City Landmark – Metalsmith Muhammed Ikram’s Workshop, Galli Chooriwallan
Museum of metal.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Metal coerced into a multitude of shapes. All these disparate tools hanging on hooks nailed into the walls. The tools cover a part of the floor, too.
This is like a museum of metallic equipments. They are arranged very neatly in a very little space, here in Old Delhi’s Galli Chooriwallan street. “My walid saheb, Muhammed Aaqil, opened this shop… he died 20 years ago,” says “luhar” Muhammed Ikram. In his early 50s, his eyes are of the same smoky grey-blue as his shop’s walls. All day long, he works with iron and fire, hammering the metal into intended shapes in a small bhatti, a furnace, which is built on the floor, almost at the entrance of the shop.
Interactions with the metalsmith reveal him to be of extraordinarily serene temperament, in stark contrast with the chaos and blab of the street outside. Perhaps because “I put all my shor (noise) into the metal,” he explains, his face betraying a restrained smile.
Surveying all these equipments is slightly unnerving. It’s like being in a garden, and gazing upon a variety of flowers without knowing the name of even one of them. Muhammed Ikram condescends to identify the items, listing them one by one, like a guide pointing out all the minute architectural nuances of a complex monument. “This is batali, this is jambur, this is chaapar, this is khurpa, this is hathora, this is samsi, which is like plaas…”
Although it is noon, the shop is submerged in a cooling darkness. The wall on the other end becomes discernible only after eyes grow used to the dimness. It has a taak scoped into its center. The few knickknacks include a large water filter. It is of plastic, not metal, but has discoloured to such an extent that it looks like a metal sculpture.
The metalsmith’s grandfather came to the Walled City from Amroha, in UP. “He used to do some other work there… it was my father who started the metal work in the family.” This tradition will go away with him, he says, explaining that his two sons have chosen to be dye makers in shops in Chawri Bazar. “My work has no future,” he says indifferently. “Mehnat jyada, aamdani kum (too much hard world, too little earning).”
He now looks into the bright street, so dazzlingly bright that the crowd too seems to be throwing glimmering flashes of light. Muhammed Ikram now starts beating a piece of metal. These days he goes home early “because of my heart problem.” The home is upstairs.
A landmark without tomorrow