His hands are gifted. He knows magic. Creating immaculate shapes out of plain mud has been a gift he inherited in legacy.
His name is Zaffar and he resides in Zangam, a rural village of Kashmir, with his family of ten and a kucha one room house. Every morning, he walks twenty miles to fetch what he calls the finest and rarest alluvial soil in the mountainous region, for which he needs to plough, carry and till until they are enough to make around 20 utensils a day. As I indulge in a conversation with him - with the help of a local interpreter who translated his Kashmiri into Urdu to me, his four sons: Zeeshan, Rizwan, Zaqeer and Misal run and surround us. I smile at them and ask them whether they go to school. Zaffar hesitates to answer.
Zeeshan, the oldest one among them being around 12, is the only one who could converse in Urdu and he tells me that he used to go to school till 4th grade, where he learnt little bit of Urdu. Ever since the birth of his fifth and sixth brothers, who are around 2 and 1 respectively, he has not been going to school as his father needs his help to carry extra soil. I am taken aback. Zaffar, who couldn't make most of the Urdu that his bright young son spoke to me, asks my interpreter about what I inquired. I quickly change the topic by asking him how many pots, utensils and hukka pots he sells on a daily basis. He makes around 30 in total, out of which 4-5 get broken when they are taken into furnace and he sells them at around 10 rupees each.
I am saddened. A gifted artisan, whose art is unparalleled and whose skills could earn him fame at the world level, is making just around 200 rupees a day, for earning that he and his son have to walk for over ten miles daily, have to find and till unclaimed lands in inaccessible tract and carry around twenty kilos of soil on their backs; for which his son had to leave his school; with which he has to feed his family of ten and few months down the line, survive the biting cold of Kashmir.
Having nothing more left to say or hear, I begin to leave his house, asking Zeeshan one last question: 'do you want to go to school?' I inwardly pray to hear a yes and await his reply.
He says, 'Yes, even my father wants me to go to school. But, he needs help as well and I'm the elder son.'
I am touched by his maturity. I, being a struggling artist myself, couldn't empathize more. I made a promise to them that the next time I return, I would stay in their village for three months and teach them, and meanwhile, I'll support their education financially as much as I can, with the help of my willing friends and help Zaffar market his art in cities.
They are waiting to hear from me. I'm waiting to hear from you. Please help me raise money for rural artisans - people who are gifted but owing to their lack of resources, are not able to monetize their gift.
P.S. In case you want to help Zaffar, you can contribute in my fundraising campaign at Milaap (www.milaap.org/harsh). Having met over fifty such artisans during my ongoing tour into the roots of India, I urge you to lend your helping hand.
Empower Zaffar and thousands others by GIVING A LOAN at: www.milaap.org/harsh