The craftsman who sells rainbows

The 64-year-old craftsman was all of eight when he began learning the trade. “I started out by making glass shivlings (phallic symbol which represents Lord Shiva)\", he says.

Published: 06th January 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th January 2013 03:45 AM   |  A+A-


Jyada bolta nahin hoon, kaam karta nahi hoon,” (I won’t reduce the price as I don’t quote high) says bangle seller Haji Ali rather firmly, even as the bangles and money exchange hands in a jiffy. After all, looking at his colourful paraphernalia—glass bangles in multiple colours, shape and size—hardly anybody can resist a dekko. And least of all, when testimonials (newspaper cuttings) hung on the wall demand a second glance.

The 64-year-old craftsman was all of eight when he began learning the trade. “I started out by making glass shivlings (phallic symbol which represents Lord Shiva).” Reminiscing further, he continues, “Everybody in the family was involved in the making of it. We worked for more than 12 hours, making as many as 1,000 pieces and way back in 1956 we got Rs 8 for our efforts.”

The vagaries of business demanded a change and Haji Ali soon ventured into making bangles out of glass. And today he has honed his art to perfection. Pointing to the bangles he says, “I challenge you to find a single joint in them” and then even lightly throws it on to the ground to reveal its strength. Perfection aside, what draws the crowd are the brilliant hues, akin to snaring a rainbow and leaching its colours into the bangles. Confesses the bangle maker, “We have to achieve the colours in such a way that it matches with peoples’ clothing.”

But making these beautiful adornments is easier said than done. First, glass (and the many colours he wants) is procured from Firozabad. Then, set to work in the kiln where in a confined space braving smoke and darkness, the product is ready for use. In fact, working in such an unhealthy environment has taken its toll on Ali who now relies heavily on an inhaler. Humayun, one of his sons, who mans the stall with him, is content to do the selling. “I don’t want any of my sons to get into this. All my sons, Zafar, Akbar, Babur and even Humayun have diversified into selling different kinds of adornments,” says Ali and then as if to circumvent any wisecrack replies, “Yes, I have the entire Mughal dynasty in my family.”

Ali is the happiest when he is outside, selling his wares going place to place. “I can demonstrate right now as to how the product is made,” he says. In fact, father and son cart around a Japanese machine which is used purely for purposes of demonstration. So does he make bangles or anything else out of glass? “I stick to only bangles but I am sure if push comes to shove, I can make a bulb as well,” affirms the Delhi-based craftsman. Countless times he has demonstrated the art of bangle making in Jawaharlal Nehru University.

In the 36 years that he has plied his trade, Ali has been the recipient of many awards; he remembers receiving a cash award of 5,000 from the Sahitya Kala Kendra and one from Hyderabad. In recognition of his talent and to demonstrate the same, Ali was invited to Pragati Maidan when Mrs Obama came to Delhi. “I was surrounded by gun-toting policemen as I helped Mrs Obama wear the bangles one by one till she had a wrist full of them—18 in all. I was scared that I might break a bangle in the process and incur the wrath of the security personnel,” recounts Ali laughingly. Important personalities like Sheila Dixit, the late Sunil Dutt and even the Rani of Patiala have heaped praise on his work.

Hardly surprising that—after all who can resist these baubles or should we say bubbles of joy?

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