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Quran holder to wall mirrors: Novel designs, soaring demand infuse new life into Kashmir papier mache craft

KM/Umar Ganie

Srinagar:  Mohammad Mehdi Naqash, a fourth-generation papier-mache dealer, is on cloud nine. For the first time in the last 30 years, papier-mache craft is witnessing a resurgence with demand soaring in the local and international markets.

From the Holy Quran ‘rehal’ (holder/ stand) to wall mirrors and bridal clutches, the Naqash family has brought new designs to the market and is leading the way to fully revive the papier mache craft.

KM/Umar Ganie

“Our family is known for certain papier-mache products that are not available in retail elsewhere. We have artisans that especially make products for us. For example, we introduced products like bridal clutches and wall mirrors. We also have jewelry boxes and hangers and one can also find products that are a fusion of walnut wood and papier-mache. We pay a lot of emphasis on quality. The work on our papier-mache products is fine and intricate,” said Mehdi,  owner of the SunBeams at the Polo View.

KM/Umar Ganie

He said the craft was reviving thanks to new innovative designs and demand in the local market.

“There was a decline after militancy as papier-mache mostly had foreign customers. There was a time when we would export papier-mache balls in lakhs for Christmas and Easter but then we went through bad times. However, of late there has been a revival. Local demand too has increased. Now, many serve dry fruit in papier mache boxes during the ‘baraat’ of a wedding. Brides also want Quran ‘rehal’, clutches, jewelry boxes, and mirrors of papier-mache. We are not yet there but it’s gradually getting back to where it was,” said Mehdi.

He said the cost of premium products went up to one lakh rupees at the SunBeams.

KM/Umar Ganie

“We sell this key-chain made of papier-mache for Rs.30 only but we also have this flower vase that costs Rs. 1 lakh. It has got real gold work of 24 carats. Usually, foreigners prefer it. Quality also matters. Papier-mache balls are very common in the market. An artist can complete (painting) 20 to 30 balls in a day but that costs below Rs. 50 per piece. However, it takes an artist an entire day to complete work on a single ball having fine and high-quality work,” said Mehdi.

Art Researcher Wiqar Bashir said the craft of papier-mache had a great future if the traders and artisans paid attention to quality and innovative designs.

“The original shop (of SunBeams) was established by Haji Mohiuddin, who was popularly known as Mahad Saeb, at the bund in the early part of the 20th century before shifting to the current place in the 1940s. Artisans used to make exclusive designs for the store and wouldn’t share those designs with any other business house. There are other artisans and traders too that have come up with fresh ideas but at the same time, papier-mache suffered due to fakes and low-quality products,” he said. 

KM/Umar Ganie

Wiqar noted that the craft of papier-mache needs innovative designs and high-quality products. “There is still a lot of demand for it, especially in the elite market. The craft needs fresh ideas and the sector also needs branding so that papier mache fully revives its lost glory,” he said