In a dimly lit room of a dilapidated house, septuagenarian artisan Abdul Ahad Sheikh is working tireless on a piece of walnut wood to carve delicate designs with his dirt filled hands depicting decades of hard work at his workplace in old city's SafaKadal.
Sheikh is the only member in the family alive now, who knows the art of woodcarving. He has learned the craft from his father. He sits daily for a day's rigorous work to feed his family of seven members comprising his wife, four daughters and a son.
With partial loss of vision and old age, Sheikh finds it difficult to work intricate designs on wood. But having fewer options, he continues to work even at this age, as his son who works as a private teacher in a school doesn't earn enough, so that he can feed the family and let his father retire.
"I was offered government job in 1973, but rejected as I used to earn in a month what a government employee of that time would have earned in a year. But time changes, now there is hardly any work for me and my son has decided against joining this craft," says Sheikh.
"Younger generation doesn't want to learn this craft, as it needs lot of patience and yes there are less returns. Besides artisans are placed at the bottom of the social hierarchy," he says.
Another craftsmen and president of Woodcarvers' Association of Kashmir, GhulamQadir Sheikh says that the craft of woodcarving is facing serious challenge as the number of artisans affiliated with the trade is decreasing every passing day and new generation is shying away from the art.
"I have two sons. None is in this art. They do work as salesmen with some private shops but don't want to come in this line," he said.
Ask him the reason for young generation's disinclination towards this art, he says: "Two decades back more than 50,000 families would eke out their earning from this trade. But with the declining wages, it has become difficult to sustain your family on this trade."
"Now only 3,000 to 4,000 artisans are in this line. Rest of them are either dead or have left the craft because of less returns and limited market opportunities," he said.
"Before eruption of armed struggle in Kashmir there was huge market for woodcarving. Foreigners used to throng our workplaces to see our work and buy our products," he said, adding that the situation changed not for good.
"With the inception of armed struggle in Kashmir, tourists stopped to come here. Overnight our trade came under a big jolt," he says.
"Our business dwindled and artisans started switching over to other jobs as the craft was not in a position to give them good returns for their work to feed their families," he said.
As per woodcarvers, several other factors have also hit the woodcarving trade. "Young generation is not showing any interest due to less income, at the same time the state government is not coming up with any scheme that would incentivize woodcarving," Javid Ahmad- another woodcarver said.