New Delhi | When master embroiderer Asif Shaikh went for pilgrimage to Mecca in 2006, among his prayers was to stitch the sacred Kiswah cloth for the holy place with his own hands. For me embroidery is nothing, but meditation. I am a Muslim, but I never practice anything except my embroidery. I don’t want anything else, that is what I got from the God. It is God’s gift.
Embroidery is my ibadah (prayer), says Shaikh, who specialises in the 18th century aari embroidery that was seen in the royal courts. Shaikh is among the experts gathered by YES Institute, a think tank of the YES Bank that has partnered with National Museum and the Textile Ministry for its new series ‘Crafts in India’, which intends to spark dialogue around various facets of India’s crafts industry and recent trends.
The Ahmadabad-based designer says his interest in the craft was sparked at the age of 12 during a school project where he embroidered a variety of motifs on handkerchiefs turned into a lifelong passion. My dream was to bring something new in embroidery. Over the years, I have created many types of embroidery and have also started working with Bambi, Ajrak, Banarasi, Kalamkari, Chicken Fry and other different kinds of printing and dying, says Shaikh.
The embroiderer has had exhibits and held workshops among other places at the Victoria and Albert Museum and School of Oriental and African Studies in London besides the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi. Shaikh opened his designer studio in Ahmadabad in 2000, and has been closely working with artisans to hand embroider textiles, a task that may take anywhere between days to several months.
There are no machine tools in his studio and he rewards artisans for their loyalty and hard work with handsome salaries, retirement entitlements and even education of their children. We have to teach them (artisans) the basic techniques. If they learn it, I believe they will create wonders.
We have to make them feel that they are the best mechanical engineers, says the designer. Apart from competing with the soulless machine made work, Shaikh says his artisans also are faced with shortage of raw materials. We don’t have pure silk in India for embroidery.
I am looking for pure silk in India and wherever I go I talk to people to give me their pure silk. While Shaikh continues to keep the tradition of hand embroidery going, Ashdeen Z Lilaowala, a Parsi textile designer is trying to revive the ‘Parsi Gara embroidery’ style of his ancestors with a modern approach.