Papier mâché is a form of recycling waste paper into beautiful decorative objects. Like many other Kashmiri crafts, it has Persian influence. The making of any Paper mâché product is a two-step process: Sakhtsazi and Naqashi. Sakhtsazi involves construction of a desired base using paper pulp. Naqashi refers to free-hand fine painting done over the base. Paints used generally have a metallic tinge, and shading is done to give a natural appearance to the motifs. Post Naqahsi, a layer of varnish is given to the item for shine.
Urooj Fatima is a young Naqash, aged 23. She grew up surrounded by artisanship: her father, Hakim Sahib, is a master Naqash with over 40 years of experience, and her mother is heavily skilled at Aari & Sozni embroidery. However, neither she nor her 3 siblings were ever interested in pursuing craft, “My dad has never been able to save. There is no earning is crafts. He has spent all his money educating us. All my siblings are diligent students. My elder brother and I have B.Tech degrees. My younger brother is an architecture student, and my sister is doing her Ph.D.”
“My interest in Papier mâché started about 6 months ago when I started working with my father. He had started working with Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK). I got excited about the possibility of innovation, and felt we have a real chance at saving a dyeing craft.”
Fatima has been working with designer Devika Krishnan since late 2017 to develop contemporary products that will appeal to urban customers. “She is really friendly, and she has given me so many ideas. We have switched from using Saktha wood to Channapatnam. We are also focusing on a matte varnish, as opposed to the traditionally glossy one.” “I am inspired by the beauty of Kashmir, especially flowers. Poppy, peony..,” Fatima smiles. She has undergone multiple workshops drawing patterns and suggesting colour combinations for a new range of products. “We have made Russian dolls. Well, Kashmiri dolls, but using the same concept.There’s also a Ludo Board, a crossword puzzle. Children will surely love such stuff.” Fatima has also been working on Papier mâché jewelry: pendants and beads.
“I can feel a wave of change flowing through me, and through the craft industry. Earlier, we would have to go to the customers and try to sell. Never the other way round. Now, I am confident we will be approached by customers themselves.” Fatima is keen to exhibit her collection at Kisan Haat, Delhi. “The only problem is that our products are very fragile, so transportation is a problem. We need to figure out a workable solution for that.” Overall, she remains optimistic, and ecstatic that her father is so proud of her. “I want to inspire other young artisans like me, to pursue their dreams, and be more involved in this industry. Right now, they just want the easy way out, and just make money without bringing about any positive changes. I will do both. I am working on a business plan for a website, and will start marketing all over India within two years. Maybe go international as well! I will bring respect to the artisan.”