Education: Class five.
The silver work of Kachchh, also known as Kachchhi work, has long been admired. Bhuj has been historically celebrated for the ingenious work of its artists. However, times have changed and the art form is in decline. Ghanshyambhai Pomal is one of the few artists who still do the work, and he is struggling to survive by relying on this once renowned craft. His son is now studying commerce, with a special interest in tax, while his brother is also not interested in silver work.
Ghanshyambhai has his own small-scale workshop, where he spends each day on his own following the various processes to manufacture fine silverware. Being alone lets him focus constantly on the work, but also means his output is low. In making his silverware he utilises a number of indigenous tools. He uses a patospecially made out of mati (clay), vani (ash), tel (oil), and kolsa (coal), upon which the silver is placed and shaped to the desired size. For raising the silver into various products he uses techniques from the jewellery industry. For carving the designs on pieces kheela, or nails, are used.
He begins his work at eight in the morning. The methods he employs are those taught to him by his father and grandfather. He has been doing this work for forty years. All the different aspects of silver work including raising, blowing, carving, and polishing is carried out in his workshop which was previously his residence. For polishing the silver, in a tub of water he mixes aritha (a type of nut) and washes the pieces with a brass brush. To make soapier water he boils the aritha seeds.
Most of the items he had collected personally were buried in the rubble during the earthquake, but Ghanshyambhai continues to design the same sort of silverware products. He has manually drawn out many designs to act as his templates, some of which are his own, and some that are traditional or taken from design books. Previously, he used pencil and now uses markers for tracing these designs.
His tools include a round and half round tankda (pointer),hathodi (hammer) and kheela (nails) of different size. For doing fine work he uses nail of size zero. These nails are locally available in the market. Then he sharpens them as per his requirements and heats and moulds the nail if an inverted tip is needed. Figures such as birds and animals (namely tigers or lions) commonly feature as part of his designs. Carving a bird motif is a particularly time- consuming task.
Most of the time, he spontaneously derives his designs. Ghanshyambhai works on both machine-made and handmade silver, and sometimes pays a few hundred rupees for additional decoration. He can also make copies of ready-made products and gets may order of this type: if a ready-made product costs around 6,000 rupees, he will charge 7,000 for a handmade version. These hand-made products are popular with his buyers. From cutting the plate, raising and spinning, he completes all the processes by hand. For casting, he mixes clay and jaggery and boils it. The clay used is red clay extracted from the nearby hills. The silver comes in bars from Mumbai, Ahmadabad and further afield in China of around 32 kilos, and this is melted to make his products.
Ghanshyambhai receives direct orders from the silver merchants and temples of both the Hindus and the Jains. He has also made victory trophies for the military in Kachchh. If he receives a large order, he hires at least three other labourers. If those hired labourer work from 7 to 10 each day, they can make up to 500 rupees. The logic is that if they do work of thousand rupees, half goes to Ghanshyambhai and half is the labour fee.
He doesn’t get direct orders from the foreign countries, but he believes that indirectly his work goes to places such as Muscat and East Africa thanks to the purchases of NRIs in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. He had also fulfilled several orders of the affluent Bhatia merchants of Mandvi, who are globally well-connected. He had also made ornaments for the royal horses of Muscat. For making those ornaments he received drawings direct from the client. Other these examples he hasn’t received any direct contracts from the foreign clients or tourists.
On his products, he doesn’t follow the system of putting his signature or mark on them, which was in vogue in the past. Once the final product is made, if the buyer has time they check the work, or else trusting Ghanshyambhai, they simply take it home. This is most often the case as Ghanshyamdas has built up a good reputation for making high-quality work.
After the earthquake, both the landscape and regional settlement patterns of Bhuj transformed considerably. Consequently, it has become more difficult to maintain regular contact with other jewellery manufacturers and dealers, as they are now much more dispersed and live in different areas.
Ghanshyambhai told us that with each kilogram of pure silver, thirty grams of zinc is mixed in to harden the silver. He manages to earn around 20 to 25,000 rupees per month if he has few social obligations to meet. His earning are also affected after the festival of light (Diwali) when demand for his products declines. He takes time off on festival days, namely the birth day of Lord Shiva known as the Mahashivratri. Overall, he is satisfied with his work and earnings.