A cool breeze touches you while you walk on a desolated foreshore of the beautiful Nigeen Lake. Situated at the foothill of the colossal Hari Parbat, the lake is dotted with tiny boats resting near its banks, boarded by people, waiting, for the fish to fall for their baits.
In between the lake and the hill, lay the single-storeyed white dwellings bordered by old remnant shacks. These settlements have numbers on small boards affixed to their houses. Surrounded by the lake on three sides, Bahrar, state’s last colony for lepers, houses the ‘only male crocheter’ of Kashmir.
Nazar Nasir Naik, 18, instantly creates a flower, with a small crocheting hook by carefully interlocking different loops of yarn, which he took out of a small bag filled with the crocheting materials. “Flower was the first thing I made in this craft, and it took me a whole day to figure it out,” chuckles Nazar, with his hands glued to the crocheting hooks.
Nazar learned this art during the six-month-long unrest in 2016 when he was visiting his aunt’s place in the vicinity of Lal Bazar area of Srinagar. “My aunt was making a sweater at her home, and I asked her to teach me how to do it, says Nazar. “I didn’t know what this was art was called, but I learned the basics from her. It was after the internet was restored in the Valley after the unrest, I got to know this art was called crocheting,” he simpers.
Though the process of crocheting looks effortless, but Nazar opines differently. It is much more complicated than it looks, says Nazar, who has been into crocheting for almost a year now. From the time he got wits, he says, that he always has been attracted to different forms of art. “I believe that’s the reason this beautiful craft interested me,” Nazar says.
For people in Kashmir, this field is traditionally reserved for the women folk, who weave, knit and do experiments with wool. But it is very unusual to see a boy in this field. But Nazar hardly has been affected by ‘what people say’. “People, mostly relatives me at first, saying this line of work doesn’t suit males, but I made up my mind, to move on. People always talk and they say what they have to say,” he said.
Nazar loves to call himself an artist, who loves to experiment with yarn and create beautiful designs using crochet. This work is not a stigma, if you look abroad, crocheting is pursued as a business and also as a career there, he says. It took him almost a week to learn how to spin the basic chain in crocheting, which is the basis or foundation for any design. Nazar says that there are thousands of tutorials and designs that one can learn from the internet.
As per him, women in Kashmir, who are associated with crocheting are unaware about what they make or are going to make, they just keep going and miracles happen and at the end, they don’t know what to name them. “Stitches and graphs are the things you need to learn, I have mastered them and I can make anything you say,” he exclaims and adds that chain is the foundation, and you can build anything over that.
In the winter of 2016, when Nazar first started learning crocheting, he says, he never knew that this craft would take over his life. “Crocheting is not just a small business, but an escape from the world for me. It’s so healing and so peaceful to me that I can work non-stop without worrying about anything else,” Nazar said. He suggests that the unemployed youth in Kashmir should pursue this craft, as no shame is attached to it.
Nazar never knew he would make money in crocheting and it would get him recognition among friends and relatives. “When I first started, I would just crochet for fun or relatives. I would give away the things I made free of cost. But after properly learning it a few months back, I’ve taken it a step further by going commercial,” he says.
Several months back, Nazar approached an online store for handmade crafts and started crocheting for them. “They liked my work and hired me, and I now only work on the orders I receive from them and in return they pay me,” said Nazar. He believes that crocheting is slowly vanishing from Kashmir as most youths feign ignorance about this art.
“It is true that you won’t make much money at first because when you make any thing it looks so easy, but people don’t understand how much effort goes into its making,” he rues. What gave him an edge in the market was his ability to move one step further from the traditional crochet mats and table clothes.
“While working for the online store, I made a variety of new things which people would never have imagined. I made stuffed dolls, key chains, doilies, clutches, slippers, and many other things apart from the traditional sweaters and hats,” said Nazar.
He feels that one has to always work around the traditional designs to create a new attractive product line. He insists that things are not as easy as they look from outside. “There are eight different sizes of hooks used in crochet, but only one is available in Kashmir. I have to struggle to get the raw material here in Kashmir. So, I get most of the stuff online,” he adds.
Nazar rues that he is not able to give proper time to crochet, as he has to appear in the 12th class examination this year. “I am aspiring to qualify civil services. For now, I will keep crocheting just as a hobby,” he said.
A long time ago, the grandparents of Nazar were contracted by leprosy. His parents or his siblings, none were affected by the disease, but it still has played a very negative role in his life. Nazar and his family always found themselves in a very tough spot.
“I have been to three schools but no one knows where I am from or where I belong,” he said adding that, “Even though I am not affected by the disease but still I am afraid how people will treat me if they come to know about me.” Nazar is now habituated with the secluded life of the colony and has friends just in the colony. He is apprehensive about his truth and fears the hostility that might come with his disclosure.