Kashmir: Conversation with Wood Craftsman
Director: Saeed Mirza
Duration: 00:28:17; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 19.768; Saturation: 0.110; Lightness: 0.296; Volume: 0.175; Cuts per Minute: 0.954; Words per Minute: 72.442
Summary: In 1997, Saeed Mirza and his film crew traveled the length and breadth of India to make “A tryst with the people of India,” a documentary that marked fifty years of Indian independence. What has “independence” and “freedom” really meant for ordinary people across the country? How have they experienced modern India’s “tryst with destiny?” Mirza hoped to get the people’s perspectives on fifty years of freedom through conversations with a wide range of people across the country. As part of this trip, Mirza and his crew also traveled through Jammu and Kashmir, talking to a range of people from Jammu to the high mountains of Ladakh.
In this section, Saeed Mirza stop at a wood-carving workshop near Srinagar and talk to a mastercraftsman, Rafique. Wood-carving is an important industry in Kashmir, and wood-carving is a craft that has come down through several generations in Kashmir. These pieces of wooden art are important export items. The worst of the conflict that wracked the valley in the 1990s may be over by this time; there may be less fighting and bombing. But the army is everywhere, and many, many Hindus have left. How have these ongoing events affected the craftsmen, their livelihood, their art?In a fairly long conversation, Mirza asks Rafique these questions. Rafique is slow to open up, preferring perhaps to focus on his work rather than talk with a strange crew. By the end of the conversation, though, Rafique is noticeably more relaxed.
The crew stop at a wood carving workshop near Dal Lake. We focus on master craftsman Rafique as he carves an elephant. He is completely focused on his work, chiseling away to make detailed, intricate carvings on the elephant.
We see another craftsman in the workshop, chiseling away at a wooden figurine. Implements and pieces of work in progress are scattered all around. The camera pans around the room to reveal more men at work on different wooden objects. Light streams in through two windows, a red phone stands out next to the window. We come back to the man who's whittling away at the figurine. Sounds of hammer and chisel fill the room.
The men continue to work. We focus on one carver as he drills into a wooden pane. Then we're back to Rafique as he chisels the elephant. We see a closeup of his hands, working on an elaborate carving detail.
We focus on a man as he mixes some sort of paste together. Another man takes a break, smoking a hookah. We move to a closeup of the wooden figurine, which has a beard and a hat. The men talk and work as the crew set up.
SM: Rafique saab, this thing that you've made, how did you choose this particular scene…this scene here?
R: We think of all these things and make them.
SM: What is all this?
R: There's a jungle here… or sometimes…
SM: Some people going hunting..
R: Some people going hunting
SM: This is so elaborate and so detailed…
R (or kabir?): "karaler hai? (this is unclear)
SM: How long does it take you to make one of these? And this is one piece right?
R: Its just one piece. For this, it took two months, maybe a little more.
SM: It is very beautiful.
Saeed Mirza (SM) sits down to talk to Rafique, Behind Rafique on the wall, we see a plaque displayed, and some other wooden pieces, examples of his work perhaps.
SM continues his conversation with Rafique. As they talk, Rafique continues to work on his elephant carving. Sometimes, the camera gives us a closer look as he works on an intricate carving on the back of the elephant.
SM: How long have you been doing this kind of handwork?
R: Around 20, 22 years.
SM: And how old are you now?
R: 35 years, 35-36.
R: I used to study, I studied until the Matric exams.
SM: After that..
R: After that I started this.
SM: So who taught you this?
R: My father used to do this too..
SM: And are you teaching your children?
R: No, they're very small now. I have two daughters. I don't have a son.
SM: In this day and age I have seen that…you work so hard…but in this day and age it seems that everything is about speed, everything moves so quickly
SM: With machines,
R: Yes that's true
SM: I'm having kawa tea here, in Bombay you put some milk, sugar and that's it tea is made.
R: Yes, that's true.
SM: And here when we drink kawa, like I am drinking kawa now, there's something special to it, there's an art to it. In this kawa, just as in your work, there is "tareeq." Ok, before your father, your forefathers must have been doing this work too? Since when has this work been coming down the generations?
R: Oh for a long time.
SM: Can you guess how long?
R: My grandfather?
SM: and perhaps his grandfather too?
SM: So for generations this work has been coming down.
R: Yes, from before. Father to son (in English).
SM: Where do you live?
R: Here in Renawari (?)
SM: I'm thinking, you are what one calls a "master craftsman." All these things that are happening here—there's a lot of trouble happening in Kashmir, what do you think about these things?
R: What do I say…for us the attempt is that we make things better than that (or them?)..
SM: No, what I'm asking is, there'a s lot of strife on in Kashmir now…
R (nods) : Yes, (mehnga hi hai), Its expensvei.
