14th - 15th February 2017
Below is an excerpt from the KumaonBuild diaries:
Date: 14th February 2017
Time: 11:00am (start of the walk)
Jeevan ji took us to Diyari village. There was a total of seven of us (Sheeba, Lalita, Manvendra, Jyothi, Jeevan ji and we two). He first introduced us to Lalit. Lalit is a young man, aged 21. His family came to greet us. We requested to see some of his work. He went inside his house and came out with pieces of wood with beautiful carvings done on them. There were multiple planks and a chaukhat too. After having clicked pictures, we inquired about how he learnt the craft. He said, “I have always been passionate about nakkashi (another term for likhai) and I do it as a hobby. Back in 2002, when I was six years old, I first saw a nakkashi done by bubu (Gangaram ji) which was a gift for a politician Yashpal Arya. Since then, I’ve been interested in this craft”
He further added that he quit school after completing 8th standard (in 2008) and worked on his likhai for 3 years randomly. Gangaram saw his work and since had him as a helper/apprentice for a few works. He also adds that Gangaram is short tempered, and easily loses his cool if the work is not up to his expectations and hence been tough to learn from.
His family consists of his father, Lacchi Ram, who works as a carpenter; mother, who works on field and brother Pankaj, who is studying B.A. from a college in Almora.
He had only two tools to begin with which were given to him by his father. He has since added many more tools to his set by having Gangaram’s tools replicated by a blacksmith. Talking about his tools he says, “I used to save 5-10 Rupees at a time and when they were enough (around 500), would take bubu to the blacksmith and have the tool made. However, my set is still incomplete as the tools cost a lot of money.”
He is currently working as a carpenter for a temple construction at Shabail.
We paid a short visit to Gangaram ji and Lalit came with us. Gangaram ji showed us the photographs of the work he has done over time and a Jharoka that he had been working on. The Jharoka was one of the finest that I’ve seen yet. It is for his son’s shop which is further down the hill. Showing us his work he added, “I’ve grown really old now, I don’t have the strength needed to work anymore. Moreover, my eyes are also weakening.” Pointing to the bifocal lens of his glasses, he said, “I can even barely see through these.”
As planned, we then went to Durgaram’ place. Durgaram looks very old for his age. He says that he is 50-55 but looks around 70. He is almost deaf and partially mute. He had come with us to Sheeba’s place the day before and Sheeba had bought the sculpture of the barking deer he had made and we had promise to come see him hoping to see likhai done by him.
He was sitting out in the sun when we arrived. He gestured his wife to bring his work from inside. She came out with a 2 feet tall sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi and a smaller sculpture of a cat made from wood. Apart from these, he has made a face-mask made out of wood, a Ganesh on his exterior wall, wooden cupboards and Jharoka (no likhai) and a chair out of PVC pipes.
His wife Narayani telling us about him says, “He is very smart but his health has always been struggling. Moreover, he is also unemployed.”
Suresh Chandra Arya :
He is 62-year-old. When enquired about likhai he says, “I used to do likhai work when I was 15 years old and did it for 10 years. I currently do not have any work to show to you though. I’ve been working for Survey of India for the past 30 years and I’m to retire in a few months. I’ll take up wood work again.” He further added that he has recently lost his wife and has a lot of family responsibilities to deal with currently. Sheeba asked if likhai was widely used when he was young, to which he replied, “No, it wasn’t very common and only the ‘fancy folk’ would get it done.” He added, “My grand-parents worked as likhai artisans for 20 paisa a day.”
He did seem to know a lot about the likhai artisans that were. He told that Gangaram learnt his craft from Nariram, an artisan from Bairoli village while he learnt it from Hiraram. He knew Lalit too, and said that if given good guidance, he would excel at this craft.
Date: 15th February 2017
Time: 11:00 am
Lalit came with us to Sheeba’s Place. We talked to him about likhai and how we want to support him as a budding artisan. Talking about his design process he says, “I first observe things around me”. Pointing to a leaf on a nearby tree, he added, “I can make this on wood. I would first make a drawing of it on paper or cardboard and then trace it onto the wood. Thereafter, carve it on the wood.”
To support him and for carrying out our documentation, the following objectives were decided:
Have Lalit do likhai for the ceiling of Sheeba’s living room as is done Gangaram’s home. Also, a bracket for the external door. Lalit would accompany us to Gangaram and learn with him while we are documenting.
We will label all his existing tools and help him getting all the tools needed.