Srinagar: There was a time when ‘zari’ artisan Mohammad Shafi Mir used to decorate a single cape worn by the aristocratic ladies with 100 ‘tola’ of ‘tilla’ and his customers ranged from Maharajas to Arab Sheikhs.
However, Mir now struggles to find artisans that are willing to do ‘tilla’ work with their hands and rues that ‘just God’ was the ‘buyer’ of their products.
“Till the 1960s, the Rajas and Maharajas were our customers and you will find the gowns and capes embroidered by us in the museums. Women used to wear capes that had around 100 tola of tilla work. Men’s dressing gowns too had heavy tilla work. After the 1960s, there was a dip in demand and it was exported to all over the world including Arab countries. All loved this Kashmir art,” Mir told The Kashmir Monitor.
When asked who was the main buyer of their work now, he said: “….‘Bus Khuda seab’ (Only God).”
He said a dip in demand as compared to yesteryears and low wages of artisans amid invasion of machine-work had impacted the craft.
“An artisan just earns Rs. 250 per day and it is difficult for them to make ends meet. I remember around the time of Sino-Indian in 1962, few tilla artisans joined the Fire Department and Police. They would get a monthly salary of Rs. 21 at that point of time. Later, some of them returned to work as artisans as they would earn Rs. 40 to 45 per month then by doing tilla work. They felt being an artisan was better but now everyone will prefer a government job. Even an orderly has a good salary now,” said Mir.
“And now artisans too do not want to put in hard work. We worked for 17-18 hours but now artisans get tired after 6-7 hours of work. And machine work too has spoilt our craft tremendously. Machine-work is cheap and its buyers too are increasing,” he added.
An official of the Handicrafts Department, Kashmir said Mohammad Shafi Mir’s showroom at Khanqah area of the old city had been included in the itinerary of the ‘Crafts Safari’ that was started in the wake of Srinagar making it to the coveted list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Crafts and Folk Arts Category for the year 2021.
Giving details of Mir’s field of work, the official said: “Tilla Doozi or Zari embroidery is done with fine needles. Zari thread of gold or silver is laid upon the fabric, which is wound around the neck of the embroiderer, and finally stitched down with a fine matching thread invisible on the surface of the fabric. Mohammad Shafi Mir was six years old when started the art of tilla embroidery. He is a first generation zari artisan, who followed his passion to embellish beautiful pieces of fine fabric with embroidery.”
“Over the past few years, ’tilla’ embroidery has revived as a fashion statement amongst the youngsters, which is helping the art and artisans like him to sustain. However, Mir rues that the introduction of machines has greatly dented the market of their traditional craft,” the official added.