They are the last
generation practising the old traditions, be it a craft or a set of skills
which were once indispensable but have lost their relevance now. They know that
change is inevitable but so far they have resisted. This project aims to
narrate the stories of artisans who have practised their trade for generations
but are now on the verge of extinction.
As the number of horse driven carts declines, the demand for horseshoes falls. Naiim has been fixing horseshoes in Meerut since he was 16. ‘I know that my skills are not much required these days, but believe that the cart will last longer than my lifetime. Who knows what will be the fate of people who pull these carts? I’m sending my children to government school so that they don’t rely on this petty job,’ he says.
Sweet shops now put up signs that read: ‘We use pure vegetarian 100 per cent machine made silver warq, certified by FSSAI.’ Food Safety and Standards Authority of India in 2016 said the process involved in making warq or silver foil is unsafe for public health. Hundreds of craftsmen engaged in making silver warq were forced to leave their sole source of livelihood. The craft of pounding tiny pieces of silver into foil was nourished in Lucknow, Bareilly, Jaunpur and Hyderabad.
Vijay runs a roadside or "fatafat" studio as they are usually called. In the world of digital photography, he survives on the street by taking quick mug shots from his ancient film camera in Gorakhpur. A tattered black sheet is his background. He plans to buy a digital camera but his savings are never enough.
The long tradition of the Bahurupiya or Impersonator is under threat. With new means of entertainment, they are seldom seen in cities now. Even in villages the younger generation has moved to other forms of entertainment. Settled in various parts of Rajasthan and West Bengal, Bahurupiyas find it difficult to survive on their art alone. A majority of them are shifting away, working as labourers or taking up menial jobs.
Ameen Khan, from Sikar in Rajasthan, says he was not keen to take up the ancestral vocation but it was too late by the time he realised it. He used to travel around with his father and couldn’t attend school. Left with no choice, he now loves the game of metamorphosis. Apart from his back, he can paint his body himself. Once the body paint dries, he fixes the tail and struts as a tiger to entertain his audience. ‘Kids often get scared despite my polite gestures and I really don’t like it,’ says Ameen.
As a boy Jagan loved watching films as well as the projectionists of touring talkies in the small town of Badaun, so he decided to become one. He convinced the operator to take him as an assistant. That was 45 years ago. For years he worked with the touring talkies but finally settled by joining a theatre in Bareilly. It was with the release of Padmaavat, that his world changed. The theatre owner decided to shut down the projector and in digital projection there was no role for Jagan’s skills.
Roll film still exists in the world of photography but the cinema reels have gone. Projection rooms at theatres are digital now. They receive films via satellite and a digital projector is enough. They have crisp picture quality on screen and good audio, far better than the early days when audience had a lot of opportunities to whistle and roar to draw the attention of the operator to blurred or overlapping images on screen, or bad sound.
In northern India, the wooden wheel is still used in bullock carts or ikka-tonga. Iron wheels and carriages are used in rural Maharashtra and some other states. Recently, while visiting Bundelkhand I noticed iron wheels in carts. The reason, confirmed by many people, is that the carpenters don’t make wooden wheels anymore because of the cost. Cart owners are happy with the iron wheel as they don’t have to wait and it is cheaper as well.
Maste aka Mastram drives his ikka (buggy) from Chittepatti to Dostpur in Sultanpur district, U.P. With wooden wheels and a 25-year-old mare pulling it, life is not easy for him. He knows that the ikka as means of transport has no future. Only a few are left in the area.
Among connoisseurs of attar (perfume),the city of Jaunpur was a legend by its old name, Kannauj. A variety of oils used in toiletries and the attar has given the city fame. Miyan Saheb runs a shop that he inherited from his grandfather. About various brands on his shelves, he says, ‘I’ve to keep branded products along with my own, not to disappoint my customers. There is no point explaining the merits of the attar I make if they don’t wish to know.’
In the time of mobile phone cameras and selfies Bahadur, who works at a hotel in Aligarh, rushed to a travelling photo studio to get his picture taken with the cutouts of actors Preity Zinta and Rani Mukerji.
Elegantly decorated terracotta horses and elephants are the signature style of the Gulab Chand family in Aurangabad village of Gorakhpur. He is still in demand, but the next generation is not interested in what he has been doing all his life. His sons and nephews learned the traditional skills, only to move away and take up other jobs.
Gulab Chand’s terracotta horse.
Atwari is the only person in the locality who knows how to fire an oven and roast grain using sand. In an age when children prefer popcorn from a vendor, she survives because a few in her Gorakhpur village still like roasted wheat or barley.
Like other crafts, carpenters too, have lost their significance in rural India. Earlier they were in demand and had regular customers. Weddings in their villages were additional work. These parrots, once very common at weddings in east U.P., have become rare.