Zari Workers of Azadnagar

The long road alongside the infamous dumping ground turns into a narrow lane bordered by ageing chawls. These colonies in Azadnagar, Baiganwadi, have grown besides a seven storied garbage hill. Plot 42 has 220 households, of which above a hundred earn their livelihood through zari work.

In a room on top of a tenement three men work arduously over a bright yellow cloth stretched tightly across two wooden planks. After tracing the design on the cloth by using a khakha or designed tracing paper, they mount beads onto a thin, long needle and plunge it into the cloth, pulling the thread attached from below and fastening the beads along the lines of the design.

Abdul Kalam, the young owner of the workshop, is a migrant from Uttar Pradesh,   “I don’t want to go back. We are very happy here,” he says. Beside him sits Imran Lakhangi, an attractive, confident boy in his teens. The third artisan is a quiet, brooding gentleman named Abdul Samaj, a migrant from Uttar Pradesh who has been involved in this profession for the past 35 years.

The work is contractual and this particular contract is of Rs. 1500, plus the cloth, which is provided for. Off this, Kalam spends Rs. 400 on the sequins and pays his employees Rs. 240 for two nafris (2 nafris = 7 + 4 hours of work) or a day’s work. The cloth then goes from a middle man at La Khuda Mohalla, to a wholesaler, who sends it to Saudi Arabia. There are times when the artisans do not have work for weeks, even months.

“There is no money in this profession,” laments Imran. He intends to leave this career for the air conditioning business. Abdul Samaj’s cynicism is more contemplative. “Zari, as a line of work, is dying,” he says, “It is no longer skill oriented work, it’s just manual labour.”  With the increase of mechanized work, the art of zari embroidery is fast vanishing.

Ishani Dasgupta and Sowmya Skandan.