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The heritage heroine of Sopore

The heritage heroine of Sopore succumbed to cancer last night. One of our little town’s most prodigious daughters (much before Farah Pandit, Afeefa Sayed and others with roots in Sopore made their respective marks globally), Atiqa Ji was the inspiration that we all grew up listening to. Always tough, no-nonsense and competent, she served as Director Libraries and Joint Director, School Education, Kashmir before retiring in 1999. A year later, she founded the Miras Museum in Sopore – a simple but stoic effort to collect artifacts, rare hand-written books and heritage items that throw a light on our collective history. Making it the passion of her life to collect relics of Kashmiri past, her little archive soon become a repository of curios and antiquity

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In 1970s, she had established a welfare organisation called Majlis-e-Nisa which worked for welfare of downtrodden women of Sopore and elsewhere. After Majlis-e-Nisa, she set up Meeras Mahal in which she displayed old Kashmiri objects collected from every nook and corner of Kashmir. She once said about Meeras Mahal: “I have collected door to door items right from needles, tooth picks and every little or big objects of our use from some 200 years back. It is a history of the common person, not of royalty.”
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At Meeras Mahal, Atiqa worked with a team of six young people who go to various villages to search for artefacts and then catalogue and preserve them. Their costliest purchase is a 9ft coffin acquired from a mosque in a village in Baramulla for Rs 6,000. “It weighed a tonne. Maybe more than that. And it is more than a hundred years old,” said Imtiyaz Ahmad, a team member who transported the coffin to the museum.

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Over the years, they have gathered numerous religious texts—mostly Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist. And there are nikah papers from the early 20th century and tonga permits from 1960s and 1970s. There are personal letters, locks and keys, baskets, and a treasure of earthenware.

The histories of a people, Atiqa believed, hide deep in the silos where they once concealed a little of their grain from the king’s soldiers; it lies not in the queen’s flowing dresses but in an old woman’s tangled hair caught up in the teeth of a comb. In Atiqa’s three-storey building, history lies scattered on unpolished tables and hangs from rusted nails.

At People from all walks of life participated in her Jinazah and offered fatiha at her grave.

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