In a shabby looking shop, a man who looks in his mid fifties is busy in doing his work. As he very delicately looks at the piece he is working on, a green-coloured cloth, and moves his fingers swiftly to draw designs on the cloth with a needle, he introduces himself as Nazir Ahmed. On the wall behind him are some five to six pherans are hanging.
His shop is located at the end of a line of shops on a busy street of Baghimehtab. He says pointing towards the shop, “I pay rent for this shop.” Hailing from Zaina Kadal area of Downtown Srinagar, Nazir has been into this business of tillé káem for more than 48 years now. He comes to his shop in Baghimehtab from Zaina Kadal every day. He says he learnt the art of Tilla work from Abdul Gaffar popularly also known as Waste Gaffar from Maisuma. He initially started working for another master in Dalgate.
As he completes drawing a flower with golden and red thread on the neckline of green piece of cloth, he smiles at his visitors. The shop, his workplace is a small room-like shop, where there is a piece of pink cloth on one side which showcases various designs of tillé káem. Nazir told Ground Report that during his 48 years of the journey he faced several health issues. “My eyes got affected the most, I cannot see anything without the specs,” he says. Nazir shares a very cordial relationship with his fellow shopkeepers a tailor and a goor (milkman) who vouched for the honesty of his work. Nazir says, “This art needs honesty, only honest and dedicated people can do it.” He also went on saying that, “Patience is also the key, as one has to just sit down at one place and do the work.” Nazir who is working alone in his shop, which he has named as, “Nazir Embroidery Baghimehtab”. He has been in this shop for more than 17 years. He also awaits the arrival of his receipt book.
Nazir Ahmed is the lone bread earner of his family and says that pandemic has affected his work tremendously. He says, “The inflow of costumers was always good but now covid affected all of it, now seldom customers come here.” Nazir started this work when he was only 12 years old, because his father had fallen ill. When asked about his education, he laughed and said, “pormut ne kihin, wumri wuchmut sirf museebatei (I have not studied much, I only faced hardships in life.)” He gave upon his studies and started working to earn for his family. As he continues to do the embroidery he talks about his family. “I have two children, one daughter who is studying law and a son who is in the first year of his college,” he says. His all earnings and income comes from Tilla work. He further added though hand Tilla which they popularly call “atthe kaem” is still dominant yet the machine work also known as machine tillé has had its own consequences on the art. He also is of the opinion that presently this work is also going through hard times as it is about only sitting at one place and working. He said that he earns some 200 rupees a day, “But if we have some help from workers then we can earn good.” Upon asking why not he has any workers for help he said, “Everyone does their own work.”
Despite facing all of the hardships he is still happy and says ‘Shukur khudayas Kun’ (all thanks to Allah). He also says that since this art is all about sitting at one place and working hard this art is a “moazoor kaar (immobile work)”. He adds, “If people learn this art or learn this skill and if one has good savings only then this work can strive through hardships.”
He stressed on the fact that honesty, hardwork and devotion are the most important factors that are required for this art. He also gave a message to the new brood of young artists who are learning about this art, he said, “Be patient with it.”
He further said that there are alot of “wastè” who teach young girls and women this art.
Nazir Ahmed opens his shop at 9 a.m in the morning and closes it at around 7 p.m. He says that, “It takes me more than 70 rupees as fare for travelling.” He also said that previously he used to earn much but now after the lockdown it has become difficult for him and his expenses. When asked whether he ever thought about advertising his shop, he said, “It is all about money. I wanted to expand it and hire workers but what to do.”
He also acknowledged that during his whole 48 years of work experience he has come across all kinds of customers, “Almost everyone has been nice to me but there have been some who were a bit rude, but still most of the people are nice and gentle to me,” Nazir said. He also added he keeps giving concessions to the needy customers.
Nazir Ahmed while talking about how this art can be saved, said, “Government could lift up this work but the schemes they have for us are of no help. They give loans on heavy interests. If government sets up schemes and loans with low interest it can actually help the craftsmen in a lot of ways.”
As radio plays by his side Nazir gets back to his work with a smile on his face. He calls radio as his “saathi (companion)”.
It is believed that Tilla work was introduced in Kashmir by celebrated Sufi saint Shah e Hamdan (RA), when he along with 700 artisans came to Kashmir after Taimur’s invasion. It is also said that Tilla work has its origin from Zari village of Iran. Tilla work is essentially needlepoint embroidery done with silver or gold thread. Amazed by the craft it was uplifted by Mughal emperors. Tilla work is done on pherans, shawls, kameez salwars, lehangas and other ethnic wear.
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