At 90, Ghulam Rasool is one of the oldest shawl weavers in Kashmir. Pursuing the profession since the age of 11, he spends almost 14 hours at work. The weaving bench is his sanctum. “For me, my life is my work, my prayers to God and weaving a shawl sincerely is a medium to offer those prayers,” says the artisan. Photographer Qamoos Bukhari quotes him along with a photograph of him at work — his skull cap placed on the bench where he intently works on
He is one of the numerous artisans who feature in Bukhari’s book Borderless: The Artisans of Kashmir (Academic Foundation, Rs 2,000). “Rasool wanted his work to be spoken about but not him. That is the sentiment of most artisans. They have dedicated their entire lives to their art,” says Bukhari, 21.
The Delhi University student recalls the possible origins of the book to a road sign that he noticed on a journey from Srinagar to Gulmarg, when he was ten. At the age of 17 he was to return to Kashmir. This is when he began to document the dying arts of the region that he has grown up listening about — from wood carving to naqashi and papier-mâché. There is Mohammad Subhan, who, after losing his son in a terrorists encounter, finds solace in his work, weaving shawls.
Ghulam Nabi Hakak, a woodcarver, recalls how he was approached by a Calcutta-based company to carve the UN logo for its Geneva headquarters, and Ghulam Mohammad notes that he is among the handful people practising zar-douzi work. Through their stories, Bukhari also touches upon larger issues. “There are shawl weavers talking about the cancellation of an order because machine-made shawls are more economical and less time-consuming, suggesting how industrialisation is impacting traditional art. Shajia moans that she is paid less than her husband for embroidering shawls even though they work equally hard,” says Bukhari.
Despite their difficulties, there is hope. Yaseen and Nargis want their children to “weave and sell Kashmiri carpets in different parts of the world”.