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Carpets and climate change

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What does climate change have to do with Kashmiri carpets? A lot, as it turns out. Here’s why.

A few days ago I met Firdaus Ahmad, who with his brother manages two handicrafts shops in the hill station of Panchgani, in the hills of western Maharashtra. You can find shops like those of the Ahmad brothers in most hill stations and tourist spots in India, for domestic tourists are very likely to wander in and buy a few of the items on display to take home as gifts or keepsakes.

Firdaus Ahmad and his carpets

The Ahmads stock carpets too and these tend to be the highest priced goods in the shops. The most common size is 5×3 feet (left picture) which currently costs around Rs 2,300 (you can bargain, naturally). There is a larger size and a couple of smaller sizes.

“It is getting more difficult to find new stock, that’s why we have to keep what we have carefully so that it doesn’t get spoilt,” said Firdaus. Why more difficult, I asked.

“The younger generation doesn’t like to do this work much any more,” he said. “They want education.” Surely they could have education and learn a traditional skill at the same time, I suggested.

“Yes, but there’s also less snow now.” What did that have to do with carpet weaving, I wanted to know.

Papier-mâché boxes and decorations

“There is less snow because the winters are less cold. In earlier years, there was so much snow we would stay indoors most of the day in the winter months. That’s when the families and all family members would sit down to do carpet weaving and other handicrafts all day.”

Firdaus said that the handicrafts work done through the three coldest winter months – when the snow outside had piled high and movement was limited – was often enough to sustain the families for the rest of the year. Smaller works are made out of papier-mâché, the distinctive lacquered boxes and balls, leather and wood (right picture).

“Less snow now means the younger ones want to be out more and spend less time at home working on these,” he said, gesturing at his stock of carpets. “It is climate change, this less snowfall. It is bad for our handicrafts.”

Written by makanaka

November 27, 2009 at 11:13