Missing paper trail

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Kashmiri’s famed paper makers drying their product. Kashmiri paper was a world class product and most of the Western manuscripts have used it: a 1917 photograh.

The art of producing one of the most long lasting and durable paper was mastered in Kashmir much before the advent of paper mills. But the thriving industry died a sudden death with the arrival of paper mills in then undivided India.  A Kashmir Life report.

It may sound strange for some people to know that some of world’s best manuscripts especially of the medieval era of central Asia were written on a paper that was produced in Kashmir. These included the Umar Khayam’s Rubayat. Most of the manuscripts preserved in J&K in Sharda, Persian and Arabic are also written on the paper produced in Kashmir.

Introduced during the reign of Sultan Zain-ul Abiden in 14th century, historians believe that paper masters from Samarkand were invited to Kashmir, settled here by offering them huge land estates. The trade was at its peak during Afghan rule and the industry survived till late in the Dogra rule. Ganderbal and Nowshehra – does anybody remember Kaghazghari Mohalla – were the two main manufacturing bases.

By the end of the nineteenth century, a number of Indian companies had their representatives sitting in Srinagar to procure the paper supplies. The impact was felt as soon as paper mills in India took off. Though for some time the handmade paper manufacture continued, it eventually came to a grinding halt when demand plummeted. It died such a swift death that nobody knows the systems and the processes that were involved in the manufacture of durable and lent paper by hand.

Some individuals, however, exist who know bits and pieces of its oral history. They say it was mainly manufactured from pulp – a mixture of rugs and hemps, which was obtained by pounding the two ingredients under a lever mill worked by a water power lime. Some soda was used to whiten it.

People aware of the potential of this product say it has a potential to get revived. But who will bell the cat?

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