Handmade copper craft is here to stay, through turbulence and technology

  • KANIKA GUPTA
  • Publish Date: Jun 24 2018 10:56PM
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  • Updated Date: Jun 24 2018 10:56PM
Handmade copper craft is here to stay, through turbulence and technology

Baghdadis, the pioneer coppersmiths of Srinagar, are keeping the trade alive

 

Srinagar city is dotted with retail shops selling finished copperwares that have come a long way from its simple designs to one that displays fine craftsmanship. It is hard not to get curious about its journey that began centuries ago with a family of Baghdadis that brought with them the craft and utility of copperwares to Kashmir.

It was the hour of iftaari when I entered the home of Baghdadis who were surprised to see me, a big DSLR dangling from my neck, and eyes full of questions. Feeling guilty for disturbing their ritual of eating after a day long fast, I quickly ask for Ali Muhammad Baghdadi, the oldest member of the clan who has been in the business of copperwares for more than seven decades now. They quickly direct me to a room where the old man was resting, holding on to the vestiges of his legacy in the form of stories.

Intrigued by his father’s dexterity, Ali Mohammad’s passion for coppersmithing was not lost on his father, Mohiudin Baghdadi. What many would call an annoying clanking of metals, the young Ali Mohammad found music to his years. Thus began his journey of skill training by his father what was to be the rest of his life. 

“I was 10-years old when I started working as a coppersmith,” says 80-year old Ali Muhammad Baghdadi. “My father, his father, and his father, all were in the same trade.” When I asked him how far back his family goes, he gives me an unclear answer, “hundreds of years ago.”

The frail man sitting at the head of Baghdadi clan has a weak voice and the sparkle in his eyes faded too when I asked him how much has changed between then and now. “Our times were simple,” he says ruefully. “Today the copperwares are more fashionable and trendy.”

I had so much to ask and so much to learn from this man who had difficulty speaking due to his age. All the questions were stuck like a lump in my throat when his youngest son, Sarwar Ahmad Baghdadi, entered the room. The conversation took a youthful turn, just like their business did ever since the oldest Baghdadi retired from his seat. 

How has the business fared over the years, I ask Sarwar. “The business has declined in the last 2-3 years due to disturbance in the valley,” he explains. “Payments get delayed due to strikes and retail shops remain closed that affect sales and order delivery,” Sarwar adds.  

As pioneers of copper trade, the Baghdadis are one of the leading suppliers of copperwares in Srinagar. In the face of changing and turbulent times, they keep their business alive by bringing innovation to the trade. Sarwar explains that over the years, they have expanded their business by incorporating engraving into copperwares to develop more aesthetic line of products such as samovars, vases, bowls etc. These fancy wares now grace the homes of Kashmiris and have become an integral part of their culture. 

When asked how their unique craft is progressing in these modern times, the Baghdadi scion elucidates that they are simple manufacturers of the copperwares that are then sent to the artisans for engraving and finishing. However, it is becoming a struggle to keep up with the advent of machinery and continued conflict in the valley. 

At the same time, they also believe that despite the replacement of hands with machines, the technology can never induce the charm of a handmade copperware. The artistic final touches, the etching of chinars, the carving of almonds et al can never be replaced by a machine. The family takes pride in their work and trusts that it is here to stay, even though the situation remains volatile and the competition becomes intense.

The streets of old city in Srinagar that houses the Baghdadi family and their workshops reverberate with the soft cadence of metal thumping. It may seem like an annoyance to a passerby but someone with an ear for creativity will certainly gravitate towards the rhythmic beating of the metal. It is such a delight to watch these artisans banging away at their crafts, feeling proud of their creation as it gradually takes shape.

As the old generation of Baghdadis pass their legacy on to the new generation, they view it with renewed hope and strongly believe that their children will be able to sustain the growing competition amid ongoing clashes in Kashmir. With greater awareness of the technology and need for modernity, the Baghdadis want to retain the true nature of their craft by learning new skills, participating in global platforms, and taking their family name to the next level, without ever losing its essence.