Authored by Feisal Alkazi, the INTACH Roli Guide on Srinagar hopes to show an undiscovered Kashmir to a curious traveller.
Feisal Alkazi is looking at here and now. Be it through his theatre or writing, Feisal is probing the world around him. While for the former, he turns to the world of kids, for the latter he responds to the urban existence through architecture. “Srinagar: An Architectural Legacy”, published by Roli Books in collaboration with INTACH belongs in there where the author earnestly evokes a non-touristy view of Srinagar for an experimental tourist. “It is for those who are interested in looking. So it goes beyond the standard two day three night package enabling the traveller to discover the real Srinagar on his/her own. There exists a British-view of Kashmir which we wanted to do away with in this book,” says Feisal, who undertook 22 trips from 2004 to 2011 to the Valley. Working with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Feisal was involved with the project ‘Children of Kashmir’, which dealt with children whose parents had been killed. “And that’s when I got familiarized with the layered history of the State and then INTACH asked me to do the book. Why is sufism in Kashmir different from other States, the story of the shawl, its Buddhist connections — The third Buddhist conference was held here in 100 A.D. — its magnificent gardens, I started looking at the various layers of Kashmir,” says Feisal, who has also refrained from turning it into a coffee table book.
“It is very easy to do a coffee table book on Kashmir but I wanted to keep it simple and reader friendly.” The book has 10 chapters with the last one based on walks the INTACH has devised — from Medieval to Colonial Srinagar, A walk along the Bund, A Garland of Gardens, Exploring Hari Parbat, Of Mosques and Khanqahs, Moving back in time from Ali Kadal. “My favourite walk is the first walk because it is really about discovering the essence of this riverine city and the whole interplay between water, religion and money. It starts from Khanqah-I-Mualla, goes to the hammam, Mohammed Ramzan Krall’s house, Pathar Masjid, Zaina Kadal and ends at Shri Ranbir Gunj Shopping Complex,” says Feisal, who is also an educationist, trainer and theatre director. He now heads the Creative Learning for Change, an NGO.
The author also spends time over Kashmiri handicrafts too like the shawl, papier-mache and woodcarving in the slim volume.
The closely intertwined history and architecture of the city gets a special treatment from the author who begins by discussing the development of the city along the meandering course of Jhelum with structures like mohallas, galis and traditional wooden bridges called ‘kadal’. Very briefly and interestingly, Feisal brings in references to Kalhana’s “Rajtarangini”, significant Chinese visitors to Kashmir, Kshemendra’s (a Sanskrit writer from 11 century Kashmir) “Samay Matrika”. He then quickly moves on observing the influences different Mughal rulers and colonialism left on the Valley’s architectural heritage.
Very swifly he gives the reader a glimpse of Kashmir through the years. From Zain-ul-Abidin’s process of urbanization, his three towns — Zainapur, Zainakot, Zainagir, man-made island Zaina Lank, Zaina Kadal (first permanent bridge at Ala-u-dinpura), to Nallah Mar Canal followed by Pathar Masjid, built by the Mughal empress Noor Jahan, to the mosque built by Dara Shikoh for his spiritual mentor Mullah Shah on Hari Parbat, the city under the Sikh and Afghan rulers followed by the modernization that happened under the Dogra ruler Maharaja Pratap Singh, he makes it exhaustive. Colonial impact on architecture and the traditional Kashmiri residential architecture through its unique features like the over hanging balcony (dub), windows with pinjarkari (lattice work), Dhajji-Dewari (patch-quilt wall) traditionally used for construction in Kashmir, khatamband (a ceiling art) etc. get special attention by the author.