SM: what else?
R: Expensive. What else?
SM: No, you see at this time, in Kasmir, there is militancy
R: Yes, yes.
SM: There's the army, BSF is here, CRPF is here
R: Yes yes
SM: What do you think about all these things?...The militants are there, there's shooting and bombing going on, we hear that now it is less.
R: Yes, it has become less now, in many ways.
SM: Do these things scare you?
R: Who would not be? Everyone is scared of these things. (after some silence)
They continue talking, this time SM tries to ask Rafique about the impact of the militancy and turmoil on his life and work. Rafique, however, is quite reticent. The camera focuses on the plaque behind hi on the wall, which says "certificate for outsnading export performance."
SM: Which things are you scared of?
R; Of all these things. When there's some trouble somewhere, or there's some fighting…
SM: A lot of people have died also
R: Yes, a lot of people have died. Some had two sons, both of them have died.
SM: In your home, your kids…they must also be scared?
R: (smiles and laughs a little): Yes yes they are scared.
SM: How has your life changed in the last seven years, because of all the ongoing tensions. Has it made a difference in your life?
R: Yes, it has made a difference.
SM: In what way?
R: Our "hearts" have become weak.
R: our "dil" has become weak.
SM: Weak in what way?
R: In this way. When there are fights going on all the time in your home, the kids, and everyone else as well, they don't feel happy in their hearts. There is a lot of tension and the tension keeps getting worse day by day. Similarly in any community…
There is some silence as Rafique concentrates on his work. But SM probes him further about the impact of the militancy on his life; the ways in which it affected his children.
SM continues to probe Rafique about the impact of the militancy. Rafique replies, but seems reluctant to talk too much about it. Eventually, SM turns the conversation back to his work.
SM: You mean to say that your "art" is affected, it becomes less?
R: No, art does not become less. It makes no difference to your art. In fact it keeps growing, it does not affect it.
SM: No you were talking about the kids
R: About the kids I was saying this…that they are not happy. When there are fight in a home, will they be happy?
SM: A lot of people have left Kashmir because of all the tensions…
SM: What do you think about that, that so many people have gone?
R: Their business must not have been doing well, they have gone for business, for income…
SM: What are you making here?
R: This is an elephant. There's going to be carving on top of this.
SM: Let me see… How many days have you been working on this?
R: It takes 1-2 days for the carving…
SM: 1-2 days. Ok.
SM asks Rafique about the conflict again. Has it affected his craftsmanship? What does he want for Kashmir?
SM: (studying the elephant and then the wooden panel): When a man is happy, does it make a difference to his craftsmanship?
R: It makes some difference to your craftsmanship, yes. When there is tension, it affects your work, the fighting causes tension…that is true.
SM: What do you want for Kashmir. You are a craftsman. What do you want for Kashmir?
R: I ask Allah for peace. What else can people want? Who wants the fighting to continue? (some silence)
SM: It took you two months to make this?
R: A little over two months.
SM: Can you see the amount of intricacy in this? (to crew). What things are in this. This is a jungle isn't it?
R: yes, a jungle.
SM: There's a "parinda" also, and animals
R: yes. There are fruits, trees, flowers…there are gods what else? There's a tiger here…
R: Yes, a tiger.
SM: And behind this what is this, a mosque?
R: yes a mosque
SM: Yes. And this is a fort? Oh and there's carving on the back too.
R; Yes. There's a "chinar" at the back too.
Crew: There's a ganesh image too.
Sm: Where? Yeah, theres a ganesh as well.
Crew: It seems divided into two parts, with a temple and a mosque.
SM: Yes. Yes, a ganesh here and there are horsemen too, there's a hunt going on…
The conversation shifts to an intricate wooden piece that Rafique has carved.
SM and crew ask Rafique about his work process. Does he begin with a draft on paper? How does he get all the different elements to be in proportion?
SM: When you make this, there must be a design in your head, do you make a draft on paper?
R: No nothing on paper. I just begin.
SM: Not on paper? You begin straighaway? Its all in your head?
Crew (Shaina): Ask him about the process…how does he begin it?
SM: How do you begin this? Say you just have a piece of wood, where do you begin?
R: First we think, where we're going to put what, what we'll decorate it with.
Sm: Another thing, for example, see here, these flowers. You make it a particular size. Now the other things do you carve it according to that size?
SM; So that's how the design goes? Show me, where did you begin on this one?
R (pointing) From here.
SM: Ok, you started at the base. And then worked your way up?
SM: So you started first with the hunting scene?
R: yes sir, with the hunting.
Crew: Does it ever happen that you're working on it and something goes wrong?
R: Yes that does happen.
SM: Then what do you?
R: Then we have to break it down and start again.
Sm: Achha? How do you do that?
R: With this (points to a tool).
