An 18-year-old girl’s invention helped save the centuries old art of Namda making. A sports and science fiction buff, she already has her kitty full with offers from top world universities. Heena Muzzafar tells her story

Zufa Iqbal receiving award from President Pranab Mukherji.
Zufa Iqbal receiving award from President Pranab Mukherji.

Inspired by a television show where local Namda artisans talked about their plight and dwindling earnings, Zufa Iqbal, 18, who lives in Lalbazar area of Srinagar, invented a “Namda Machine”.

Namda – a craft of making carpets by felting – was first introduced in the 16th century by Mughal Emperor Akbar. Since then the art has survived Kashmir’s changing fortunes by changing hands from one generation to another, without much difficulty.

But lack of any technological intervention and dwindling sales and profits has left the artisans in a fix.

But Zufa’s invention, which recently earned her Dr APJ Abdul Kalam IGNITE Award, by the National Innovation Foundation, New Delhi, is seen as a major breakthrough in the Namda making.

The traditional method of making a Namda involves hardwork, rolling and pressing of wool, washing, and embroidery etc.

Zufa, who loves to watch science fiction movies, had her tryst with innovations when she was in Class 9. She made a ‘water indicating alarm’ for use in household storage tanks. Though the technology was already available in the market, Zufa’s gadget was cost effective. To get this gadget patented Zufa visited University of Kashmir’s GYAN Cell.

“They encouraged me to work on something that will help Kashmiris heritage and crafts,” said Zufa.

Once home Zufa came across a television show where Namda artisans were discussing hardships faced by them. “Their plight touched me,” said Zufa. “I instantly decided to help them.”

Zufa recalls how the artisans were pleading for scientific intervention to save the art of Namda making. “There was no mechanical intervention in Namda making so far,” said Zufa.

During her research Zufa met a number of artisans associated with Namda making, who told her, ‘if given a chance, we will abandon this profession altogether as it yields no returns’.

Compared to the traditional way of making a Namda which takes days to assemble a finished product, Zufa’s machine will take just twenty minutes. “This will help artisans to save time and money,” feels Zufa.

Immediately after its launch Zufa’s invention proved game changer for Namdha makers.

But achieving the feat of making a Namda machine was full of challenges for teenager Zufa. “I made three models before the final one. However, those initial models helped me a lot in making the final product,” said Zufa.

While working on the machine Zufa had to regularly skip her classes so that she can dedicate time. “I am thankful to my teachers who stood by me.”

To give her idea a practical shape Zufa took help from Aadam, who runs an automobile shop at Shalteng, in Srinagar outskirts. “He helped me to make the final structure of the machine,” said Zufa.

Zufa started working on the project in 2014, assigned by her school to present at the INSPIRE Awards.

It took Zufa almost a month to complete the task and got her award at the state level, instituted by DIET, in 2015.

Later, Zufa made some changes to the prototype, and finally came up with Namda Machine, that got her Award at the National level.

Zufa Iqbal displaying Namda to President Pranab Mukherji
Zufa Iqbal displaying Namda to President Pranab Mukherji

That year, out of 55,089 entries, only 31 students from across India have been awarded. The top 10 were sent to attend Sakura Science Programme in Japan.

Zufa, who was among the top five, visited Japan, where she met best brains from across the world.

“There we met a number of Nobel Laurets. We also visited different universities, and were lucky enough to sit inside a submarine,” said an excited Zufa.

The trip to Japan helped Zufa realize the fact that Kashmir has a long way to go viz-a-viz standard of education.

Zufa, a Class 12 student, is planning to appear in national level competitive exams including NEET and JEE.

“I have a number of scholarship offers from different universities including KEIO University in Japan,” said Zufa.

Apart from trying her hands at innovating things, Zufa has won gold medal in badminton at the state level.

“I am not at all the bookworm kind. In fact, I was known as the badminton champion in my school,” said Zufa.


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