Arts and Literature

Last wood bender: Deaf, mute artist carves sculptures in Kashmir

Written by The Frontier Post

SRINAGAR, Jammu & Kashmir (AA): Described as a deaf and mute artisan with golden hands, Mohammad Yusuf Muran has been carving walnut wood to perfection in his 200-year-old workshop in the Kashmiri capital Srinagar. Despite his speech and hearing impairments, his wonderful wood sculptures are brilliant examples of inspiration.

Upon entering the workshop, one finds Muran, 55, carving and giving shape to wood in various forms, such as a lion or a stag.

Using sign language and with a gentle smile on his face, he communicates with visitors, who cannot help but marvel at the fine pieces of art that he has completed.

His son Saqlain Ahmad, who also acts as his interlocutor, said his father is busy in his workshop from dawn to dusk, carving beautiful sculptures and miniature replicas of historical monuments out of walnut wood.

Experts believe that this walnut woodcraft is one of the oldest crafts originating from Central Asia. Muran is the last man that has mastery of the art despite being born with speech and hearing impairments. From utility items to sculptures, Muran’s art is breathtaking.

A work by Mohammad Yusuf Muran in his workshop, Srinagar, Kashmir, April 5, 2022. (AA)
A work by Mohammad Yusuf Muran in his workshop, Srinagar, Kashmir, April 5, 2022. (AA)

Before the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, Ahmed said that their family was selling crafts in the Pakistani city of Karachi. In the early 20th century, the family set up the craft unit in Srinagar as well.

Muran shows the tools his father used to carve out decorative items from wood.

Using sign language, as interpreted by his son, Muran said they are not just tools but “dignified tools of labor for an artist.”

Apart from wall hangings and utility items, he also uses his skillful hands to make sculptures of animals such as elephants, bulls, bears, stags and cows.

Famous personalities are also among his repertoire, and there are many such sculptures on his shelves, like that of Mahatma Gandhi, Saint George slaying a dragon and former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Miniature of mosque

But Muran is especially proud of a 6-foot (1.8-meter) houseboat he made a few years ago, and a miniature of the central mosque of the city, Jamia Masjid, that he made for Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the separatist leader who also manages the affairs of the city’s main mosque.

“He makes things just by looking at them, he is very confident and sound in that way that connects him with them very well,” said Ahmad.

He said that art was not easy. It comes with varying costs.

“My father’s eyesight has been affected and he has continuous pain in his joints,” he said.

Muran also shows his rough hands, which have many cuts due to continuous chiseling.

A work by Mohammad Yusuf Muran in his workshop, Srinagar, Kashmir, April 5, 2022. (AA)
A work by Mohammad Yusuf Muran in his workshop, Srinagar, Kashmir, April 5, 2022. (AA)

He laments that despite getting appreciation from many and bringing Srinagar to the list of UNESCO-recognized creative cities, artists like him remain underpaid and without gratitude.

“When you appreciate artists for their work, it automatically acts as encouragement to do better,” said Muran in sign language interpreted by Ahmed.

Years of underpaid labor have made it difficult for Muran to pass the art on to his children as he points out that it is difficult for the next generation to settle into a life that seeks patience and hard work without promising monetary benefits.

“Today we have a fast-paced life that lacks space for things that need time,” said Muran’s nephew, Mudasir Muran, who has introduced his uncle’s art directly to customers through social media.

Family legacy

The young Muran, who left school, was distressed to see how traders cheated his family by giving them little money for pieces of art that takes months to make.

In 2015, he started to sell crafts directly to customers online and in a physical store.

A work by Mohammad Yusuf Muran in his workshop, Srinagar, Kashmir, April 5, 2022. (AA)
A work by Mohammad Yusuf Muran in his workshop, Srinagar, Kashmir, April 5, 2022. (AA)

“My father and uncle were unable to negotiate what they deserve. They were always cheated by being paid less, but not anymore,” he said. The elder Muran is aware that his family’s legacy will die with him but believes his art will be remembered for a long time.

Experts say that the city of Srinagar, which has a history of more than 2,000 years, signifies a blend of art, culture and traditions of the region. Historians believe many artisans arrived in the region along with Muslim saints who came from Central Asia and the Middle East to spread the teachings of Islam.

They also promoted various forms of art and imparted skills to the local population.

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The Frontier Post