He lost the best years of his life in a Pakistan jail but former spy Gopal Das may have something to thank his former captors for in his twilight years.
Back home after 27 years,what Das now needs is a livelihood. The government,for which he risked his all as a spy,has given him the short shrift something that rankles Das no end. But he draws hope,ironically,from his days in prison when he mastered the crafts of beading,embroidery and needlework that might now become his calling here.
Das says he learnt the skills from his Pakistani and Indian jailmates. And his craft peculiar to Muslim artisans in Lahore across the border has proved a hit here,with all 30 pieces that he brought over with him being lapped up by his relatives and friends. They are very happy to wear the jewellery pieces These are rare pieces that are not available in India, he says.
Das nephew Madan Lal is one amongst the ardent admirers of his craft. Chacha gave me pens and mirrors; the children liked the necklaces and wristbands and the women in our homes loved the necklaces and chains. These are shiny and look durable, said Lal.
Till just a few weeks ago when he crossed over into India,Das had no idea that his jail hobby could be his calling in the free world. But now he is thrilled when people he knows allude to his art and call him an artist.
Das says he took up the beadwork and embroidery as a hobby in jail to while away time. Another Indian prisoner,Charan Masih,who made similar pieces,was his first inspiration. It (the work) attracted me and I found it interesting. Some Muslim friends,including Mohammad Bhurha,helped me improve my skills further.
Soon,though,the shiny bags,keyrings,chains,bangles,mirror wraps,wristbands and necklaces he made became a source of income for Das and paid for small indulgences,such as perfumes,toiletries and food from the jail canteen.
The pieces he and the other artisans in jail made were sold in the market as well as in exhibitions that were periodically organised on the jail premises. It was delicate and painstaking work,but the money was good,too. Das says he used to sell each bag for Rs 1,500.
I learnt the art so well that my Pakistani friends said I was a better artisan than them, says Das,beaming. He is now keen to pursue his craft here. See,I have no livelihood available to me. All my youthful years are spent. This is one thing I excel in and might take up as my primary avocation, he says.
Raw material a worry
Gopal Das is enthusiastic about his craft but fears that finding the right raw material might not be easy. His failing sight is another cause of worry. Das says he needs shiny beads made of stone and plastic,besides plastic wire,to make the trinkets not only beautiful but also durable.