KASHMIR In Capital: A ‘Piece of Persia’ In Delhi

Abdul Majeed Chaku in his Delhi craft workplace. KO Photos by Romaan Arora.

In this fourth part of the ‘Kashmir in Capital’ series, Kashmir Observer profiles Abdul Majeed Chaku, a resident of Srinagar, who brought woodwork—an essential part of Kashmiri handicraft—to Delhi.

 By Romaan Arora

SOME thirty years ago, in the winter of Kashmir’s discontent, Abdul Majeed Chaku came to Delhi by his own car. Fleeing the searing strife in his homeland, he soon set up a small Kashmir in a new place.

“The motive was to keep the craft active across India,” Majeed, now in his early 70s, says. “The raging conflict back home had crippled the craft as well as the craftsmen. Somebody had to think out of the box and rise to the occasion.”

Years before his crafty move, Majeed was aspiring to become a doctor. Despite securing a medical seat, he ended up becoming the heir-apparent of his craftsmen clan.

“I don’t regret that sacrifice,” Chaku, the owner of Heritage Woodcrafts, continues.

“This (woodwork) is our family business, and as I was the eldest son, I was bound to support and sustain it.”

Soon as he started shouldering his family legacy, he realized how the craft had made Kashmiris empowered during some treacherous times.

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“This spirit of empowerment belongs to Amir-i-Kabir Shah-e-Hamdan who introduced this craft in Kashmir,” he says. “I’m only trying my best to continue the Persian saint’s legacy.”

Experience speaks for itself, and Chaku is a living example of it.

More than 54 years of the craft enterprise has taught him the quintessential differences between working in Srinagar and Delhi.

“Delhi gets affluent customers from everywhere,” the craftsman continues.

“As a result, people here want an exclusive product for themselves. I’ve entertained high-end craft customers with unique products.”

For many of them, Chaku had to make wooden wall-frames for Kashmiri pashmina, copper utensils and carpets.

“The same goes for Paper Mache crafts,” he says. “This fashion sense of using Kashmiri handicrafts in interior designing isn’t common in the valley. But in Delhi, it has helped me to promote my skills and Kashmiri handicrafts.”

To meet this craft demand, he had to resort to smart work.

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“Effective and efficient management is also crucial,” he says.

“I’ve such a fine and unique variety of walnut products that the government emporiums simply pale in comparison.”

Notably, Kashmir is one of the few places in the world where walnut is still available at an altitude of 5500-7500 feet above sea level.

Given the distribution resources and rich history of more than 600 years of walnut wood carving, Kashmiri handicraft has created its own niche market.

This craft trade has not just uplifted people out of poverty, but also brought the scope of further popularity of the flagship art.

“But sadly, times have changed now,” Chaku laments.

“Earlier we used to have great patrons of art. But now, we’re losing our artisans. There’s no government support. If you’ve to find an artisan, you’ve to search for a complete hamlet because of lack of proper clusters.”

Due to lack of proper clusters, there aren’t many names in the woodwork industry now. This lack of players leads to the stage of almost zero competition, which further results in a monopoly.

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“This monopoly causes an unfair price rise,” Chaku explains. “We’ve such a high production cost that a lower class or lower-middle-class person can’t afford our products. This is a tragedy for the industry. If this trend continues, you won’t find any woodwork artisan in Kashmir after 10 years.”

But in Delhi, Chaku is second to none.

Right from his initial days in the capital, there was no major player in the market.

“So there was no question of competition,” he says. “I solely ended up creating more employment for the locals here.”

But amid the capital commotion, Chaku often turns taciturn and recalls the day when he first came as a craft merchant.

“It has been one heck of a journey,” he says, “and surely, a fulfilling one!”

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