Life in Colours

A fourth generation Rangar is struggling to save the traditional art of dyeing the yarn from onslaught of modernity and indifference. Jibran Nazir meets the man who fears his tryst with colours will end sooner than anticipated

Every morning, as the market around Rangar Masjid in Srinagar’s old city buzzes with activity, Mushtaq Ahmad Posh, 68, resumes daily work at his dyeing unit, where he puts life in the colourless yarn.

A fourth generation dyer, Mushtaq and his family is keeping this tradition alive since last 150 years.

Mushtaq still has fresh memories of his grand-father, father, and uncles working at this dyeing unit.

“This entire locality was full of dyers with colourful yarns hanging all around. The streets were coloured with the dyeing water. It was mesmerising,” recalls Mushtaq.

Rangar Masjid located in Khanyar area of Srinagar, got its name after the occupation of majority of inhabitants. Rangar means dyer in Kashmiri.

Adjacent to Rangar Masjid stands a multi-storied, old crumbling structure, made of earthen bricks, mud and lot of timber, with traditional Kashmiri patterns hand carved over its surface. This is the ancestral house of Mushtaq family which presently houses the dyeing unit in its compound.

“My two sons work with me in this unit,” said Mushtaq who is one of the last dyers of yarn for Kashmir handicrafts.

Once a bustling unit with around twenty people working round-the-clock, the house now wears an isolated look. After the construction of shops around the house, the dyeing unit now remains squeezed to a few marlas only.

Mushtaq, who is working at the unit since he was 12, vividly recalls the fall from grace. “As the family grew this business proved insufficient to feed all,” said Mushtaq. “Then everyone started looking for alternative source of income.”

The change started with the falling demand for manual dyeing of yarn for handloom products. “It was hard to imagine this compound without colourful yarns hung all around,” said Mushtaq.

“I have grown up watching colourful and exuberant yarns giving life in our courtyard,” he says. “I could do nothing else, thus, I began helping my father when my uncles left this work. I was contended with whatever we would earn.”

Around same time Mushtaq’s uncle developed severe lung ailments after inhaling fumes emanating from yarns during dyeing. “He then left the job along with his two sons,” recalls Mushtaq. They are now government employees.

“If a person is exposed to such fumes for a long time, he develops certain lung ailments including bronchitis,” said Dr Naveed, chest disease specialist at CD Hospital, Srinagar.

But this hardly bothers Mushtaq.

“I love handmade Kashmiri embroidery works (Kadai), crochets, and carpets,” said Mushtaq

These handicrafts use coloured staple yarn that Mushtaq’s family make for over a century now. Also, they provide colourful staple yarn to artisans, handicraft manufacturers, and garment factories in mainland India.

“We are the oldest and the most sought after dyers for artisan in valley,” said Mushtaq insisting that it has never been about money.

“I am in love with beautiful flowery patterns and the embroidery work of Kashmiri handicraft artisans.”

During the peak militancy years Mushtaq had to shift his dyeing unit after frequent harassments from the security agencies.

“They (forces) want us to keep eye on the militants who would frequent  this area,” recalls Mushtaq. “When we refused, they ransacked the entire house and set the yarn ablaze.”

The next day, Mushtaq and his elder son carried their equipment and walked all the way to Buchpora, around 10 kms from Khanyar, to set-up a make-shift unit.

Mushtaq is thankful that the worst phase is over. But with demand for manual dyeing shrinking he faces a new challenge.

“Despite good educational background my sons work with me as they cannot find a decent job,” said Mushtaq. “But once they get a job they will abandon this family business.”

Mushtaq still uses ancient German dyeing technology for colouring the staple yarn that his father had obtained some seventy years back.

“A German garment manufacturing Company’s worker once passed by our unit while on a Kashmir visit,” recalls Mushtaq.

The visitor suggested Mushtaq’s father to contact his company for help. “They sent the colour sample and the literature for fabric dyeing. Ever since, we have been using the same method of dyeing the yarn,” said Mushtaq.

After weighing the colouring powder, Mushtaq puts it in a large container of boiling water. The staple fibres are packed into a vessel and then dye liquid is forced through them. Although the dye solution is pumped in large quantities, the dye may not penetrate completely into the fibre and some areas may be left without dyeing.

However, the blending and spinning processes mix up the fibre in a way that it results in an overall even colour.

“This way the dye stuff penetrates the fibre to the core of the yarn,” said Mushtaq.


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