Shopian: Inside a small tin shed erected on the rooftop of his single-story house nestled among thick apple orchards in Pargochi, a somnolent village some 6 kms from south Kashmir Shopian town, Aijaz Ahmad is engraving floral motifs on a copper plate using a ball peen hammer and a sharp chisel.
Like a seasoned artist, he knits his brows in concentration while chiselling a design on the workpiece.
Ahmad (26) works long hours for the past five years to earn his livelihood.
"I earn between Rs 20,000 to Rs 25, 000 per month", says Ahmad.
Copperware has been an inseparable part of Kashmiri tradition. It traces its origin back to Central Asia, some seven hundred years ago. Popularising copperware in Kashmir has been mostly credited to Islamic scholar Mir Syed Ali Hamdani ( RA). He engaged craftsmen from Iran to train and guide local artisans.
Despite the use of modern kitchenware, copper utensils continue to adorn Kashmiri households.
However, of late, machine-made designs have affected the work of local artisans significantly.
"The designs inscribed by the machines have impacted our work, but there is a whole lot of difference between the two," said Ahmad.
He said that there are fine details in hand made designs or Kandkari, which machines could not make.
Ahmad has learnt the art from the craftsmen in the neighbouring Pulwama district where many people are engaged in the Kandkari and rely on it heavily for their livelihood.
"In my village, many youths learnt the art from me and set up their own workstations," said Ahmad.
Ahmad said that even during the pandemic lockdown, he continued to work from his small workshop and earned his livelihood.
19-year-old Imtiyaz Ahmad Kumar, who learnt the craft from Ahmad earns Rs 5,000 to Rs 7,000 per month.
"I am a student and I work during my leisure time only. The craft helps me to supplement the earnings of my father", said Kumar. He said that it took him a good 14 months to learn the craft.
In a short period of time, Kumar has gained mastery over inscribing a raft of designs on different utensils.
He engraves exquisite designs on platters, glasses, saucers, flasks, trays and other utensils.
"It is labourers' work and needs much patience," said Kumar.
Some craftsmen from the area said that the government must take some tangible steps to promote the local artisans.