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A Young Doctor and Her Team are Giving New Life to Kashmir's Once Fabled Ari Work

With the workers struggling to earn a livelihood despite putting in lot of hard work, the art seemed to facing a bleak future.

With the workers struggling to earn a livelihood despite putting in lot of hard work, the art seemed to facing a bleak future.

Once a fad in Kashmir and abroad, the Ari or embroidery products lost their sheen as the Kashmiri craftsmen got bogged down with old designs and style.

Mufti Islah

Kashmir's dying needle art or ‘Ari’ work is getting a rebirth of sorts at the hands of a young gynaecologist.

From conceptualising to designing and finding a market highway, Rumana Masudi, a Srinagar doctor, is trying hard to revive the once fabled hand-art. Though this is a project in infancy, this can serve as a blueprint for similar endeavours to promote the fledgling crafts and hand artists.

Two months ago, Masudi started the Booyn Breeze or Chinar breeze, an initiative to design hip and trendy Ari-work bags. Stationary boxes, couple gift clutches, foldable shopping bags, envelope clutches, sling bags with matching stole -- all in line with latest fashion -- were added to lift the business.

Once a fad in Kashmir and abroad, the Ari or embroidery products lost their sheen as the Kashmiri craftsmen got bogged down with old designs and style. Seldom did they innovate or keep an eye out for fresh market requirements and fashion.

“The craftsmen did no rethink on the new set of designs, raw materials to be used etc. Worse, they were unable to market their products through social media, e-commerce. That disconnected them from their actual customers,” said Masudi.

She said the artisans did not get honest feedback or the sense of what the new-age customer really wants. “Some friends, my cousin and I not only reworked on the designs to make them more appealing as per market trends, but hooked them to a new target audience,” said the gynaecologist and mother of a three year old.

“I hardly get any time due to my profession and my child. I just facilitate and ideate. My cousin manages the Instagram page. I coordinate the orders and supply side. Most of the operational work is done by the craftsmen or friends and family who are helping voluntarily.”

Her cousin, Burhan Mir, a computer engineer, takes care of digital marketing and showcasing the items on social media platforms. “I sometimes give inputs on designing too,” Mir said.

Nissar Ahmad, the lead craftsman of Masudi’s team, said his business had slumped in the last few years due to the lockdown in Kashmir and the recent coronavirus pandemic. However, over the last few months, things have started looking up, he added. “We are getting orders. And, a lot of queries. There is a 15 per cent rise in business, but I am hopeful it will pick up after COVID-19 situation gets over,” Ahmad said.

Masudi said she developed an interest in the local hand-arts after a patient gifted her a sling bag with her name stitched on it. “He gave it as a gift and refused to take money. I was really touched. When my colleagues saw the bag, they ordered it too.” During a few interactions with the artist she came to know that the craft was dying and artisans are surviving on mere pittances.

Soon after, she started sharing pictures of the bag on friends and family WhatsApp groups. Subsequently, friends suggested to streamline it and give it a brand name. “My cousin jumped in and helped put up an Instagram page. That really helped in advertising the products and boosting sales. The craftsmen were really happy about it. This is how we have gone about it,” she said.

Earlier, the artisans were so disheartened, she said, that they would not encourage their children to take up the profession their forefathers had passed on to generations. With the workers struggling to earn a livelihood despite putting in lot of hard work, the art seemed to facing a bleak future.

Massarat Islam, director of the Kashmir Handicrafts department, recently asked some of the artisans to set up stalls at Numaish Gah, a traditional market in Srinagar where handicraft and handloom items are showcased. A former journalist, Islam even aired an emotional appeal on local radio to woo people to visit the stalls and boost sales.

“Pandemic has badly hit artisans and weavers. No business, no fairs, no tourists result in unsold inventory. Since exports outside the Union territory have stopped, we are urging people to buy local handmade product and help the craftsmen,” he told News 18.

Meanwhile, Masudi and her team have continued recreating designs and hitting the digital highway with a wide range of products.

"Our bags have an ideal blend of traditional designs with a tinge of contemporary ideas, silhouettes and bold colours. We can get these bags personalised with your or your loved ones’ names, making them an ideal and unique gift for everyone, especially as a souvenir," read one post. “For every item you buy, a part of your spend would be used for charity,” said Masudi.

To popularise the crafts, Booyn Breeze has started an online poster making competition for children across the globe. The theme 'how Covid has affected children' has elicited a good response locally and abroad.

“The posters were put up on the social media pages of the Booyn Breeze. Some entries were from the United States and UK,” said Mir. “This is for better traction of what we and our craftsmen do,” Masudi added.


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