Woodcarving a legacy in its last throes

File Photo
File Photo

Srinagar, Jan 7: Carving out marvel after marvel, septuagenarian Mehraj ud Din has a blurred vision, yet the desperation to feed his family keeps him going.

With less returns and low demand for intrinsic wood-carved items, he finds it difficult to keep going. His lone son is not willing to carry forward his legacy either.

Amid all ailments, Mehraj does not give up. He sits daily for a day’s rigorous work to feed his family comprising a daughter and son, and his wife.

With the loss of vision and old age, Mehraj 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 salesman is not interested in this work.

“There is no scope, my father after having worked for the whole of his life has nothing but a house which too is inherited property. There is exploitation, exporters reap benefits while poor artisans suffer,” said Mehraj’s son, Firdous Ahmad.

“Younger generation doesn’t want to learn this art which is our legacy. It is unfortunate but this is the bitter reality. They look at the condition of artisans who have been working for ages,” Mehraj said.

Mehraj is not a single woodcarving artisan whose offspring have shunned the idea of learning the craft. There are many such cases including Ghulam Nabi Sheikh.

Sheikh has been working for six decades, yet his successor has a straightaway opt-out of the legacy. “ Leave aside children, ask any artisan does he want his son to join the trade. He will say no because our condition has become bad to worse over time. In Srinagar city, every area would have workplaces where handicrafts work would be going on but look at it today. It is rare to find any workplace of artisans. The number of artisans has shrunk due to the government apathy.”Sheikh “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. The rest of them are either dead or have left the craft because of fewer returns and limited market opportunities,” he said.

“Before 1990, there was a 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 change in situation in Kashmir, tourists stopped to come here. Overnight our trade came under a big jolt,” he said.

“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 theJ&K government is not coming up with any scheme that would incentivize woodcarving,” Javid Ahmad- a woodcarver said.

Recently export figures have also shown that there is a constant decline in the export of handicraft items from Kashmir including wood carving.

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