Hakeem Mubarik Shah on Unani medicines, and ancient religious books, hand made manuscripts always inspired me to discover my past,” says Jeelani.
During his school and college days, he would spend hours in the family “store room” maintaining and preserving the treasure of his ancestors.
The treasure trove is no longer limited to his ancestral collections. He consistently adds to it. At 60, today, Jeelani spends hours preserving collections of the store room at what is now a museum in their house – Hakeem’s Collection.
He procures rare books, hand made manuscripts, precious stones, silver and brass coins, traditional costumes and utensils, many depicting the age-old culture and traditions of valley.
“My small museum represents my love for my ancestors and past. It is a small effort to save different phases of Kashmir’s customs and ethnicity,” he said.   
A retired bureaucrat, Jeelani (since his childhood) would also study Islam as religion, history and culture of different civilizations of valley.
Pointing to few political documents of archival value of mid 19th century, Jeelani said, “I got them from my father Hakeem Alimullah. He was a freedom fighter and used to participate in revolts and movements against Dogra rule.”   
He received his early education from National School, Karan Nagar and graduated from Srinagar’s Amar Singh College in 1969. In 1970, he joined the Kashmir Administrative Service.
He can speak and write in seven languages and has written books on employment, translated many religious books from Arabic and Persian into Urdu.     
In first 19 years of his service, Jeelani says he rarely visited his library or paid any attention maintaining the artefacts. “I was assigned different administrative posts in different departments. Due to that I couldn’t spend much time on my ancestral collection.”
Collecting artefacts, Jeelani says, was only his hobby. But in 1989, while walking past the century old heritage house of famous poet Gani Kashmiri in Rajouri Kadal he was struck by its plight. “The house was in a devastating condition. I felt bad about the insensitive attitude of people and authorities towards the cultural heritage of Kashmir,” says Jeelani.
Soon after, Jeelani took his love for antiques as his duty. “I put all my efforts in gathering antiques, books, manuscripts etc of different civilizations of valley. I approached different museums, auction websites, and people with personal collections to purchase these things.”
With each passing day, Jeelani’s pursued his passion like a campaign to preserve the history and age old culture of valley.
Today ‘Hakeem’s Collection’ boasts of 150 rare books on world history of Islam, civilisations of Kashmir and Unani medicine. There are more than 100 manuscripts, some of them over three centuries old. It also includes Kashmiri Lok Katha, a collection of several volumes written over a period of two centuries beginning 1000 A.D. it is written on Sharda Script on birch leaves.
There are also handwritten manuscripts on Islamic and Kashmiri history, some of them 400 year old.
Besides, his collection has silver and brass coins of different eras of Mughal period, precious stones like Pukhraj, Emerald and Topaz, traditional costumes and utensils of valley. Then it has surgical instruments used by his ancestors in 18th century.     
He swells with pride, when young researchers visit his repository and ask for books on the history and culture of Kashmir. “My collection is for the people especially for young Kashmiris. I hope my efforts will help them to know our immediate past.”
The objective of his mission, he says, is to teach the ethnic identity to Kashmiri youth. “Our youth is ignorant and insensate about their past. They need to learn the meaning of history, heritage and society. We don’t belong to any alien culture. Ours is 5,000 year old history,” says Jeelani.

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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