-Allan Harold Rex
Bangle sellers are we who bear/Our shining loads to the temple fair…/Who will buy these delicate, bright/Rainbow-tinted circles of light?/Lustrous tokens of radiant lives/For happy daughters and happy wives. . The 300-odd shops market their ‘shining loads’ under the glitter of powerful lights.
Making inroads into the dusty by lanes of Lad bazaar , we see ill lit shops; where practitioners of a secret art work day in and day out. They are busy with the work, for this festive season promises them customers. Tourists, brides and young women teem the streets of love that is popularly called as Lad bazaar. Under faltering tube light a group of old men practice the art. All their life they have been craftsmen of this art. This men who now falter in their age are oblivious of a bustling city like Hyderabad where corporate giants like Facebook and Apple make abode.
‘On a good day it only took 6 or 7 of us and a good 10 hours before we finished off with 1 lakh bangles’ says Asif while he reminiscence about his bygone days, and friends who aren’t with him anymore. Asif with his long flowing hair is well into his 80’s and is wary about this craftsmanship and art for which no one takes responsibility. All his children and grandchildren have taken to other occupations and he fears that his lineage ends with him.
‘It came down to us from hakims of Persia,’ said Asif when quizzed about the origin of the tradition ‘Or maybe even, it might have even come down from the local artisans of Vijayanagara kingdom’.
But maybe it is in the belief of men like Sayyid when they say:
‘ Unoo Kaan Se Hayn-ki, saalon se yainch hain,’ in other words,
‘Don’t ask me from where they come, they have been here for years,’. Sayyid, a stout man, probably around 60 years. He takes time out for a break, toking on a cigarette. He is pertinent and insistent about the secrets of the trade and believes that any information that we need can be given by the front end shopkeepers but not by them the keepers. Maybe it is this insistence that comes off as a harness when passing over their artistry.
Walking down the alley dotted by bangle shops on either side of the road, we come to see that they are illuminated by the glitter of the bangles: lac bangles, metal bangles and jhumkas.
Amjad sits in front of a bangle shop, right in front of him is a charcoal pit and next to him are the various assortments with which he moulds, mends and makes lac bangles. His whole practice and gaze are ancient, one that is as old as his artistry. He smiles, baring his teeth that are as yellowish as the lac moulds in front of him and talks – there is hardly any money in bangle making but it is all that I know.
Down the alley, small boys of all ages work as custodians of the shops. Some of them wave at us, drawing our attention into the shop while others tend to clean up and arrange the shop .
Inaam, maybe as young as 10 years, calls us into the shop with the finesse and substance that can fail any marketing person. He volunteers and talks about the lac, the metal stone, the family side and the jhumka bangles. But he insists, that he doesn’t want to be photographed and perhaps it is here that the real problem lies. In the last couple of years, 400 or more children were rescued from the bangle manufacturing units. Mohd Suban whose family has been making bangles for centuries without employing child labour feels bringing children into the very act has impacted the credibility, the market price and the quality of the bangles.
Sami & Sons at Lad bazaar is one shop we ventured into, talking with Samiuddin, the shop owner, he details us about the intricacies that go into fine tuning each piece. He talks in length about the female psyche, about their choice of colours and how every women likes to wear something stunning. Keeping this in mind, Samiuddin and his bandwagon of artisans fine tune bangles for each and every season. He says that if there is a huge demand for ‘jhumka bangles’ in the time of Ramzan, then it is the lac bangles that are sold off more during the time of Deepawali. He bears testimony to the many shops in the Lad Bazaar as giving the best variety of bangles at the most reasonable of price and he says that all the celebrities who had visited his shop from Shilpa Shetty to Neha Dupia would endorse him for the same. Even with all this happening, he agrees that it is never easy for the karigaars (workers), because they hardly etch out a living and it is a tedious work right from setting the lac to etching out intricate designs and making patterns with cut out pieces of glass and stone.
Like with any human wagon, the plight of the worker or artisan is undermined here as well. But they toil on, in this 300 odd shops, every different men with a different story to tell. And burning iridescently with a night – their pits ceaselessly casting and mending hollows.