Will There Be Another Generation of Wood Carvers in India?
Generations ago, Kashmiri artisans, known for their skills in carpentry and woodcarving, migrated southward from the northern tip of India in search of work. They set up workshops in Saharanpur and a bustling community of wood artisans emerged. Today narrow alleys in Saharanpur, a small city about 200 km outside of Delhi near Shivalik hills, leads you to busy workshops where artisans are sawing, sanding, and cutting wood into frames, boxes, decorative items, and more. The smell of sawdust permeates the neighborhood. Stacks of wood are perched against old brick structures in makeshift warehouses. Sitting on terraces, overlooking these alleys, artisans chat amongst themselves as they transform the materials into works of art. Two types of wood are quite popular with the artisans: sheesham, or more commonly known as rosewood, and mango. While sheesham is stronger, harder, and a denser wood, mango is more malleable and softer. Sheesham wood is local, from the state of Uttar Pradesh; dried wood from the forest is collected by the government and sold to wood-based businesses. Given the concentration of wood workshops in the city, carpentry has become a way of life. But with the recent push for mechanization, this trade is at a critical point: will a new generation of young men follow in their father's footsteps? It's been a generational craft. Even the owners of the workshops are young men, who have take over the reins of the business from their fathers and grandfathers. Each company, or workshop, has anywhere from 50 to 200 artisans working for them. Some are full-time staff, others are contractors, brought in on a daily basis, according to the needs of the business. Over 10,000 artisan units exist in the city, employing nearly 50,000 individuals. The government even provides a small subsidy to support the trade and the state government has set up the Wood Craft Design and Development Society to voice concerns in the industry. One business owner who now runs a successful workshop in Saharanpur, overseeing 150 artisans, started as a wood carver in the 1970s, earning about 200 Rs a month, or $4. Today his artisans get paid more than that each day for their efforts. Mohammad Ayub is one of those men. A local, he’s been working as an artisan for over 20 years in the same workshop, specializing in brass inlay (that is, when wooden tables, boxes, and bowls are accentuated with brass and metal). It’s detailed painstaking work requiring layers of metal to be embedded into the wood and filed down.