People know my worth in this town. They show their respect by calling me a professor or an artist. But what I do has a zero value in the market. All the craftsmen, who knew the art of carving patterns in wood and shading them, have passed away. I’m one of the last two artists left in the business. Kapurthala is known for its unique furniture with ivory inlay. But when the government banned the ivory, we started using acrylic sheets to maintain the white colour.
In 1911, my grandfather went to England as part of a team to do wooden work in English homes. We still possess the certificate he got back then. I was 10 when I held the shading pencils for the first time. We were three brothers. One died early on. The second one was the most intelligent. He completed his M.A and went to Iraq for work. I never excelled at school. My family decided to take me off the school and teach me the family profession. First thing I made was a sheet with Sohni Mahiwal carved on it. We sold it for 1500 Rupees. My father was so strict with me, I got beaten up for mistakes so many times. Who lets that happen these days.
But even after all this hard work, I didn’t achieve much. I’ve never been able to save a cent from this job. My daily wage is just 300-400 Rs. which is barely enough to sustain everyday life. Whatever little extra money I’ve made in life is from my ten years working abroad in Bahrain and Dubai. Even there I worked as a Carpenter. Before returning to India I promised myself not to get involved with this wood carving business again but I failed to keep the promise. I knew nothing else, so I had to get back to it.
By complaining so much I am not blaming the shopkeeper who has hired me, his position isn’t any better. Furniture worth lakhs is lying in the store waiting for customers. Our products don’t have local customers, they are expensive for the locals. Most of the sale happened overseas but now the government has imposed so much tax on exporting and you have to submit paperwork for all the material used in a product. The rest of the system is still corrupt. So, instead of changing anything it has made us pay more bribes.
Story and text by: Gurdeep Dhaliwal