In Photos | Fading Colours of Old City’s Fabled Dyers

There used to be a time when the art of colouring different products in Kashmir Valley used to brighten everything, be it the merchandise or lives of dyers. But now, the colours are fast fading, as the art is dying a slow death.

The first thing that hits you in Bashir Rangrez’s dilapidated workshop in Old City’s Bohri Kadal is the pungent smell of chemicals emanating from a big vessel filled with colourful liquid.

Standing tall in the middle of this workplace, 65-year-old Rangrez was squeezing hot yarn that he just removed from the vessel.

The first step, identifying the ‘colour and the customer’. (FPK Photo/Wasim Nabi)

The dyer with four-decades of experience sat in somewhat sulking space that seemed to have forgotten to keep a tab on changing time.

The world outside this workshop carries a reputation of being the classic confrontational turf of yore — which witnessed some thespian moments in Kashmir’s contemporary history.

Next step, weighing the ‘colour temperature’. (FPK Photo/Wasim Nabi)

But now, the thawed square houses Old City’s famed Matka Kulfi sellers. Around them, the renowned spice and vegetable vendors have gotten a new identity, in the form of brand new set of billboards.

Amid this makeover, Rangrez’s workshop continues to retain its medieval charm.

“I’ve two kids; one doctor, another engineer,” Rangrez said, while he momentarily stopped stirring a big cauldron where he was dyeing woolen yarn. “I’m perhaps the last standing man in my ancestral workshop.”

‘Cooling it off’ before the cloth gets a face-lift. (FPK Photo/Wasim Nabi)

Back in the day, when guns were yet to rattle and recreate the demand of the promised plebiscite in the valley, Rangrez had stepped in his ancestral workplace as a dreamy young man. He recalled it as a different workplace, having grandeur of its own.

Then, around 60 employees used to work in tandem. “But now, things have changed,” the dyer, sounding perturbed, said. “There’s no chance of hiring anyone now, as the trade is no longer encouraging.”

Ready to dye. (FPK Photo/Wasim Nabi)

At about the same time when Bohri Kadal had become a war-turf, another local dyer had quietly walked into the dyeing workplace, to earn for his family.

Constant curbs, clampdowns, curfews and crackdowns back then had besieged Downtown. Many households had run out of rations. And the paralyzed life had begun to hit the native crafts and craftsmen very badly.

And the cloth gets a new life. (FPK Photo/Wasim Nabi)

Bohri Kadal being a cradle of Rangrezs had also begun to feel the heat. It was during this time that Imtiyaz had started working as a dyer.

Since then, 25 years have passed. And today, the bald and beardy dyer has come to believe that the dying art has hardly any takers now. “Measures like Goods and Services Tax (GST) have further doomed it,” he rued, while sorting the dyed pieces.

Letting the colour soak itself in the yarn. (FPK Photo/Wasim Nabi)

Colours are fading at a time, when the art of dyeing is picking up in mainland India, making many wonder: what’s aiding this dyeing decay in Kashmir?

The dyers mostly blame circumstances—prominent being rising fuel price, meagre returns and fallen demand—for its downfall. Some even seek government’s intervention in salvaging the age-old native practice.

With the new look, ready for market. (FPK Photo/Wasim Nabi)

“The art also witnessed a steep fall when dyeing machines were introduced in this trade,” said Wali Muhammad, Imiytaz’s co-worker. “Now, our customers prefer machine dye instead of traditional one.”

Just outside these dyeing workshops, 50-year-old Yamin Allakbandh was yawning at his colourful yarn shop.

Colourful yet going grey. (FPK Photo/Wasim Nabi)

The market was abuzz with shoppers buying the dry fruits and disposals for marriage ceremonies but Yamin’s shop wore a deserted look.

Most of his countryside-based clientele now buy products from outside the state, the yarn vendor said. “It hardly leaves anything for us now!”

Since everyone seems to have given up the hope of the revival of dyeing in the valley, the craft is completely falling flat.

And fading colours and bleak faces in Bohri Kadal’s rundown dyer workshops only make it apparent.


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