Craft Smith

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They can make a replica of any complicated foreign machine in a day’s time. The famous German Khars of old city, whose client list included erstwhile Dogra rulers, may end with this generation as gen-next refuses to learn the underpaid art. Syed Asma foresees a gloomy future of these famed blacksmiths after the last three surviving Khars are gone  

Two of the three last remaining German Khars, (L to R) Abdul Rehman with Habibullah at their workshop in Bandook Khar Mohalla, Srinagar.

Two of the three last remaining German Khars, (L to R) Abdul Rehman with Habibullah at their workshop in Bandook Khar Mohalla, Srinagar.

Impossible is the most hated word in their clan. The Ahangers of Rainawari, famous as German Khaars, can repair and create a replica of anything. Considered the best in business, Ahangers are city’s famous blacksmiths.

Being in the business for hundreds of years now, Ahangers say this is their fourth generation practising the craft. But they, unlike their forefathers, don’t want to pass it on to their next generation. Reason: it does not fetch them much. In fact, they say at times it does not fetch them anything at all.

“Rs 2000 is not enough to feed a family,” says Abdul Rehman Ahanger, a 60-year-old blacksmith and one of the three existing German Khaars in the city. Abdul Rehman has been practicing this craft for last 40 years now.

Decades back, entire population of Bandook Khaar Mohalla in old city, was associated with the trade. They would earn good too. “After the manufacturing of guns in the Valley was banned, our trade suffered a lot,” says Abdul Rehman.

Bandook Khaar Mohalla is a small locality in the interiors of Rainawari, Srinagar. Earlier it was inhabited by blacksmiths only, but now people have changed their profession. They are labourers, government and private employees. Only a handful of families are licensed to manufacture and repair guns used for hunting. But the famed German Khaars are not into gun business anymore.

Abdul Rehman adds with a smile, “every trade has its ups and downs, we too had a few setbacks in the past but this time it won’t flourish again.”

He says with conviction, “after three of us [Abdul Rehman Ahanger, Habibullah Ahanger, and Ghulam Mohiuddin Ahanger] you won’t find a German Khaar in the Valley. This craft will die with us”.

Not even their children are interested to get into this business. But Abdul Rehman’s son is somewhat helping his father to earn good. The father son duo takes assignment from the military men in the Valley.

“We make name plates, flags, badges, medals, alphabets and many other things and we only cater to the military men,” says Abdul Rehman, whose son owns a shop in Sonawar near army cantonment.”

But since 1989, after the eruption of armed insurgency in Kashmir, these gun-makers saw their businesses shrinking.    Earlier Army officers used to visit these German Khars personally for new guns and repairs, but now third party interference gulps most of the percentage from the profit.

Apart from Abdul Rehman Ahanger, Habibullah Ahanger, 90, and Ghulam Mohiuddin Ahanger, 70, are also famous as German Khaars.

They basically are blacksmiths but their talent and genius minds have compelled Maharaja to call them ‘German Khaar’.

“It was the Maharaja who named us German Khaars,” remembers Abdul Rehman. His elders have told him, he says, that once Maharaja got a gift from somewhere, perhaps some foreign country and no one in the Valley could open it expect Ahangers of Bandookh Khaar Mohalla. Since then they became favourites of Maharaja and became famous for their work and genius minds.

The unique German Khaar don’t only play with iron as other blacksmiths, but do use other metals, in fact all metals including copper, iron, steel, silver and even gold while repairing and creating replicas, says Habibullah, “we are not just blacksmiths, we are craftsmen. We even play with wood.”

Habibullah, along with his uncles and grandfather, used to make silver and gold boxes for Maharaja who was punctilious about the intricacies and minute details of his belongings. “We have designed a lot of boxes, wrist watches, cigarette pipes, tobacco pipes, cigarette cases for Dogra rulers from time to time.”

Habibullah is in his nineties. He is too weak and cannot stand without a support, but he makes it a point to come over to the workshop daily at 10 in morning and leaves at 5 or 6 in the evening. He is practicing the craft for last 80 years now.

During good old days, when the flow of work was good, Habibullah’s family had reserved entire ground floor of their house for workshop. At times 19 people, all relatives, would work as German Khaar at the workshop, remembers Habibullah.

But as time passed and things started to change, and after the death of most of the famed craftsmen in his team, the size of Habibullah’s workshop has shrunken too. Now what remains of that large workshop is just a small bed-sized room build inside the house. Rest of it is gone, or made useful to accommodate family members.

An expert of repairing and creating a replica of fishing apparatus, Habibullah takes up a new assignment daily and most of the times gets it done within a day, praises Abdul Rehman.

Considered the sharpest of all, Habibullah is the most educated among the three. He has been to school till class eighth. “I never felt I am an illiterate,” he says with a fumble and a toothless smile, “I can do what others can’t!”

But, he complains, the government could never pay us back. “In our tough times, the government could have helped us with some stipend or could have supported us in some way so that we could train new youth. Anyways,” he sighs, “we lived our life and served the way we could.”

“Mufti Sayeed in his last tenure promised us he will provide us with pension but he came, ruled and forgot,” rues Habibullah.

Habibullah has two children – a son and a daughter and both are married. His son is done with his education and is now working in a private company.

The third one, Ghulam Mohiuddin Ahanger, 70, the youngest of three is an expert of medical instruments.

He can repair and replicate any foreign medical instrument and machines.

Ahangar’s workshop, which is located inside his home, is full of medical equipment.

“You keep any medical instrument or a machine, no matter how big and small it is, in front of him, he will create a replica of it in a day,” says Abdul Rehman.

“After, say 20 years, when all of us will be dead, nobody will know that Kashmir ever had such talented minds who could match with the best in world,” says Abdul Rehman in a satirical tone. “But then who really cares about a blacksmith in today world!”

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