In a small village in Pampore, Abdul Satar Ganie is leading by example to keep his village’s unique Kangri, known for its strength and size, a desirable product in the market. Besides making the firepot, the grandfather figure is also imparting his skill among the new generation to keep the craft alive.
In Wandakpora, a village behind the saffron fields of Pampore, the name Abdul Satar Ganie commands great respect for being a remarkable master artisan. For decades now, the man in his mid-sixties has been maintaining the image of the face of the Kangri-making craft in the village. But now, with his tribe shrinking, the master is training a new generation, for keeping the spark of the craft alive.
Inside his home cum workshop, Ganie is sitting on a reed matt, wearing a halo of a busy artist. He skill-fully weaves a wicker jacket around a clay pot, before turning it into the famous firepot of Wandakpora.
“We make high standard kangris over here, known for their quality and durability,” Ganie begins, in a very amicable manner. “Our Kangri can serve the customer at least for five years.”
That’s almost a lifetime, given how the ember stoking firepots are susceptible to wear and tear.
While intersecting the twigs around the pot, Ganie terms Kangri making as a rare craft work, which is, sadly, losing its artisans to the sweeping lifestyle changes around.
But at Wandakpora, Ganie is making sure to keep the craft and the craftsmen going.
And for that, he also imparts his “noteworthy” skills to anyone who wants to choose the ancestral activity for livelihood and “service”. He imparts a strong sense of quality among learners.
Being quality-conscious makes master Ganie an inspiration of sorts for others. He makes it a point to use circular and interconnecting twigs, to weave the firepot, when others in his tribe, scattered in many parts of the valley, are using scrapped twigs.
“But usage of scrapped twigs makes the Kangri weak within days of its use,” Ganie says. “We may charge you more, but we will never dupe you in the name of ‘best’ Kangri.”
The Kangri artisans of Wandakpora make Qalib (zoo-like) structure around Kondal (a clay pot)—the feature missing in other Kangris of Kashmir. This craft detailing and layering makes Ganie’s village product costlier, than others.
Traditionally used for warming the body during the harsh cold winters, Kangri and its making have passed through a great change in Ganie’s village. Even as the village’s artisan base has shrunk from hundreds to some 10 odd families in the last three decades, Ganie is still hopeful of better days.
Behind his positive outlook is his sense of pride in being a different kangri-making class of Kashmir.
But among the new generation of Kangri-makers in Wandakpora, Mushtaq Sofi, a young artisan, expresses anguish over the state of affairs in his line of work.
Busy working in his wooden hut, Sofi hails the art, but derides the community perceptions attached to it.
“Many in our line of work were forced to quit after facing taunts,” Sofi says. “I may ignore it, but my child takes such things to heart, which forces many of us to suspend our ties with the trade.”
Sofi rues that since his tribe is being looked down upon by many, as a “petty kangriwael”, therefore, it becomes hard for him to continue with the craft.
This in turn makes Ganie’s efforts to restore the pride in the craft a very tall order.
But occupational hazards apart, Kangri makers of Wandakpora do realize the significance of their skills. “And I want to use the same fact to strike the chords with my people,” says master Ganie, while hoping for the better days.
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