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Octogenarian ‘Bhai Lal’ weaves magic with Phireenj art

“I love my work. It gives me happiness. Whenever I work, I feel good and healthy,” says Mir.

Post by on Sunday, November 21, 2021

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Srinagar, Nov 19: Armed with needles and colourful threads, 84-year-old Mohammad Yousuf Mir is elevating the art of ‘Phireenj’- a form of Kashmiri handicraft mostly seen on embroidered shawls, stoles, mats, table covers and suits, creating intricate designs with elegant patterns.
 
Speaking the language of love, the crippled and unmarried-old- man, affectionately called as ‘Bhai Lal’ by his family, has set an example of hard work and kindness.
 
“I love my work. It gives me happiness. Whenever I work, I feel good and healthy,” says Mir.
 
Yousuf’s day begins at sunrise. After offering prayers, he stands ready to work in his room. Sometimes his work might stretch until dusk. “I stand ready for my work. I really look up to and respect people who take pride in their work, who are patient - who confront and overcome the challenges they face. I also have overcome many difficulties,” Mir said.
 
Despite facing hardships, the paralyzed old man is fighting all odds to keep his Phireenj art alive.
 
Kashmiri traditional handicrafts promise everything - beauty, dignity, form and style. The majestic appeal of Kashmiri arts and crafts lies in its exclusivity and mystical tone which leaves people mesmerized.
 
One of the forms is a ‘Phireenj’ work that uses thin needles on Kashmiri wool, cotton fashionable wraps for ladies, bed covers, table covers and suits to create intricate designs with elegant patterns.
 
Phireenj work is handmade and needs a good vision as well.
 
Behind his old oval spectacles, Yousuf’s eyes twinkle and show his determination towards his work.
 
Mir, 84, is one of the oldest and most revered craftsmen in Srinagar, whose skills are admired by the masters in the craft.
 
He lives in the old city of Srinagar, at Eidgah.  In a three-story house, his room lies on the first floor where he works with dedication.
 
Producing increasingly attractive products of shawls, suits and stoles, the old man has a form of palsy.
 
 “I wanted to find a way to help my father,” Mir said inside a home where he lives with his nephew’s family. “I mustered courage and started the work of Phireenj. Now, I want to pursue this work as I can’t sit idle. It’s not for fun anymore. It gives me happiness.”
 
Born with crippled legs, Mir would have easily given in to the despair that would have swallowed his childhood. But, instead of choosing misery, he showed courage and picked up a needle with the threads of hope and did not look back even in his 80s.
 
“In my childhood, I wanted to prove that I can also work like any other normal person. I did not lose hope and continued my work with positivity,” he said.
 
His elegant Phireenj handwork on the shawls adds more beauty.
 
Over the years, Mohammad Yousuf Mir has progressed from simple Phireenj to very attractive designs on the suits, shawls, stoles and fashionable wraps of the ladies.
 
“Initially I used to do Phireenj on shawls only.  Now its demand has increased. I make Phireenj designs on bed covers as well,” says Yousuf.
 
Initially for Mir, becoming a Phireenj artist was not so easy. “After losing my father it was very difficult for me to continue work,” he says.
 
Braving all odds, Mir still believes positive thinking and attitude makes a person successful.
 
His parents carried repeated searches for a doctor who could treat his crippled leg and make him walk.
 
The doctors could only speculate about the cause of his condition but could not do anything. But with time, his condition became permanent and his family too lost hope in doctors.
 
“My parents tried hard to treat my crippled leg but all their attempts failed. It was in my destiny and I accepted it and moved ahead,” he adds.
 
The determined crippled old man said, “Initially, nobody knew what I was doing,” he recalled with a tender smile on his face. “Everyone including my parents- didn’t believe that I could work independently.”
 
But, as his skills improved, over the years, the 84-year-old man became an inspiration to the people.
 
Though many in his family including his nephew urged him to live the rest of his life in comfort but he listened to none.
 
“Sometimes if he stops working, he feels something is missing in his life. He wants to continue his work,” says Shafiq Ahmad, Yousuf’s nephew.
 
 “I really feel proud that my uncle still works independently in his old age. People in this age need rest. But my uncle still works with dedication and hard work. He is an inspiration,” says his nephew’s son, Sahil.
 
 Despite facing difficulties, the craftsman believes working with dedication leads him to a healthy life ahead.
 
“My health deteriorates when I stop working. I feel healthy when I am working independently,” Mir says.
 
“He’s someone who can give courage to other persons,” Sahil said. “He is actually sending a message: If we have hope, we can try. We can move forward.”
 
For Mir who won the hearts of people by his work over the years, He feels that the applause is not good enough to prevent this art from dying.
 
“It takes up a long time to finish one piece of work, the younger generation is not interested in pursuing it further. A daily wage of 100 rupees is not enough to keep them bonded to this art form. Unlike me, my nephew’s son is educated, so he wants to take up a good job,” Mir says.
 
 

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