Ufaq Fatima

The man who holds on to a dying art of fabric printing in Kashmir

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Srinagar: In an age of computer controlled mechanized fabric printing, certain people still continue to hold on to the traditional printing using wooden blocks.

Mohammad Yusuf is one such artisan, locally known as Naqash here.

Picking up different types of hand-carved wooden printing blocks, Yusuf is busy putting different designs on a piece of fabric. Yousuf says that he learned woodblock designing of fabrics at a very young age.

“Although I belonged to a well-educated family, I choose fabric printing over my studies, because I was very passionate about it,” he says very contentedly.

With Kashmiri folk-music playing on a radio set, Yousuf can be seen fully immersed in leaving beautiful impressions on the clothes brought to his shop by various customers.

While narrating how the block printing designing came to Kashmir, Yousuf says this art is believed to have been brought to Kashmir by the Sultan Zain-ul- Abidin – the eighth sultan of Kashmir – and still remains one of the rich heritages in Kashmir.

“Naqsh – the blueprint of the design — is an important stage in Kashmiri shawl making. It is only after the Naqsh is imprinted on the fabric that embroidery work commences on the shawls. It is basically the Naqash who prints unique designs on the Kashmiri shawls, and subsequently the embroidery work on the design makes them attractive and famous world-wise,” says Yousuf.

Going down memory lane, Yousuf points towards his childhood picture hanging on the wall in his shop and recalls his journey of woodblock printing. “I learned this art from my master, Ghulam Qadir Naqash, who ran a shop in Aali Kadal. He taught me how to prepare ink for creating Naqsh imprints. He guided me on how to turn my passion into a livelihood.”

Situated in the Kawadara area of Shehr-e-Khas, the shop of Mohammad Yusuf is a store for thousands of woodblock designs which he has created himself. Complex, yet beautifully designed woodblocks occupy each shelve of his shop.

While filliping through different designs that he has drawn on a paper, Yousuf says that designing a Naqsh requires a lot of creativity. You have to sit and think, and then draw.

“Like any other art and craft in Kashmir, Naqsh making is also dying slowly as it is losing the race with other modern artworks. Above all, Kashmiri youth are more inclined to modern artworks as nothing is being done at the academic level to make the young generation learn and promote their own traditional ways of designing – Naqsh,” says Yousuf.

“The Naqsh making has a very less following because this art involves a lot of brain work and then there is also not much money in this business,” adds Yousuf.

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