The Innovative Parrays


A man follows his father’s footsteps and creates unique innovations. Originality and genius span the generations—and as Majid Maqbool reports—so does the struggle without government support.

In a dilapidated two-room house in Banigam, Shalimar, Abdul Rahman Parray, 50, lives in poverty along with his wife and three children. A daily wager in an agriculture workshop in the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology (SKUAST), Rahman has been welding agriculture tools for the past 18 years. But when he is not doing welding or repairs, Rahman comes up with innovations.

The 8th standard dropout is an unassuming innovator. He has developed an electric spinning wheel which works on a small motor, and is ten times more efficient and productive than an ordinary spinning wheel. In 2008, he presented his innovation to Kashmir University’s USIC department and registered it. Experts there appreciated his unique innovation.

Recently, Rahman received news that his innovation has been awarded Rs 3.5 lakh by a central agency – the highest in the competition in which professional innovators were vying for the top award. His innovation is expected to be patented soon.

Ambition amidst Adversity
Meanwhile, Rahman has not been paid for the past three years from SKUAST. Nevertheless, he continues to work in the workshop as a daily wage employee. “I lost my teeth in all these years in the workshop, but I was not regularized,” says Rahman who has to feed a family of four. The last salary he received was on Eid when he went to university authorities, requesting them to at least release some money for Eid.

The idea of making a spinning wheel that runs on electricity came to him one evening in 1996. He was returning home after a hard day at work. “I saw my wife working on the spinning wheel and her hands were tired,” recollects Rahman. “Then I thought why can’t the spinning wheel work on a motor,” he says. Rahman used a small motor from an electric blower and attached it to the spinning wheel. It worked. In the subsequent years, Rahman worked more on the electric spinning wheel innovation, adding more parts and designing it properly. “The electric spinning wheel saves time and energy and increases productivity,” he says. Rahman’s wife no longer works on an ordinary spinning wheel at home. She has been using the electric spinning wheel to spin yarn. Rahman says he is happy that his innovation is helping his wife at home.  

Rahman wants to make his electric spinning wheel more efficient. “Its size can be further reduced and small motor place inside it so that it makes less noise while working,” he says.

Money Matters
However, Rahman is in a dilemma about what exactly to do with his recent award money.  “I don’t know how I should I spend this amount,” he thinks aloud. “Should I spend it to improve my living conditions or keep it for developing the innovation?” More than the one time award money, Rahman wants financial assistance from the government to set up his own workshop where he can make more innovations and employ people like him.

At times, Rahman had no money to reach the university where he was called for testing his innovation.  “Many times I had to walk to reach the university, since I had no money in my pocket,” he says, flashing a toothless smile. “At times I even had to beg to survive in the past,” he says.

In his room, Rahman has kept a collection of used electric wires and hardware leftovers, broken fan parts; small motors and other things he keeps bringing home every day. This is the material he experiments with. “At times I pick up some things from the streets and I bring them home as they can be useful to me,” he says. He shows an old blower in his room which has a newly fitted fan. “It had a plastic fan which was making a lot of noise and it would burn things,” he says. “I replaced the fan with a handmade steel fan which I carved out of a piece of steel at the workshop.”  

Rahman has not stopped at the electric spinning wheel. He is currently working on a small handmade paddy cutter at his workshop. “I used a piece of iron and carved fine teeth out of it by welding. This paddy cutter can paddy at a faster rate,” he says. “I am sure it will be helpful to people who work in the paddy fields.”

Family Affair
Making new things runs in Rahman’s blood. His father, Ghulam Mohammad Parray, was also an innovator during his time. He would work in a small welding workshop in Barbarshah.  Rahman would watch his father at work while he experimented on new things, and would learn from him. Rahman’s father passed away in 2002, but proof of his passion for innovations still exists.  There are documents and letters written to him from research institutes and companies based outside the state, expressing interest in his innovations. But Rahman says his father was not supported by the state government.

In 1975, Ghulam Mohammad had come up with an innovative idea of a room heather and cooker combined in one. His innovation was patented in 1977, a copy of which is preserved by his son. But the patent could not be renewed, as Parray did not have enough money to renew it annually. “He did not receive any support from the state government and they did not allow his innovation to be sold in markets outside the state,” says his son.

Rahman shows the diagrams his father made that explain the functioning of his innovations, and shows some letters his father received in 1981 from a private Calcutta based L S Dawar Company that wanted to extend their support in further developing his combined cooker-heater. They frequently communicated with Parray. Rahman shows an Urdu newspaper clipping dating back to 1975, which talks about his father’s innovation. “I remember my father used to work till late hours testing the cooker-heater at home,” says Rahman.

According to Rahman, his father also made a steam tank in the 1970s which would keep water warm and also heat up rooms using steam. “He also made a water heating system which he wanted to fit in government offices, but he was not given any financial support to successfully develop these innovations and bring them to the market,” says Rahman.

Ghulam Mohammad also made a modern water pump in 1981 in his small workshop. Rahman says the water pump could have been a solution for irrigation problems. The Rajasthan government—upon knowing of his innovation—invited Parray to their state along with his innovation. “But he did not go,” says Rahman. “He wanted his innovation to help his own people but he did not receive any support from the state government.”

No Support
Rahman says his father wanted the government to support him in setting up his own workshop. “He was once promised Rs 5 lakh by the industries department those days, but he received just Rs 25,000 in the end,” he says. Rahman says since his father was unable to renew the patent for the cooker-heater, he was unable to maintain it.

“The state government did not help him in maintaining his patent,” says Rahman, showing letters his father frequently wrote to scientific institutes and government agencies, requesting them for funds to develop his innovations and set up his own workshop. He wanted his innovations to come in the market and benefit his people. “When the government did not support him, he lost interest and was disappointed,” says Rahman. Had he received official support, his innovation would have been commercialized.

In any other country, such grassroots innovators would perhaps have been appreciated, financially encouraged by the government, and become role models for young innovators. But in Kashmir there are several talented, grassroots innovators like the Parrays—innovators who remain unsung, and continue to live in poverty—despite their remarkable achievements.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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