Stone Artist

Carving objects out of stone is nothing new to Kashmir, but when the creativity of a stone carver moves beyond conventionalized norms, then it becomes a novelty in itself, Bilal Handoo reports.

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At the time when traditional ‘wooden spinning-wheels’ are apparantly becoming a passé in Kashmir, a stone carver from Srinagar’s Pantha Chowk has created buzz by carving-out a spinning-wheel out of stone. Nisar Reshi, 38, is the master sculptor whose brainchild is now drawing many people to his archaic shop.

Nisar is one of many stone carvers in this area who survives on stone carving. This part of Srinagar houses nearly two thousand stone-carving families most of whom could be seen shaping stones in different geometries. Just behind the residential houses here, scores of workers are busy in loading trucks with stones from the nearby hillocks.

In one of the dusty shops here, Nisar and his father are surrounded by many people. The crowd has assembled to have a glimpse of stony spinning-wheel. It was three months ago when Nisar got an idea to carve something unique out of the stone, though his romance with stones dated back to the time he was only a kid. He would always design novel objects, and figures out of the stones. “I thought let me try to make something that would create an instant attraction for people,” Nisar, an average built man whose father proudly call him ‘master craftsman’, says. It took him mere twenty days to create, what he claims, the first such spinning-wheel in Kashmir.

As soon as he displayed his ‘innovative design’, locals as well as tourists started making rounds on his shop. The rush is still visible on his shop, where his aged father Ghulam Rasool Reshi, 70, acts as a warm host. This elder in Reshi family was himself carving stones until a brain hemorrhage few years ago rendered him too fragile to lift hammer in his hand. The health ailment has also affected his speaking ability, he could barely talk and when he does, only broken Kashmiri words come out of his mouth.

“Stone carving is our ancestral trade activity,” Ghulam Rasool Reshi says gingerly. “There are thousands of people associated with this trade practice, but only one of them can be termed as master craftsmen. My son is ‘master craftsman’ who has surpassed not only me, but his grand father and great grand father.”

But creating ‘fascinating’ masterpieces out of stone is nothing new for the Reshi family. They have done it in past as well. The stone fish—from whose mouth water runs—placed at Chesmashahi, a tourist spot in Srinagar has been carved by Ghulam Mohammad aka Vouste Moma, one of the workers of Nisar’s father. Besides, the name of Allah carved on stone in another tourist spot, Badam wari in old city is the ‘master piece’ by one of the workers of Nisar.

Besides scores of families here, there are ample number of stone carvers that make common scenes in Srinagar’s old city. Most of them make tomb stones, besides residential name-plates. In the largest cemetery of Kashmr, Malkhah, there lives a community called Aakhoons, who have been carving tombs from many centuries now. Besides, some craftsmen near Safa Kadal in old city also carve stone objects, but not in bulk as Pantha Chowk families do.

stone1But then, not every surviving stone carver around are adding creative inputs to keep the trade relevant, and sustainable. This is where Nisar scores a point over others. His creativity and proficiency in the skill can be gauged from the fact that he can make any figure out of the stone. “I recently made cricket bat and ball,” claimed Nisar, elder sibling among the four sons of Reshi. While one of Nisar’s brothers was killed in a bomb blast during early phase of militancy in Kashmir, his other two siblings are also in this ancestral trade activity.

Nisar might have an ability to produce anything out of the stone, but artist like him is apparently facing the wrath of survival. He seldom pays attention to the artist residing in him. “Survival comes first, the artist inside me can wait for sometime,” he says. “This trade feeds my entire family, so primarily my motive remains to generate sufficient income by sticking to routine for running expenses of my family. This daily routine often leaves little time for my artist to express.”

His shop displays number of stone items, from stone grinders to the polished stones, but stony spinning-wheel remains an apparent crowd puller. Three such spinning-wheels have been showcased on his shop. One is miniature sized, second one is large one, and last one is has been designed for art patrons. All of these carry three different price-tags. While, design based spinning-wheel can be availed at Rs 70, 000, the large one has been slated at Rs 50,000. The miniature one tops the cost at around Rs 90,000 due to its artistic intricacies. So far, eight to ten pieces of spinning-wheels have been sold by Reshi’s.

In this locality of stone-carvers, the daily income ranges from Rs 300 to 400. Most of them are also chiseling and preparing stones for the basement of houses, roadside, and other structures to generate more income.

“I am not done yet,” says Nisar, when asked about his next stone design. “The artist inside me will always create novelty on stones.”

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