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Have-nots Made My City Beautiful- An Iconic Mason

Nostalgia

  An Iconic Mason

By

ZGM

The past lives inside me like a sweet-smelling zephyr, as someone has said it that murmurs message of love to leaves- it smoothly re-energises my lousy nerves. That could hold for one and all. Many times, walking down the streets, lanes and by-lanes, of my birthplace the lofty buildings, marvels of our native architecture make me sing paeans for our artisans- masons and carpenters. Every piece of surviving architecture in the downtown Srinagar is an engineering marvel that needs to be showcased for the posterity. For, it’s magnificent woodwork latticed windows and projected balconies (Dub), it can pass as a grand city of architecture. The earthquake resistant and aesthetically mesmerising structures, with ground floors in green stones, two to three floors  ‘in small size, rough-surfaced and hard-fired bricks, and multiple Taqs and the top story in dhejji dewari laced with timber loudly speak about the genius of our forefathers. For their brilliance European travellers also had an appreciation. Dr Arthur Neve, the witness to 1885 earthquake years after shaking wrote:

“The city of Srinagar looks like tumbledown and dilapidated to a degree; very many of the houses are out of the perpendicular, and another semi ruinous, but the general construction in the city of Srinagar is suitable for an earthquake country: wood is freely used and well jointed; clay is used instead of mortar, clay is employed instead of mortar, and gives a somewhat an elastic bandage to the bricks, which are often arranged in thick square pillars, with thinner filling in. If well-built in this style the whole house, even if three or four storeys high, sways together, whereas more rigid buildings would split and fall.”

Many times, these grand architectures dotting the city remind me of the master masons and carpenters gifted with deft hands that during my childhood worked at our home. Some hundred yards from our Mohalla, there was a Mohalla of masons;   commonly called ‘Daa’sill Mohalla’.   Dozens of Mason families lived in this locality- some of them were master artisans. That this Mohalla, like many other Mohallas in the vicinity, was established during the period of Sultan Sikandar, when the area was booming with the construction work,  is part of the oral history passed on from generation to generation to our generation. Thousands, of artisans, were engaged in the construction of the Jamia Masjid, the universities, hostels and colleges in an around the Sikandar Pora, (present-day Nowhatta) the newly constructed capital of the sultan. The king had invited skilful masons from Central Asia. Historians like Dr Ahad testify some of the stories that were passed on to us in oral tradition; masons like “Sayyid Muhammad Nooristani and Ustad Khawaja Saadar-ud-Din Kharasani, from Central Asia during the construction of the Jamia Masjid passed on the art of masonry to scores of natives living in and around the capital.

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The Mohalla has a long history of producing master artisan with skilful hands to create marvels out of clay and wood. Names and images of masons Duloo and Samad Khar popularly called Wusta Samad and carpenter Abdul Ahad Budoo commonly called Wusta Ahud are etched in memory. Wusta Samad, was an artist, out of clay finely kneaded with Kaysir husk of paddy he created poetry on the wall of the drawing room. The lotus-shaped shelf called Kamlas, with its long intertwined stalk and with fishtail looked like a mermaid on the wall. Making, it was lovers labour; then plastered with finely pulverised clay mixed with Kalaroun – shoot of wetland plant commonly called pech. Pounded in a mortar with pestle, it was made into the finest paste and then plastered on the walls of the room including the Kamlas. With smallest trowel (Karni) that they called nalli made it shine as wood polishers did with wax polish in our neighbourhood.   On the pattern of the Shah-a-Sheen on the top floor of our house, there was an archway in the middle of our drawing room, out of clay he created an embossed artwork of garlands of different flowers.

He had mastered the art of breathing life in clay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

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