Sozni Art Lore from Bashir Ahmad Dar
Bashir Ahmad Dar is a Sozni Artisan who has given 50 years of his life to this art. Working tirelessly on hundreds and thousands of shawls, embellishing them in the intricate sozni kari, with a tiny needle, creating a masterpiece of art on a plain canvas Pashmina.
I was ten years old when I started working on sozni. My father was not in this craft and had put me to school to secure a good future. He like every father had high hopes for me. But as it turned out I was not a good student and could hardly stand to the stick of the teacher. I dropped out. I then luckily came under a kind man, who took me in as a student for this hand craft. He was a Sozni Kaar, Ghulam Ahmad Dar, my first of the many Masters I got a chance to learn from. He was a kind hearted soul, soft but a disciplined master, who had an immense patience for students like me.
The handcraft is among the prized arts of Kashmir and any civilization for that. I sometimes wonder and am in a weat how much a small needle at hand can accomplish. A tiny needle that works wonders on a small patch of fabric.
Art is a beautiful aspect of life. But not everyone understands that. You need the eye for art. There are so many admirers of Sozni, who have come to me from all parts of the world. Tourists, both domestic as well as international have been here, in this very room. My home is small, not a grand one, but when I think of how many people have been here, I am humbled.
Once I was walking on Aali Kadalroad when I noticed a rag being trampled by the moving feet. It caught my eye and I picked it up only to find that the dirty rag was indeed a Pashmina patch!I took it home and washed it. Then I sold it for 2600 rupees which would equate to 25000 rupees today. That is the worth of a rag, when in essence it is actually a masterpiece of fabric. This is the value of our art that is being abandoned by us, trampled by our very feet as if it is nothing. This generation is not aware of the real worth of our kasab. The value of gold, to me, is a stone in comparison to our ancestral hand craft.
I have taught hundreds if not thousands of girls. My own daughters know this Kasab (skill). They learnt easy and are very dedicated but then they got married and eventually left me one by one. They are better than me in this art. I am a proud teacher; I feel having taught so many girls, I have donemy part. Now it is up to them what they do with it. I just pray that this art doesn’t die with artisans like me. Our generation of artisans is nearing our time here, we are all oldies now. As the situation now is, no one is willing to learn this kasab anymore. No one is willing to learn this low paying skill.
Sozni is very tedious; it takes on your health. Your eyes grow weak. I broke my eyeglasses today while at work and I still am working with only one eye glass, as you can see. I must be coming off very amusing to you. (As hechuckled off very heartily, it hit me really hard, his unrelenting misery and he could still laugh it off). They told me it will take one or two days to make a new one. But I can’t take rest for two days. I have been working on this shawl for 4 years now. It is a Pashmina Jamawar which is a full lengthy intricate work of Sozni. Though it is near completion but it will still take me some more months to finish it completely.
Pointing to the shawl, a beautiful masterpiece that lay over his knees in wonderful colors and patterns, he explained how he chose colors for the same.
When I was still learning, my mentor at that time was Ahmad Jan, a very skilled man he was. I had to make a flower, the yemberzal (daffodil) and Yasmin (jasmine). I was not getting the exact colors that I could use. Ahmad Jan asked me to go to Nishat to observe the flowers and know their colors. I went and spent a whole day in Nishat, then went to Dal Lake observing many flowers and the effect of light on their colors. It was a beautiful experience for me.
Ahmad Jan Sahab, my beloved ustadh, used to say that working on a shawl was like nurturing a tribe. A tribe has many members, all different and unique but still similar in some ways. They are a complimenting contrast that makes a tribe whole. That is how it is with a shawl. All designs are different,all colors are different, but when they come on a shawl, they blend in together, creating a masterpiece of art which you would not want any other way.
We are helpless on our own. We need support at least from the government, the ones in the authority who have a say and an upper hand. They are the ones who should take measures for the revival and upkeep of the arts and crafts of Kashmir. Instead they are just hollow promises that never see the light of the day. Artisans like me who make their ends meet by the sweat off their brows, working tediously on such royal and elite craft are paid less than the brick masons at work. Their daily wages are three times then we get. And with inflated costs of the basic necessities of life, what do you expect our life to be!
Many of my fellow artisans have abandoned this craft. They now are fruit sellers, shopkeepers, the grocers of the town. That is a steady income for them. I, you ask? I could never be anything else. I am and will die as a Sozin Kaar. This art is my pride and I have lived off it, a long, maybe not as fruitful alife, as I had in mind, but still I am continuing, and will till my last breath. I could have received awards for my work; I have a very neat hand. ButI could never own a shawl of my own. You need to submit your own Sozniembroidered Shawl in the process, but as it is, I was never in such a state where I could own a personal masterpiece. I work for others. Qadr Allah (Fate). Alhamdulillah! Everything is in the hands of Allah. I am content with the honor He has blessed me with; it is after all His blessing that my hands can transform a rag to a masterpiece. If just this art would survive and not die of abandonment and ignorance, I would die a happy and content man.