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Survival is the first concern here, benefits can come later
Teresa Rehman

Metal bound: Urus Ali
As a newly-wed, it was harrowing at first for Jessina Begum to endure her artisan husband’s constant hammering on the bell metal that was his trade. “My ear drums used to ache and I couldn’t sleep for months together. Later I got used to the sound, but my voice became really loud because I had to yell whenever I wanted to talk to him,” Jessina smiles. But now, after more than 25 years of life with Mohammad Urus Ali, Jessina is pained by the silence that has engulfed not only her house but her entire neighbourhood for the last four years.

Time seems to have come to a standstill in this squalid Muslim locality, an anomaly in Guwahati’s otherwise posh Uzanbazar. Over 100 years old, and home to over 350 Muslim households, the area is known as Islam Patty, or also Moria Patty after the artisan class that established it. The Morias once specialised in handmade brassware, but their craft is being squeezed out of existence by cheaper mass-produced goods from Moradabad which have flooded the market. “But handmade brassware has a higher copper content and is lasts longer,” Ali points out.

Ali started in the trade at age 12, having inherited his skill from his father, Imran Ali, who in turn had it from his father, Ramzan Ali. The craft is an arduous one; the artisan works with a 10-15 kg hammer beating form out of sheets 30-40 kg in weight. “Because of the hard work, I used to eat well and sleep tight too,” grins Ali. “But all that’s stopped now.” Pointing to a handmade pitcher, carefully wrapped in a jute bag, he says, “That was my last piece of work, I kept it for memory’s sake.”

For four years, the family has been struggling to make ends meet. Ali and Jessina, both school dropouts, are very keen that their two sons complete their education — the elder began college this year and the younger is in Class ix. In Assam, the Morias come under the mobc category and can avail of seats reserved in professional colleges. However, there are hardly any graduates from Moria Patty. “It’s a known fact that we do not get jobs,” Jessina says. “I would love to make lawyers out of my sons. But I don’t know how long we will be able to fund their studies without any source of income.”

Nov 18 , 2006