Crew: You have the strength…
R: no no not strength. Those who use force do not get ahead, they fall behind.
Crew: The ganesh and the mosque, to put them together, this is also in your head?
Crew: In your heart?
R: yes, in my heart. Its in my heart that there should be love, affection, amongst us.
Crew: That's what you want?
R: yes, I do.
SM: What do you want for your daughters? You have two daughters you said?
R: Yes. Right now they are studying.
Sm: What do you want for them?
R: For them, I want them to be educated.
SM: Educated until?
R: That depends, on what destiny has in store for them. My attempt is to give them as much education as possible. After that, it is upto God.
Crew: So you wouldn't want them to do this work?
R: They are daughters. What will I teach them?
Sm: But this knowledge that you have—your knowledge, how will this go further?
R: That's God's will.
SM: it should not stop right…why don't you teach your daughters?
R: No, I won't teach my daughters
R: No I wont. Because they will go to their in laws place and how will they do this there? They will have to clean, or do other housework.
Sm: So teach someone else?
R: If God wills that I have a son, then I will teach him.
The conversation shifts to Rafique's two daughters, their education. The craft, Rafique says, can only be passed down to a son, and he will not teach his daughters.
SM: I talked to Ahmedsaab, and he said that mastercraftsmen don't want that other craftsmen learn from them, only their sons. So that their skills remain in the family. Why is it this way?
R: This is true. See, my grandfather used to do this work, after that his son. And then this son, that's me. Now if I have a son then I'll teach him. This is the way it happens…
SM: I hear also that mastercraftsmen don't work together, that they sit separately. Is that true?
R: yes, they sit separately..
R: Oh they sit separately because (he laughs)…because
SM: So that they don't learn from each other?
R: No its not that. For this craft, you need peace. You need your room. This doesn't happen when there are 10-15 craftsmen working together. You can't do this kind of carving when there are 5-10 people present. You need peace.
SM: You mean you need to sit in one room quietly and do your work.
R: Yes there should be noone around, no kids nothing. Just you. This is why. Then your mind works well…
SM: That's exactly what I was saying. That when there is peace in your mind and heart then the work flows, that's what I was asking you before. And when there is tension in your mind and heart how will you work?
R: Yes, that is true. It does make a difference.
SM: Many, many thanks, R-bhai. Let's shake hands.
The camera focuses on Rafique's face as he continues to concentrate on the carving. SM continues to ask him about the nature of his craft.
SM sits down again, to ask a few more questions. He asks Rafique again about the conflict, and the reasons why so many Hindus have left Kashmir.
SM: Rafique saab, here you have carved a mosque and also a Ganesh. But, a lot of Hindus have left Kashmir. There must be reasons for this, I don't know. How do you feel about that? What do you think?
R; What I feel is that they ran away from here because of fear, or something else. I'm not really sure why they left.
SM: But when they left, what did you feel, was it a good thing or a bad thing?
R: Bad thing. It was a bad thing.
SM: So they should come back?
SM: But they say that they feel too scared to come back?
R: No. There's nothing really to fear here.I feel that the Pandits who were here, the Muslims loved them a lot. If they needed something, they would give them first and then the Muslims. It wasn't like that.
SM: Do you have any friends (who are Pandits)
R; Yes, they used to study with me, a lot of pandits
SM: and now they've left. They were your friends?
R: Yes they were my friends. Sometimes I remember them, wonder what happened. Why they left.
SM: Do you ever write to them or meet them?
R: No, since they left, no letters
SM; you don't know where they are.
R No. I haven't had the chance really. To know that.
SM: But you want them to come back
R: yes, that's what I want. I wish that they would come back, we should sit down together. But there is suspicion and fear in their hearts. Noone would do anything to them here.
Sm: Thank you. Let's shake hands again.
The conversation continues, as SM sips on a cup of tea and Rafique continues to work on the elephant carving.
Snatches of conversation about tribal art and the concept of perspective.
The camera focuses on another craftsman, who is working on an elaborate carving on what looks to be a pot or a bowl.
SM talks to Rafique again, this time about the wooden panel that he has carved. They realize now that it is supposed to be a the lid of a box, carved on both sides.
SM: (holds the wooden panel again): Rafique saab, you've made a carving here. And when I turn this around, there's another design.
R: Yes, a "chinar."
SM: A "chinar" tree. Flowers. Why did you do it this way?
R: (takes the panel from him): Because when people look at the carving this way, they lift it up and see the other side, this way.
SM: Oh, I see! So that's why you've carved the other side too.
(to crew): Did you understand? Shyamal—see you see it this way. And then, you turn it around this way—not the other way—and now look.
R: Because this is a lid of a box.
Crew (off camera): Oh, this is the top of a box.
SM: Thank you sir…shall we go?