Awards are mere showpieces without government support, says Bidriware maestro Padma Shri Quadri

The sexagenarian wants the government to support artisans and help them market their creations so as to attract the younger generation.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Jan 28, 2023 | 11:00 AMUpdatedJan 28, 2023 | 11:00 AM

Shah Rasheed Ahmed Quadri, now 68, took to Bidriware at the age of 10 against his father's wishes. (Supplied)

Bidriware craftsmen of Bidar are an elated lot after one among them, Shah Rasheed Ahmed Quadri, won the Padma Shri: Quadri, however, does not share the same sentiment.

He has his reasons. Without adequate government support, life is tough for artisans, and very few from the younger generation will come forward to keep the traditional artistic trade alive.

The senior craftsman is one among the eight eminent personalities from Karnataka who have been conferred with Padma awards this year.

“I never expected the Union government to recognise the six-century-old exquisite Bidriware and honour me with the Padma Shri,” he told South First.

“I could not believe it until one of the officials from the Union government rang up and informed me about the national award,” he added.

The 68-year-old artisan took to this ancient work at the age of 10. He started learning the craft against the wish of his father Shah Mustafa Quadri, also a Bidriware craftsman.

Padma Shri Quadri at work. (supplied)

Padma Shri Quadri at work. (supplied)

Rasheed Quadri is a third-generation artisan from his family. His grandfather Shah Mohammed Quadri was the first in his family to start this ancient craft work.

“I am involved in this handicraft work for nearly six decades. I entered the world of this mesmerising craft against my father’s wishes. He did not want me to pursue this traditional profession because he did not earn much from it,” Quadri recalled.

Bidriware: Intricate and delicate

Bidriware articles are intricately and delicately carved metal. The material itself is an alloy of zinc, copper, and other non-ferrous metals.

Padma Shri Quadri with his creations. (Supplied)

Padma Shri Quadri with his creations. (Supplied)

“The zinc content gives the alloy a deep black colour,” Quadri explained.

Bidriware has Persian, Turkish and Arabic influences. It originated in Persia (modern Iran), and is popular in the Deccan region, mainly in Karnataka’s Bidar district, from where it derives its name.

Bidriware was developed during the period of the Bahamani Sultanate. Ahmed Shah AI Wali Bahamani, the ruler of the sultanate between 1 October 1422 to 17 April 1436, patronised arts and culture.

He set up a training centre for Bidriware at Bidar. The district is still an important manufacturer and exporter of the unique Bidriware.

Eight-stage process

Quadri detailed the process of creating Bidriware. “It is an eight-stage process: Moulding, smoothening by file, designing by chisels, carving by chisel and hammer, silver engraving, polishing again, buffing, and finally oxidising using soil and ammonium chloride.”

“We manufacture several Bidriware products: Flower vases, jugs, fancy vases, home décor items, and jewellery,” he said.

Explaining the process, he added: “It takes anywhere between one hour and one month to create an article. The time depends on the article we are working on because every object needs to go under a lot of detailing and it’s a very delicate work.”

Challenges galore

The makers of Bidriware have been facing several challenges since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic —  from the increasing prices of raw materials to labour to marketing.

“Ever since the outbreak of Covid-19, our business has come down by nearly 75 percent. We used to supply mostly to five-star hotels before Covid. Now, they have stopped purchasing from us due to a drastic decrease in foreign-tourist arrivals over the past two-and-a-half years,” Quadri pointed out.

“I am happy that the government recognised my work and honoured me. However, the government should also provide proper marketing platforms. Birdriware craftsmen are reeling under a severe financial crisis because of a lack of business,” he added.

Crisis ahead

“This ancient artwork involves a long process and delicate work. It is very difficult to find skilled labourers these days,” Quadri said.

“The younger generation is hardly interested in learning this centuries-old craft work,” he hinted at the crisis ahead.

Artisan Rajkumar Narasappa, 48, a labourer at Novel Bidari Crafts, told South First: “We are delighted to know that Rasheed Quadri has been conferred with the Padma Shri. We are proud. We did not expect the government to recognise artisans and honour them with this prestigious award.”

Narasappa said there are only 250 Bidriware craftsmen left in the city. Among them, 90 percent are traditional artisans and the remaining 10 percent are from the new generation.

“The government has not done anything to protect and encourage the Bidriware craftsmen. We hope that our fate changes with senior artisan Rasheed Quadri getting recognised for his work,” Narasappa, a recipient of the Karnataka State Award, hoped.

Without support, awards are mere showpieces

Sexagenarian Quadri has participated in several international, national and state-level exhibitions. However, he said he had not received any government support.

Quadri has received several awards, including Karnataka State Award in 1984, National Award in 1988, Suvarna Karnataka Rajya Utsav Award in 2006 and Great Indian Achievers Award in 2004.

“I have received many awards but not a penny in support from the government. When I requested a concession in travel fare from KSRTC and the Railway Board, they did not respond positively,” he lamented.

“I lived in a rented house until last year. I constructed my own house with the help of my three children. I had requested a site from the government. The officials at the district and taluka administration, assistant commissioner and local MLA office made me run pillar to post for four years but did not honour my application,” he said.

“I approached the government only after other artisans, who have been conferred the same award, were given bus and railway concessions and housing sites. I was disappointed when they did not respond to my application,” he added.

“These awards are only fit to be kept one after the other in showcases,” Quadri did not hide his disappointment.