Ali Muhammad Wani, 77, working at his ox-driven oil mill in Pampore, 15 kms south of Srinagar.
Ali Muhammad Wani, 77, working at his ox-driven oil mill in Pampore, 15 kms south of Srinagar.Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

Photo Essay: Meet The Man Operating one of Kashmir’s Last Oil Presses

"I will continue this profession, till my last breath."
Published on

Srinagar, Feb 7: Ali Muhammad Wani (77) rises before dawn and heads to the basement of his bedroom in Namblabal area of Pampore, 15 kilometres south of Srinagar, where he blindfolds his ox and gets on with his daily job – operating one of the last ox-driven oil presses [Tilwaen Vaan] in Kashmir.

The temperature has a good impact on the produce, Wani says. "Warm temperature means good production and lesser time," he asserted.
The temperature has a good impact on the produce, Wani says. "Warm temperature means good production and lesser time," he asserted. Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

For its time consuming process, laborious work and meagre income, the age-old tradition of extracting oil using these ox-driven mills is on the verge of extinction in Kashmir as the machine extracted oil has now been dominating the market for over three decades. Wani is one of the last operators of Tilwaen Waan in the valley.

The septuagenarian on an average earns Rs 150-200 a day, he says, which is enough to feed himself and his ox.
The septuagenarian on an average earns Rs 150-200 a day, he says, which is enough to feed himself and his ox.Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

Notwithstanding the meagre income that he earns, the 77-year-old says he will continue with his profession. "Till my last breath, even if I make only 50 bucks a day, I will continue working at this mill," strong willed Wani said as he poured the oil extracted in first round for further filtering.

Wani works from dawn till 1 pm in the afternoon. If, however, he wants to earn 100 extra bucks, he says, he has to work till 4 pm. "But I don't need it and also, my body isn't fit to work for so long," he quipped.
Wani works from dawn till 1 pm in the afternoon. If, however, he wants to earn 100 extra bucks, he says, he has to work till 4 pm. "But I don't need it and also, my body isn't fit to work for so long," he quipped. Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

While contemplating about death and the endangered profession, Wani says, he never accepts money in advance from his customers, "If I die without extracting the oil, who will provide them? I only take payment for the extracted oil," he says.

Even though his family opposes his work, Wani says they may sell the apparatus including bull after his death. "But not till I'm alive."
Even though his family opposes his work, Wani says they may sell the apparatus including bull after his death. "But not till I'm alive." Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

Although there is a dearth of consumers for oil produced in these mills, Wani says, his customers who still visit him, come from distant districts of the region. "Panen shauqeen haez iwaan,"said Wani with big smile on his face.

The ox used for running the mill, can't be used for any other purpose, said Wani.
The ox used for running the mill, can't be used for any other purpose, said Wani. Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

As Wani finishes his chores for the day, he sings old melodies and with a smiling face reminisces the golden period of his profession.

Wani stands outside his mud house that accommodates his bedroom and his working space in the basement in the Pampore area.
Wani stands outside his mud house that accommodates his bedroom and his working space in the basement in the Pampore area. Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

Related Stories

No stories found.
Greater Kashmir
www.greaterkashmir.com