by Fahd Khan
SRINAGAR: In a first of its kind the world’s first museum dedicated to Kashmiri culture is set to come up at Niagara Falls. A Kashmiri surgeon is behind the initiative.
The Niagara Falls is a group of three waterfalls at the southern end of Niagara Gorge, spanning the border between the province of Ontario in Canada and the state of New York in the United States. It is a popular picnic spot as around 12 million people visit the falls in a year.
Interestingly, the region has remarkable presence of South Asians with the number of prominent Indian restaurants in and around the third street and downtown, but the city lacks cultural spaces, reportage that appeared in the American media said.
The Museum named, the Centre for Kashmir would have a number of artifacts reflecting Kashmir’s art, culture, history.
“There are exhibits in other parts of the world that may have a corner somewhere, but not a dedicated space for Kashmir,” Centre’s Chief Executive Officer, Ali Muzammil, told the Niagara Gazette.
The man behind the initiative is a Kashmir surgeon, Dr Khurshid Guru. Son of slain Kashmir cardiologist Dr Abdul Ahad Guru – who was killed on April 1, 1993 in Srinagar, Khurshid a senior robotic onvologic surgeon is heading the Urology department at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Centre at Buffalo, one of the oldest cancer treatment facilities on earth. He, along with his wife, Lubna, have been working in the area for last 17 years. His wife is a paediatrician in Lockport. They live in East Amherst since 2005, a place they call home and wish to invest in its arts space.
“We were looking for a place to donate or a place for the collection, and a lot of other diaspora’s of Kashmiri origin wanted to participate with that, and the most appropriate place for it would be Niagara Falls,” he told Rob Creenan of the Niagara Gazette. This led to the setting up of the centre. The couple has assembled almost 1500 rare books on Kashmir besides artifacts , which is said to be the biggest collection on Kashmir outside Kashmir.
In 2020, the centre purchased the former First Church of Christ Scientist on Park Place. It has its own history. The Church had been built in 1917 in the Gothic Revival style by the First Society of Christian Scientists of Niagara Falls that existed since July 26, 1903.
Post-purchase, the interior remodelling started. False ceilings were taken down, roof was renovated, and windows were resealed, and an elevator was installed. They are also planning to buy two additional houses to provide residential space to visiting Kashmiri artists, scholars and contributors.
Soon, the museum will be open. The items planned to be displayed include paintings, drawings, out of print books, and Kashmiri handicrafts including shawls, rugs, wood carving, papier machie and other things.
The artifacts will be displayed in the erstwhile church’s worship area while the area inside the main entrance will be centre’s library and archives collection. A conference room is also be set up in the current choral balcony, the report added.
The renovation and repair process is expected to be complete by 2023 summer. Majority of the people working on the project are Kashmiri Americans with funds coming from nationwide community. The Niagara County Industrial Development Authority has also lent its support by donating US $1 million dollars to the centre for its construction.
Since most of the planning and Budgeting works were done during the height of Covid 19, Muzammil told the Gazette that costs are spiralling up and they are consistently in fundraising mode.
The centre acquired the property for US $200000 from its current owner, Michael Suszek; US $1.25 million for construction and improvement, another US $250000 for furniture and equipment and US $300000 for other costs. Post Covid19, the costs escalated. This was despite the fact that the New York authorities approved a tax concession to the 9400 sq foot building in September 2021. The centre is a public charity that “aims to serve as the global focal point on the art, culture, and history of the South Asian Himalayan region”. To preserve, protect and promote ‘the Kashmiri way of life’ is central to its existance.
The centre hopes that it can run on its own as a business operation, with ticket sales and annual memberships covering the operation costs. “We just don’t want to be one of those people who are coming in with the interest of commercial value, we want to be part of this community where we can show our culture to the world and we want to help,” Guru said.