Braving situational strife and market mess which collectively put a lock on his shop for nearly a decade, a silversmith from Khwaja Bazaar has become one of the last known addresses of the native precious metal craftsmen of the Old City. Amid his fallen clientele, lost tribe and politically-sensitive hometown, the silversmith now sees skill progression as panacea for his craft.
The world outside his mud-and-brick workshop has long moved on, but Tariq Zargar has stayed old school — the incorrigible loyalist at the service of his fading art.
The master craftsman needs no introduction in Old City’s Khawaja Bazaar, where he’s known for his handmade silver rings, chains, bangles, combs, plates and old lamps.
The silversmith inhabits the archetypical neighbourhood, which has given Kashmir some of the finest jewel artisans — the Kundangars.
Those bygone precious metal designers have long walked away, owing to their neighbourhood’s immediate proximity with restive Nowhatta. The locality bears the stark signs of the offensive it faced over the years.
Broken glasses, cardboard and polythene covered windowpanes speak of the counter-defiance that spills from Nowhatta square to the inner lanes of Khwaja Bazaar, where artisans like Zargar are struggling to keep a tab on their native craft – their livelihood and legacy.
Despite the blatant distress, Zargar, at 50, carries the zeal of a young man, craving to put his creativity on the white metal.
Wearing a typical demeanour of master craftsmen of the Old City, the silversmith carefully adjusts his glasses and begins shaping another handmade silver piece. The hammering sound coming from his shop drowns in the larger metal din created by the scores of coppersmiths in the area.
Zargar was only 15, when he first stepped on his father Ghulam Hassan Zargar’s shop. He had arrived with intent. The teenager wanted to excel in skill, rather than in studies.
“It was quite a Downtownish thing back then,” he lifts his gaze for a reluctant recollection. “People here strongly believe that it’s skill that actually empowers a person in life. I had grown up hearing that idea. And therefore, I took the decision quite early in my life.”
Since then, 35 years have passed, and the man seems to have no remorse over his decision. In his part of the world, skillful are still considered empowered—than those job-struggling youth having top university degrees.
However, picking up the threads of the craft amid political uncertainty, only groomed Zargar for the bigger challenges in life.
“Back in the day, this part of city was a political arena,” the silversmith recalls. “People would face music and prison for their political affiliations. Even my father was imprisoned for the same reason. Those tumultuous times shaped up everything here. They redefined the neighbourhood and the native artisan class, most of whom were either forced to migrate or suspend the craft.”
The sweeping political undercurrents became obvious by 90s, and in the long run, it greatly impacted Zargar and his tribe.
Back then, as bunkers and pickets housing paramilitary forces began shadowing the lanes and bylanes of the Old City, Zargar couldn’t open his shop for 9-long years.
“Some shocking incidents back then also forced me indoors,” he says. “I remember, once, two persons were shot dead in front of my shop. Such memories are still stuck in my head.”
Despite the chaos, Zargar continued to shoulder his family business. And today, the silversmith is collecting pennies to reconstruct his shop. He wants to decorate it with his handmade products.
“I’ve seen so many ups and downs in my life but I never left this skill,” he says. “This skill needs more patience and hard work. There’re few people who are following this tradition now, but I really want someone to come forward and learn the skill for the sake of salvaging the legacy.”
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