In a small alcove in the narrow lanes of Ballimaran in Old Delhi, on a pile of saw dust, sits Mohammed Yusuf Khan, turning pieces of wood into familiar household items like utensils, table legs or jewellery beads.
A brawny man, he works in a cluttered space with bits of wood of various shapes. Sombre and expectant, his usually hoarse voice softens with unmistakable tenderness when quizzed about his journey.
Exposed to the elements in his tiny shop, no bigger than a closet, Yusuf has been in the business of wood crafting for over 15 years, earning about Rs.300 a day. It is a modest earning, but he is content man, as carrying on his family’s tradition is a bigger reward. He has carried on this tradition despite more than his share of tragedies, including the deaths of his three brothers, whose shops and families he now supports.
While Yusuf has carried the tradition of his forefathers, literally on his back at times, his children are not willing to do the same. In fact, his son will set up an optical store in the very space his shop occupies and Yusuf prepares to move into another dilapidated space.
Further down at Urdu Bazaar, Quri Mohammed Yaqub sits outside an Urdu bookshop where he has been employed for the past 28 years. Breaking into a jingle, he cleans up his dishevelled attic and quickly rummages through old Urdu books to show us his calligraphy work.
Among the last of the katibs, he feels fortunate to be in business as computers still find it arduous to deal with Urdu. Yaqub mastered his skills at Darul Uloom in Deoband, but seems to shirk away the value of his craft due to lack of opportunities.
He manages to earn a meagre sum by writing names of departments of various offices. But all of this doesn’t necessarily pay for a day’s trip and he sits idle while for some productive work. His daughter, a trained calligrapher herself, is not keen on carrying the mantle ahead. She is all set to start teaching in a school.
One encounters many such artisans and vendors in the Capital, whose livelihood is endangered due to the rising population and urbanisation. The immediate impact is suppression as well as erosion of culture of the place. In the face of the modular format of culture, craftsmen have been left behind.