Khan’s ‘Nargis’ simply refuses to age

For 80-year-old Ghulam Muhammad Khan ‘Nargis’, the handicraft shop in Hazratbal area of Srinagar city is like a beauty whose magic will never wane.

Did he name the shop after Nargis, the Bollywood actress, the heartthrob of millions in 1950s and 60s? He smiles and you don’t need words to confirm your doubt.

Khan is seated behind a large table over which are spread pieces of muslin cloth, suede, leather, linings of plain cloth, bundles of threads, needles, a sewing machine and a traditional Kashmiri ‘Hookah’.

He has been making leather/suede and tweed jackets for both men and women, caps, waist coats, handbags and other handicraft items.

He remains engrossed in his art and despite the number of years those have gone by, Khan’s memory has not betrayed him.

“I started this profession around 60 years ago. Initially, I worked at a businessman’s centre, but decided later to start my own shop some 50 years back.

“Those were the days of glory and admiration for craftsmen. Visitors used to throng my shop in large numbers as they came to visit the nearby holy shrine or spend days on the houseboats at the ‘Claremont’.

“Both domestic and foreign tourists used to be my customers. Government used to hold exhibitions in Delhi, Rajasthan, Kolkata and other places. We would get stalls at those exhibitions.

“Now all that seems to be over. Tourists pass by the road outside my shop while going to hill stations like Sonamarg, etc., but they hardly stop to enter my shop.

“My meagre earnings come only from the local customers. Rarely does a tourist come to my shop now.

“Perhaps machines have replaced handicrafts now,” he rues.

His two sons, Farooq and Irshad occasionally help their father out, but there doesn’t seem much left for them to engage in father’s business now.

“My sons are working as daily wagers in government departments. We cannot live depending solely on the income from my shop,” Khan’s mind appears to loiter to the days gone. His voice becomes feeble as if it is coming from a distant place.

He gives you a blank look and then he takes command of himself.

“This shop is my first and the last love. Time might have betrayed my craft, but my love and devotion for what I did all my life cannot change after 80 years.

“I keep on telling my sons that they should not lose hope. The glory of Kashmir’s handicrafts will be reclaimed. Golden times gone by will return.

“As long as my craft remains genuine and original, customers cannot ignore me. Times keep on changing. We will have good days ahead,” Khan’s hope appears like his prayer.

He has the confidence and the pride every artist has about his art.

His fragile structure seems to vanish in the small space where he is crouched behind his table and the sewing machine.

For a change, a customer enters his shop with a suede jacket that now appears as the ruin of what it might have been originally.

He asks Khan to restore and repair it. Khan refuses to do so saying that the jacket is beyond repair and he does not remember having sold it to this customer.

He takes hold of the jacket like a surgeon would examine his patient before a major surgery. He turns it inside out. There seems to be no trace of the thing having been made by him.

He pulls out the pockets and as he pulls out the upper pocket of the worn out jacket, a small leather piece appears attached to the pocket’s lining.

Suddenly the haze lifts. “Yes, I remember now. You bought this from me some 25 years ago. Right? You had a child with you who wore a woollen cap and was moving up and down in the shop,” he smiles at his old customer.

“I will repair the jacket. It is my duty to do so, but you have to promise me that you will keep it properly during the summer months. You can’t cramp leather and suede jackets in damp places,” he advises the customer.

The loyalty of the master to his masterpiece could not have a better example than the way Khan accepted to repair the jacket which seemed like a rag.

He asks the customer to come and collect the jacket after three days. He does not even say how much he would charge for the job.

Khan’s priority seems to be his desire to restore his piece of art to its pristine glory.

If this worn out jacket can be restored to its original shape, how long can time deny Khan and his sons the right to be the proud owners of a handicraft shop that again does roaring business in Kashmir?

20221018-142602

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