- Riddhi Dasgupta
Restoring Faith in Our Artisans: CtoK’s Responsibility to Aslam Bhat
Persian influence gave rise to copper metallurgy in Kashmir, in the 14th century. Mohd. Aslam Bhat’s family is one of many that have kept this art alive through generations. Bhat grew up listening to the sound of metal beating, and fell in love with it one stroke at a time. He has finessed his skills as a molder over the past 38 years, and is hungry to keep learning.
Bhat has worked with multiple designers in the past, and thoroughly enjoys the process of design intervention. Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK) designerTauseef Rehan Abidi expresses awe over his experience working with Bhat, “He is so skilled, he can make complex moulds using a limited set of tools. His ability to translate designs so close to the original concept shows how receptive he really is.” Keeping this in mind, an entire product range consisting of decor items, lighting, and furniture has been developed for him. Over few workshops, he has successfully mastered the make of serving spoons and aroma diffuser.
Bhat is working hard to overcome the limitations in the process of making copper: “I need to upskill on the finishing of my products. Copper is not as long-lasting as other handmade metal products, and we need to find a way to improve that. We cannot put paint on usable items like cutlery, so I am keen to figure out which consumer-friendly chemicals to use, in order to preserve the metal’s beauty. ” He is also keen to improve on the process of production, in terms of reducing time required to make products, and wastage of material.
Inspite of years of experience, Bhat has maintained tremendous humility. As a result of that, he is supremely self-aware of his personal hindrances. “My main problem is that I haven’t been able to appeal to the contemporary market. In the end, what I make for my own personal use is different, and what the market likes is different. I have to be able to please my customers. CtoK is helping me bridge that gap.”
“I jumped at the opportunity to come to Pune,” he says, with relation to CtoK’s collaboration with Studio Coppre. “I didn’t even know Pune had copper! It’s everywhere! See, I know so little!”, he laughs. “It is amazing to work with the artisans here, I am brushing up on my polishing and finishing. There are so many kinds of people here, I observe them as they walk into the workshop. Maybe one day, with God’s grace, I will have such clients walk into my workshop as well.”
“One important thing I have learnt being associated with CtoK, is that I deserve respect as well. It is okay for someone like me to want to make a good profit. It is okay for me to ask double of my making charges. Earlier, if the raw materials cost me Rs. 700, I would ask for Rs. 1,000 for the finished product. I have children, and I used to stay up multiple nights thinking I don’t have the capability to leave anything behind for them. I am just a labourer.” Bhat’s voice trembles as he recollects hard times. Bhat believes there is a growing hope for artisans,“I am not educated, I chose this path because I was passionate. I want my customers to know who I am, and how thankful I am to them for giving my products a home. Identity through my work is the biggest gift for me.”