Embroidery and cutwork is a dying handicraft, with very few artisans left in the trade. Sumayyah Qureshi meets septuagenarian Aziz-din-Banday to get an insight into the craft.
Sitting on a rough mat near the window facing the street, in his small workshop in the Nawab Bazaar area of Srinagar, Aziz-din-Banday, 72, deftly stitches each thread through the black unruffled cloth, making different flowery patterns on it. He is eldest among the small group of people who earn their livelihood from doing embroidery and cutwork on silk, shawls and stoles.
The single room workshop is housed in a rundown building of mud brick walls with brown suntanned window panes. One side of the room is adorned by Quranic verses.
When Banday lost his father at a tender age, he was sent to apprentice at an embroidery workshop to support a large family.
“When I was 10 years old I was sent to learn this art under a well versed teacher and it took me some nine years to learn the basics of the art as a result I couldn’t pursue my studies like my elder brother,” says Aziz-din -Banday.
Banday is a master of embroidery and cut work craft, wherein embroidery is done on the borders and in the middle and the fabric is then cut out into various designs. Products with intricate cutwork, says Banday, are in demand outside the state.
He says that embroidery and cut work has potential to provide employment to many. Banday is ready to teach the skill to youngsters but not many are coming forth.
“Nowadays people do not come to learn this skill as people run after government and private jobs. To learn this craft a person needs loads of patience and the youngsters want to make it fast which is just not possible.” he says.
Unlike carpet weaving, embroidery and cutwork is not popular with artisans in Kashmir. Besides very few locals, Banday says, buy these products, which have a good customer base outside the state.
“Not many people are interested in this craft now. Many artisans who earlier did this work took up other jobs to earn a living,” said Banday.
However, for Banday, this is the only job his hands have known for over sixty years.
“Earlier I would work till late in the night, but now I work up to 5 in the evening and take a rest afterwards.”
The cutwork is done on select fabrics including crepes and Kashmiri silk, while kashmiri wool is also used sometimes. The thread and some fabric used in the embroidery come from outside the state.
The intricate work does not fetch the artisans much.
“Earlier I would do more work and earn about 6000 a month, but now because of health complications, it’s a little less,” says Aziz-u-Din.
Since his youth things have not changed much and neither has this craft flourished or taken up at a larger extent. The craft has been restricted to a few artisans.
Banday is the only person in his family in this line of work. “None of my two sons ever showed any interest in this work because they never liked the erratic work or the little money, the craft offers,” says Banday.
It takes three days to do the embroidery and cutwork on a small stole and around six days to complete a saree. A replete single sari at the workshop costs between 4000 to 5000 rupees, while a shawl costs between 2000 to 3000 rupees. “At the retail outlets outside the state, it fetches much higher prices,” adds he.
Though the work is done in many floral designs, Banday says chinar leaf design is a favourite with the customers.
“As these saris and shawls are mostly made for the non-Kashmiri customers, so we largely make design of chinar leaves, which is a specialty of Kashmir and is preferred (by customers) over other designs,” he said.
Although Banday doesn’t clearly remember the provenance of this art, he says this work is known and done only in the urban Srinagar, as people from rural Kashmir know nothing about this art. “A lot of hard work, patience and care go into the cutwork and needlework on shawls and saris,” he says.
Banday has never got any help from any organisation to revive this dying art. He says the art will be extinct in ten years or so.