Poverty-driven Kashmiri artisan breathes life into wood, earns Padma

Deeply drawn to learn the intricacies of the form, Ghulam Nabi Dar would work during the day to earn a living for his family while at night he would dabble in art.
Master wood-carver, Ghulam Nabi Dar of Kashmir
Master wood-carver, Ghulam Nabi Dar of Kashmir

SRINAGAR: Life has always not been easy for 72-year-old artisan. Master wood-carver, Ghulam Nabi Dar of Kashmir, was conferred the Padma Shri award by the Centre on Republic Day.

Thrown out of school for being unable to pay fees; faced with abject poverty and life’s litmus tests, he did not surrender. By sheer grit and perseverance, today, Dar is an acclaimed name in the artistic tradition of wood carving.

“My father had a small business, until he suffered great losses there. I was about 10 years old then, studying in 3rd or 4th grade. Failing to pay fees, I was thrown out of school,” Ghulam Nabi Dar hailing from Safakadal area in downtown Srinagar tells us.

He says his maternal uncle took him and his younger brother to a wood carving unit at Sarai Safakadal to learn the craft.

“I spent 5 years there but I did not learn much about wood carving. I only learnt the use of some equipments,” Dar said.

His urge to learn, delve deep into the art, took him to another wood carving unit. “I spent five years in the unit and learnt some basics of wood carving. But, it was not enough to imbibe the art,” Dar said.

Deeply drawn to learn the intricacies of the form, Dar would work during the day to earn a living for his family while at night he would dabble in art.

“A master craftsman instructed me orally on the nitty-gritties of the art. I was patient, determined; and I persevered until I learned the delicate details of the craft,” Dar says.

Now an acclaimed craftsman, Dar has evolved from traditional forms to crafting his unique pieces inspired by nature.

His artistic prowess in full bloom, he has received state and national acclaim. He was honoured with the state awards by the J&K government in 1984 and the National Award in 1995-96. He also travelled to Baghdad, where he received praise and recognition for his intricate wood carving.

Humble Dar says he never imagined in wild dreams that he would be awarded Padma Shri. “It was all so sudden. It brought celebrations in our home. My family knows the troubles I have faced in learning this craft,” he said.

The master artisan says he is ready to pass his knowledge to the future generations.

“I am telling people, especially the youth, to come to me and learn this intricate from; keep this art alive. I will teach free of cost. However, people are not interested, confused, or even intimidated by the intricate details of the art. It takes patience to learn,” said Dar.

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