Woust` Khazir, The Master Craftsman

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 He created a wonder when he carved a life-like apple tree from a log of walnut wood. Khazir Mohammad Qasba, popularly known as Woust` Khazir in the artisan community was a genuis innovator craftsman who passed away quetely. SYED ASMA  profiles the legend.

The officials of Handicrafts department describe him as “a famous man”. To look for his exact location, an official said, you can ask anybody in Rainawari, he will tell you about Qasba. But he did not know this “famous man” is dead. In fact no one apart from Qasba’s friends and close associates knew he has passed away.

Khazir Mohammed Qasba, in his late eighties, died on March 27 this after a brief illness. He was a master craftsman, a walnut wood carver.

“Simply a genius,” who did not get his due credit, Qasba’s assistants and associates say in a disappointed tone. Qasba was famous as Wouste` Khazir in the handicrafts community. Even his sons, who he has trained as fine wood carvers, refer to him by the same name.

Qasba has a daughter and three sons, all married. His wife died about 32 years ago, two months after she gave birth to her third son. Qasba was a caring father who used to take great care of his children, his family members say, and even used to cook for them himself.

All his three children are trained in wood carving but only one among them Muzzafar Ahmed has retained an associated with the craft.

Qasba was associated with wood carving for seven decades, but Muzzafar has to work as a carenter part of his time because his father’s craft doesn’t make him enough money.

He must have taught wood carving to thousands of boys, say Muzzafar. “He was a very tough teacher. A perfectionist,” he he says. “On slight, minor mistakes, he used to discard the whole piece of work no matter how beautiful it looked.”

Qasba was born to Mohammed Sultan Qasba and Khaiti Begum in a family of fine carpenters, a traditional Najar family for long. Ghulam Rasool Ahanger, Qasba’s nephew and closest associate of many years says the family worked as carpenters in Maharaja’s darbar also. According to Ahanger, seeing the skill of these Najar boys, Khazir Mohammed’s forefathers, Maharaja Pratap Singh associated with them a name “Qasba”. Ahangar himself is an Assistant craftsman in School of Design, Department of Handicrafts.

Qasba had learnt his skill from Wouste` Ame`, a houseboat carpenter and had later mastered the craft steadily on his own, remembers Ahanger as told to him by Qasba himself. The master craftsman had told him that he had trained himself on leftover wood planks, logs, poles etc. His first carving tools were iron nails.

Ahanger says carving with iron nails is not only difficult but seems impossible even for an experienced wood carver like me. Qasba’s associates say he had a unique understanding and distinctive ideation in his craft.

Khazir Mohammed Qasba was an easy key to any challenged assignment (order) that landed in the Valley regarding wood carving, Ahanger says. Decades ago, Qasba created a 16 feet long and 9 feet broad butterfly on a foreigner’s demand for a houseboat named ‘Butterfly’.

Ahangar recalls, Qasba was then a famous name for making Canadian trophies in which the names and details were carved on wood.

Qasba was a surprise package, he had made numerous Canadian trophies and English stamps even though he was illiterate. “He took those words as design and without having modern technologies of enlarging etc, did his work with such perfection that we never received any complaints from any of our dealers. Never!” says Ahanger.

Although he never went to school, Qasba used to read Urdu local dailies almost every day, his son Muzaffar says. “He had learnt to read Quran as a child and later used those somewhat similar alphabets to read Urdu.”

Besides, he used to listen to music and loved to hear voice of his friend Ghulam Ahmed Sofi, famous as Ame` sufe`, recalls Muzzafar. As a routine, Qasba would start working on his creations early in the morning up to noon and later continued from 4pm up to midnight.

“Qasba was a perfect craftsman,” says Muzzafar Khan, a businessman who deals with handicrafts and has worked with the artist for years. Khan’s family owned a company named Ganemede and had a showroom at Lal Chowk. “We dealt with numerous artisans, I do not remember each one of them but I very clearly remember Khazir Mohammed Qasba and his work. He was a perfectionist,” says Khan. “He used to produce exquisite pieces.”

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