An artist who has been deaf and mute since birth is carving delicate sculptures out of wood with sheer passion and unmatched brilliance.
As soon as the clock strikes 9 am, Muhammad Yusuf Muran puts on a festive smile, comes downstairs and slips into the backyard of his house. A thorough look around and he selects a block of round wood among several cut logs and climbs into a small room. Keeping the wooden block on a raised platform in his long but narrow workshop, he begins to mark it all over with a marker. Hours after the intense chisel and hammer work, a triumphant smile flashes on his face as he can see the first outline of his imagination.
The 55-year-old is nothing short of a brilliant wood carving artist. He produces artefacts and mementoes carved on walnut wood too.
Nestled amid the lanes and bylanes of the Narwarah area in Srinagar, Muran’s small workshop can send any onlooker into a tizzy.
His works of art include an elderly Kashmiri puffing a traditional hookah, a family enjoying the samovar tea in the rural landscape, a group of elephants strolling in a field, a large-sized eagle spreading its wings, Sir George (George of Lydda) seated on a magnificent horse fighting a dragon and a replica of the famous Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, among others.
The replicas and mementoes in this small workspace have won Muran worldwide recognition and accolades.
The time taken to complete his pieces depends on the intricacies of the sculpture. For instance, the Kashmiri puffing a traditional hookah sculpture (~Rs 80,000) took him three weeks but the statue of Saint George of Lydda took him five years to finish and is priced at Rs 6.5 lakh.
“I am a staunch lover of wood carving art. I have seen many masterpieces from various artists. But this man has got an unmatchable class in his work. I have never seen such perfect art elsewhere,” says Sumaira, interior designer and an ardent lover of handmade art from Central Kashmir’s Budgam. “This man simply has golden fingers,” she adds.
His younger son, Arsalan Yousuf, says that his father defeated his disabilities with a mix of imagination and accurate execution. “He has learned this art from his father Late Ghuladfm Ahmad Muran and then from his elder brother Abdul Ahad Muran, who passed away a few years ago.”
He adds, “My father’s dedication and hard work is what makes him popular. Every day, he works for almost nine hours on wood from 9 am to 6 pm, except on Friday. In the first half of the off day, he goes into the local market for purchasing the raw material and in the other half, he visits different religious places to offer prayers.”
Almost a decade ago, their family faced a lot of financial instability. “A chunk of a people used to benefit from my father’s hard work. He was only paid peanuts while the major portion of the profit was used to line the pockets of the middlemen,” Muhammad’s younger son Saqlin claims. “However, after my cousin brother opened a wood carving store, our family has witnessed a huge change in income, as we can sell our products to customers directly now,” adds Saqlin.
“Presently, I can sell my father’s products both offline as well as online. I even receive orders on social media handles too. Our customer base is increasing day by day, as apart from the buyers within the country, many orders come from Arab and European countries. Since my father cannot talk, I am looking at the marketing part of his craft,” says Saqlin.
He adds that his father gets about three to four orders a month that earn him at least up to Rs 1 lakh.
As the 200-year-old family craft is finally paying off, the business suffers from a shortage of quality wood. “There is a dearth of superior walnut and deodar wood in the market. We have to often pay extra money for getting the quality material and that makes the craft more costly,” Saqlin adds.
Muran, who only uses a quality wood of walnut or deodar for his work, takes special care while choosing the material for his piece. But despite the challenges, Saqlin says, “I have never seen him using substandard material.”
His masterpieces earned the family a name and fame in the field. But unfortunately, he is believed to be the last of the artisans practising this brilliant wood carving art.
Edited by Yoshita Rao