In the old city of Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, locks are not just key to safety, they open the door to a craft tradition. Imagine a lock shaped like a fish hanging from a rod or designed like a sitting camel or an owl with big round eyes. These brass locks are handmade with triple locking mechanism. They were on display at an exhibition held in Delhi recently.
Says craftsperson Javed Hussain, “Aligarh is famous for three things: traditional locks, Aligarh Muslim University and matri (a cake-like rusk).”
History has references to locks made in Aligarh. There are puzzle locks, locks with different keys, handcuff (hathkadi ) locks, intricately designed ones, or those with false holes. At one time, the lock industry here flourished and locks were exported on a major scale. Today, it is reduced to a decorative piece bought by connoisseurs or antique shops. The tradition of handmade locks is a dying art. It only has an ornamental value.
Javed Hussain and his brother now make locks on machines, a majority of which are ordinary. Their handmade locks are either curios made on when they participate in fairs. They have workers who are skilled in this craft. Says Javed, “Since the automatic lock and key system are prefered today, the handmade locks have no demand.”
The shift from handmade to machine-made locks is linked to a growing market, where the price realisation is faster and the industry, more organised. Handmade locks are expensive and the volume of production cannot match up to the machines. “Earlier, the handmade locks had a market share of 50 to 60 per cent, but today it is down to just 5 per cent,” adds Javed. .”
The base material of these handmade locks is brass (60 per cent copper and 40 per cent zinc). Moulds are in brass. This is used for shaping in the sandcasting process.
The object is filed, buffing machines are used for polishing and the product is ready. It comes with a range of polish from antique, copper finish to normal brass.
The production is more of an assembly line method where each craftsman works on one process. He can easily make 30 to 40 locks in a day. The keys are also handmade, as are the sandcasted levers in the locks.
These are durable and sturdy. But a lack of demand means no new designs have emerged and the old ones are being repeated.
One way to bring about a boom in the industry, is to design locks highlighting its security value. This will also save it from closure.