From the last 20 years, Riyaz Ahmed has been working in a dark 8*8 room at his home, which is located in the downtown area. Downtown of Srinagar was once called the "cradle of artisans" due to the highest number of craftsmen located there. But now, eventhough the area still buzzes with handicrafts, there are just a few craftsmen left to handmake treasured items. Riyaz Ahmed is one of those masterly skilled artisans, who now lives a life full of hardships and grief. It was just some 15-18 years ago when the same room would be filled by Kashmiri folk songs which he and his father would sing, while weaving shawls. But now the room is as silent as a grave, and the silence reigns the entire household of his. Riyaz is one among the artisans who were blessed with immense talent of Pashmina weaving, with their own hands. But as if the political instability wasnt enough to ruin their dreams and livelihood, power looms came in. These two major factors resulted in the decline of a 600 year old craft - Pashmina weaving - which is on the verge of extinction now. "Traditionally, it was the men in a household who would weave Pashmina, after women spun it. Raw wool would be acquired by men from Ladakh, handover to women who would spin it into yarns, and we men would mount it on classic wooden handlooms to weave it. This was the story of every household", says 48 year old Riyaz while mounting the finest fiber over a loom. Pashmina was in the past, a family affair, and a Kashmiri shawl would enter a household as raw wool and come out as a complete shawl, in its solid form, ready for embroidery. The shawls were world- renowned for their light weight and finesse, and would awe strike even westerners. "It would take us 10 days to complete a large shawl on a handloom. In comparison to this, a powerloom could make 10 shawls a day, and even more. When more and more powerlooms came into the valley and operated illegally, we knew our hands were ruined", said Riyaz with an anguish reigning his face.To aggravate the misery of these artisans more, financial exploitation by middlemen started, where middlemen would consume all the profits leaving the actual makers empty handed. Now the time has come when these maestros of Pashmina making have left their passion for this work and started working in schools to survive their families.
Riyaz and Pashmina.com
His happiness knew no bounds when Riyaz came to know about our working model. One, it was just handmade Pashmina which we would be dealing with, and two, there were no middlemen involved. Hence the two primary issues that artisans of Kashmir have been facing from the past 20 years have been resolved in just days. Riyaz continues to be one of our lead weavers, who works sometimes for 18 hours together by his own will. Thats his passion for the work. And we cant thank hand artisans enough who show such passion which keeps the 600 year old craft of Pashmina alive and stable.