MAKER'S STORIES - Gulam Mohammed Bhat
Respected were the Pashmina artisans in the ancient society when their art was considered unique and pain staking. The immensely talented craftsmen lead Kashmiri economy to be a rising one. It started when a Sufi saint Mr Syed Ali Hamdani came from Persia with more than 700 craftsmen who trained the locals in several crafts, with one of them being Pashmina. It created a huge impact on Kashmir and changed it positively forever in every aspect, be it the social setup or financial standing, Kashmir saw goodness in all realms. The situation was leading rise to popular industries, increasing employment, while making Kashmir independent of all dependencies. Pashmina making was the most famous and widely spread craft. People from Europe used to visit Kashmir to shop these handmade crafts and to enjoy the picturesque scenic beauties in the valley. Earlier, one single shawl would engage as many as 30 skilled artisans with itself to create the real fineness, but thanks to today’s power looms, the picture has changed quite a lot, it affected the livelihood of hardworking artisans who had the real skill to be working with hands. There were artisans who switched to jobs, some who became totally irrelevant and some who lost confidence to ever work again. Yet there were some who still had hope, and continued to work on a poor salary with Pashmina. Meet the 70 year old Ghulam Mohammed Bhat – the master of hand embroidery, who spent his childhood watching and learning from his uncles hand embroidering Pashmina. He was such a talented artisan that apart from Pashmina, he used to easily hand embroider Shahtoosh (before it was banned), which is even harder than Pashmina, with the fiber having a diameter of less than 10 microns, making embroidery a great challenge on it, but never for Shahtoosh. Yet it was Pashmina which kept him content and financially stable. But with the advent of power loom, master skilled artisans like Bhat also faced the brunt. With the power looms doing double the work than handlooms, hand embroidery artisans were forced to work double yet were not even paid half of it.