Far from the maddening urban rushof the Srinagar City, somewhere in the remoteness of Ganderbal, our quest for exquisite art forms of Kashmir let us to a young artist, an unsung hero ofthe soil who with his creative genius fashioned a new specimen of craftsmanshipwhich came to be known as The Stone Art.
A cool breeze begins to lift as wenear his house in Guzarbal, refreshing our senses and promising of a freshburst of creativity. Manzoor Ahmad’s house faces a spectacular waterfall, onewhich plays a rhythmic gush of water while he contemplates his new designs. Heis an artist, a skilled craftsman who gathers naturally colored stones fromvarious mountainous terrains of the valley and then fashions them intoingenuous pieces of art.
As we enter his brightly lit house,Manzoor, a young 30 year old man timidly greets us, his coy demeanor evident.He sits in a room laden with masterpieces of art - stoneportraits of world leaders, floral landscapes and Manzars(scenes) from various genres of life. Barks of trees and raw and groundstones of every possible color are scattered throughout. He sits against abackdrop of awe inspiring stone paintings, hisAuzaar (tools) spread hawked in front of him. It takes a while till thisbashful young man finally opens up to us.
“My name is Manzoor Ahmed. I am have been an artist for the past 17years of my life. It was during my school days that I started taking interest in paintings. As a child, I would draw and paint using regular sketch pens. As time went by, I began sketching. I would take inspirations from the natural landscapes surrounding me and put my heart and soul into these very sketches. Gradually, as my hand steadied upon the paintings, I began adding life and color to my artwork using regular water colors available in the market. But this was not my dream. I wanted to my art to stand a class apart. I wanted to create something of my own – something magical which nobody had ever seen or heard of. I thought of waste material and starting adding it to my paintings to give them a unique edge. However, I soon learnt that there were many a people who were recycling wastes and using them in art forms. And hence, I ideated over the concept of making paintings and art forms using only stones. This took a while because the stone art was different. But it was exactly as I imagined it to be. And thus I went on the outlook for various types of stones to different corners of the Kashmir Valley.As I got acquainted to the world of stones, I learnt that each one was different from the other – in color, in texture, shape and size. I tested each stone to determine which one can be used and which one cannot.”
We observe a half done painting lying at his desk. He has roughly blueprinted a farm house over its wooden board. Looking at the rough graphing, it would be impossible to determine how resplendent and beautiful of a masterpiece this will turn out to be. Inquisitive about the process of deft craftsmanship that follows, we ask him how he manages to transform stones into something this level of impeccable. He smiles and shares his secret recipe with us.
“I travel to remote nooks and corners of the Valley to gather naturally colored stones. The search of these stones has led me to Zojilla, Sonmarg,Thajiwas, Naranag and even Ladakh. Every time I gather stones, I first determine if test them to see if they would do well when put in a painting.
I grind the usable ones in a traditional Nyaem. It has to be done by manually to attain the perfect consistency. There is no machine which can achieve this. Some stones are left untouched for an occasional brazen look.
I then pass the ground stones through a sieve in order to separate the fine ones from their more granular counterparts. Both of these types are used in accordance to what the painting demands.
I draw a blueprint over this wooden board and brush it off. Then I mount the stones over it with the help of a regular plucker. Each stone has to be separately filed before it is stuck over the final piece. This takes plenty of time, feat and concentration on my part”, says a modest Manzoor Ahmed. He shows us the sprinkling of stone dust over his painting with the help of a casually shaped paper. The precision leaves our mind baffled.
“The next to final step is sticking these stones over the wooden board for the painting to be complete. However, itis not just stones I use. Barks of alpine trees such as Deodar and their skin,Willow twigs and more are also used occasionally. The painting is eventually varnished to enhance the natural colors of its stones.”
He pauses for a minute, hesitant over a thought and then continues:
“I putmy heart and soul into the making of these paintings. Right from the scratch, they are purely handmade –no artificial colors, no use of machinery, no external help of any sorts. It takes me somewhere around 3 to 6 months to make a single painting, depending upon its size and I don’t mind. This craft is my invention. It is my baby. However, it disheartened me when such specimens of my craftsmanship did not get recognized and hence, did not sell. With no income and lots of expenses, I carried on for sometime with my family's support but eventually decided to quit and move to Saudi Arabia for a job. It grieved me to think of this, but I had no alternative. I was on the brink of shunting out my love for Stone Art when I met Aasif and Umair, the founders of PastelBox who saw the worth of my art and kept me motivated enough to carry on for some more time, while they make enormous efforts to showcase it to art lovers across the valley and the world. Their initiative became a harbinger of hope for me. We set up a small shop here in Ganderbal which features my products.
PastelBox now has featured my products on the platform of Kashmir Box, which I really look upto.This step will help me show my products to craft lovers across the world and hopefully to be recognized for the work I so meticulously and lovingly do. I have decided to carry on for 1 more month. If these efforts bring forth any result, I will never think of leaving the craft. It is my own found love. Why would I want to quit something I hold so close to my heart. When I started making paintings in stone art, I wanted to take it to a pinnacle of glory and success. Today, it grieves me to even think that my financial restraints could lead me to quit this art.”
His words moved us. And while we bid him farewell, we make a firm resolve to restore the artist's faith in his artwork.