The Covid19 triggered a market slump across the world and in Kashmir post-2018 situation came with its own issues that pushed many people out of their professions. Syed Shadab Ali Gillani meets a carpet weaver who once had 40 co-workers and is now a labourer
Here, the hands of a craftsman sit still, no longer dancing across vibrant wool as they once did. The melody of creation has gone silent, taking with it a timeless tradition. This is the elegy of a master artisan watching his craft vanish like threads slipping through worn fingers.
In the tranquil village of Bacchroo, a stone’s throw away from Wanpoh in Kulgam, the sight of an elderly man laboriously mixing cement outside an under-construction house paints a poignant picture. As he gingerly places the iron bucket filled with the cement mixture on the rugged floor, he pauses for a contemplative puff from his hookah. This unassuming figure conceals a remarkable tale that traverses the realms of prosperity and adversity.
Abdul Rehman Kumhar, now a weathered 60-year-old, hails from Tengjen village, a man who once enjoyed the accolades of a renowned master craftsman and lived a life of luxury and contentment. As the sands of time flowed on, his craft began to wither, so did the luxuries.
Once celebrated as a virtuoso Qaaleen Baaf, the art of rug weaving, Kumhar now toils as a labourer, a stark contrast to his previous stature, all to provide for himself and his family. His transformation from a luminary to a labourer is a tragic tale.
Kumhar’s narrative transcends personal misfortune, encapsulating the collective plight of an entire community. At the zenith of his craft, nearly 40 skilled artisans toiled alongside him, offering hope and employment to those in need. As the art of carpetmaking began its slow descent, their lives too underwent a metamorphosis, leading them to explore carpentry, masonry, and various other trades.
“The youth shifted their focus to different skills,” lamented Rehman. “During the tenure of the former chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, times were blissfully simple. But today, life has grown unbearably harsh for ordinary families.” He fondly recounted the labour-intensive craft handed down through generations, once celebrated for its intricate, handcrafted designs. However, the relentless march of machines compromised quality lowered costs, and heralded the industry’s decline.
Ironically, Kumhar hailed from a lineage of potters, locally known as Kumhaars, but he chose to master the QaaleenBaafi skill. “With the advent of machines, the demand for handcrafted work dwindled,” he lamented, revealing unfinished pieces ravaged by rodents. He had once aspired for his son to follow in his footsteps but was compelled to reconsider. “I urged him to prioritise education. Today, he serves as an Imam at the local mosque because no one aspires to this profession anymore.”
Good Old Days
Kumhar stands as a poignant emblem of an unsustainable craft abandoned by more than just himself; even governmental support has dwindled, leaving Kulgam’s once-revered industry in tatters.
“Our materials used to come from Khanyar, Srinagar and we earned a handsome livelihood from each piece crafted from those materials,” Kumhar reminisced. “I even had the privilege of teaching village children as young as 15. People took immense pride in this skill during Mufti Syed’s era. But slowly, that pride eroded into despair.”
Nobody could have foreseen the dramatic transformation that would befall Kumhar and his beloved craft. In the face of government indifference and increasingly unforgiving market dynamics, the once-dependable craft now struggles to sustain even the most modest of households. He gazed ruefully at his unused tools and materials, symbols of a bygone era.
With a heavy heart, Kumhar admitted, “I fear there is no rekindling the embers of this craft.” The carpets, like his hopes, suffered a slow and agonising decline.
Kumhar’s journey commenced in his grandmother’s humble abode, where government employees nurtured the eager minds of youngsters like him. Thriving to master this age-old art, the knowledge of Qaaleen Baafi became a badge of honour for Kumhar, who had struggled academically.
Kumhar’s wife, Sayeda, has witnessed the peaks and valleys of her husband’s craft and their lifestyle. “We once lived in opulence when he wove carpets, but now life has turned into a relentless struggle,” she lamented as she carried a heavy water can to their incomplete new home, devoid of water access. “Making ends meet has become an arduous task. Why else would a master craftsman like my husband resort to labour work? Times are tough, and each one of us does our part. We even bought a cow, which my daughter-in-law and I tend to, but it hasn’t alleviated our hardships.”
In the twilight of his thoughts, as he gazed upon the vanishing embers of his once-thriving craft, Kumhar spoke with a poignant blend of sorrow and determination, contemplating their community’s helplessness in the ever-shifting tides of change. “What can a handful of people do to gain the attention of the authorities? Who will listen to our pleas?” he wondered. “No one wishes to learn this craft anymore, and I made sure my son didn’t either, for there is no future in it now.”