Pakistani Handicrafts – beauty in the hands of our craftsmen

Written by: Tooba Latif

Have you ever visited those little shops full of shawls and ajrak and tiny wooden and marble replicas of our traditional elephants and camels and so on? Ever been fascinated by the detailed intricate designs carved on them?

It’s amazing how such a large variety of ornaments can successfully represent one very crucial part of a country – Culture. If you want to understand what Pakistani culture is all about then go visit Saddar or the Sunday Bazaar and look at those shops on which colorful and beautifully designed shawls and rallis and ajrak are hanging or where you find carved brass vases or marble and onyx sculptures and the fascinating handwork on them. All of these depict the beauty of our culture.

Pakistani handicrafts are an integral asset for us Pakistani citizens. Just the very look of them immediately reminds you of our country and what it is all about. Handicrafts are not just little ornaments you can use to decorate your drawing rooms. They are a souvenir, a reminder of your country. Pakistani handicrafts do the same for us. It’s really amazing how people literally give these handicraft pieces as gifts to people as a memento of their motherland.

The variety in Pakistani handicrafts is enormous. We have shawls with handmade traditional beaded and sequined embroidery. We have rallis (quilts) with colorful patchwork and the ajrak that literally represents an entire province of Pakistan. We have miniature wooden and marble sculptures of traditionally adorned elephants and camels and very unique beaded jewelry. We have candle holders and ash trays and lamps and jewelry boxes cut out from blocks of marble or onyx, some of them even further decorated with sheen of mother pearl. We have carved wooden figures of our traditional musical instruments like the tabla and the sitar. We have vases made out of brass and carved with delicate Mughal style flower patterns, Quranic verses carved on to wooden plates, woven carpets and bed sheets and mirror work on cushion covers, table runners and pillows. We have tiny replicas of rickshaws and trucks all complete with the truck art details. We now even have traditional designs made on mobile phone covers. Seems like our kaarigars are quite up to date with the latest technology.

Talking about the business of handicrafts, it can be rightly said that it is a small industry within itself. The way these shopkeepers do business is quite remarkable Majority of the more popular handicrafts are made in the interior parts of the country. Most of the shawls, bed sheets, mirror work, ajrak and rallis are made in Tharparkar, an interior region of Sindh. The woodwork and the sophisticated detailed carvings on the brass vases are done in Chiniot and Mirpurkhas. Big blocks of marble and onyx are brought in from Balochistan to Karachi where they are cut, shaped and carved in Orangi Town and Golimar in Karachi and then sold at Zainab Market or Sunday Bazaar. Some of the wooden and mirror work is also done in Lahore and Multan. The woven carpets and rugs are imported at very cheap prices from Kabul. As told by the vendors at Zainab Market, none of these products are sold to the direct consumers in the markets of Tharparkar or Chiniot or Mirpurkhas. They just have small scale karkhanas (factories) where an average of sixty to seventy workers, males as well as females, work per karkhana. They are paid daily or monthly wages and all the produce is sold on wholesale basis to vendors. These vendors simply add in a profit of up to 200% on each item and sell it in the ‘big city’ markets, like the famous Zainab Market. It’s a classic example of intelligent outsourcing!

For instance, a pashmina shawl with handmade embroidery done on it is sold at Zainab Market usually for Rs. 300 to Rs. 600 depending on the customer profile and the bargaining margin. Whereas the cost on that very same shawl would actually be less than half of this price! The quality of these products is also pretty decent and the handwork on them is quite admirable.

Places like Tharparkar and Mirpurkhas and Chiniot are not very expensive to buy goods on wholesale if you have good knowledge of your business. And these vendors most definitely have that knowledge. It’s quite hard to imagine but a good majority of these illiterate vendors are actually better businessmen than a lot of our educated ones. They know what is in demand, they know how to make an ordinary item look extraordinary, they know how to attract and make customers and they very cleverly understand what price to quote to what kind of customer. A number of foreigners go to Zainab Market; it’s really incredible the way these vendors wouldn’t know the language but they would still be able to somehow communicate with those foreigners and persuade them to buy their products! It’s a business worth appreciating.

On the other hand, selling handcrafts is not just a business; for some vendors it gives them a sense of pride and purpose. As said by Tariq, a handicraft vendor at Zainab Market, ‘ye humari saqafat hai, in cheezon ko bechne se humari sirf kamayi he nahe hoti balkay humain buhat khushi bhe hoti hai ke hum apni saqafat ko barqarar rakh rahe hain’ (this is our culture, selling these things is not just our way of earning, but it also gives us happiness that we are maintaining our culture).

Pakistan is a country with a diverse culture that is an amalgamation of a lot of different ethnic groups and binds them together. Our handicrafts are not just a way to do business; they are tiny tributes to our history, our ancestors, our traditions and every other thing that makes up our culture. They remind us of what we used to be and who we are now. It is never too late to respect and appreciate those unknown, extremely talented hands somewhere in the interior areas of our country that create these products, brilliantly reflecting the beauty of our country. It is never too late to remind ourselves of our motherland and be proud Pakistanis.

3 Response to "Pakistani Handicrafts – beauty in the hands of our craftsmen"

  1. Anonymous May 18, 2010 at 4:06 PM
    if anyone wishes to learn how to do good business, seriously go to zainab market and observe these vendors. it is actually quite true that their way of doing business can turn into a learning experience for any business student. they know the profile of every cusotmer that walks in, how to deal with them, what price to quote, where to draw the line, they take into account every detail and just in that manner lure their cusotmers to make the purchase!
  2. zarminamalik May 19, 2010 at 8:48 AM
    this is seriously remarkable!!! we the Pakistanis are just unaware rather not interested in this small scale yet very valuable industry. But for the foreigners who visit Karachi, Zainab market and these handicrafts act as a major attraction.

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