Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
Why would Mumbai be interested in brass works from Moradabad?” queries a world weary brass works dealer. Moradabad Metal House, which he works for, boasts a hundred inch tall brass vase in dull antique finish. It bears conceitedly a flowing, minute flower and leaf pattern, carved by hand in a span of 12 years, and painted in subtle red, green and blue enamel. In Akbarali & Co. gleams a hundred inch tall brass hookah, with similar geometric carvings. Riyaz Collections displays tiny brass toys for children, including a baby kitchen set, and Al Kausar Collections a variety of coffee sets fit for a variety of sheikhs. Engraved brass armours, swords and shields (for decoration), cutlery, surais, silapchis and badnas ( for use: washing a guests hands), khaas daans, paan daans, gulab paash (for sprinkling rose water), flower pots and even dustbins form the ensemble of these wholesale and retail units. Brass handicraft from most Mumbai homes (ranging from three to 100 inches in size) could eventually be traced to this string of stores on Ebrahim Rahimtulla Road, Pydhonie.
And from there, to Moradabad, UP, where each outlet owns a manufacturing unit. From these factories, in turn, shaped brass products are sent to artisans’ homes, for the sawaari kaam which gives Moradabad its fame. Some of the Pydhonie outlets are over a hundred years old, during which time the artisans have faithfully been providing the city’s common man with painstakingly detailed artwork that one can afford, and show off.
“Today, many of Moradabad’s best artisans are out of work, some of them having to pull rickshaws for a living,” most proprietors sigh. The price of brass has shot up worldwide, and a shortage of the same in India necessitates import, adding import duty to cost. Chinese companies on the other hand are producing similar merchandise made from iron or aluminium products which substitute brass ones at half the cost. “The demand today is not for longevity, but for cheap products which can be dumped easily, when tastes or trends change,” a partner at Al Kausar, says, pointing to Moradabadi brass and Chinese iron hookahs next to one another. Middle class buyers who earlier bought brass, today overlook its intricate handmade quality and re-sale value (brass scrap ensures a return of up to half the purchase price), for the cheaper Chinese spin off.
Predictably, the government is the prime accused, for removing subsidies, ceasing tax cuts, promoting lobbying and signing a GATT which only led more competitors to chomp into this small scale industry’s piece of the pie. But the Association of Small Scale Exporters recently formed would do better in collectively catching trends to suit their wares via interior designers in India and abroad, and getting their artisans to work on materials other than brass. Akbarali & Co., seemingly the most prosperous of the lot has started doing this to good effect. Else the artisan turned rickshaw puller from Moradabad might one day end up dead under a rich-kid road-rage, or hungry outside a BMC Commissioner’s bungalow. Then Mumbai will have to be interested.
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/s936