Ghulam Mohammad Zaz is the last of eight generations of craftsmen specialising in making classical musical instruments in India-administerd Kashmir’s Srinagar city.
In the heart of Srinagar’s old city, lives Ghulam Mohammad Zaz, an octogenarian whose expertise lies in hand-crafting musical instruments.
Zaz lives in a small house that’s built on the banks of river Jhelum, and the place where he works stands on the same block, just a few footsteps away.
However, when temperatures plummet to sub-zero in the Himalayan region during winter, Zaz does not go to his workshop — a small confined room, on the second floor of the 300-year-old building, roughly spread across 80 square feet, with mud-plastered walls and half-broken windows. The dimly lit staircase leading to the artisan’s workshop is so narrow that another person can not pass at the same time.
Zaz crafts and styles an array of traditional stringed instruments like Rababs, Sitars and Santoors. Some of his masterpieces have been played by acclaimed Kashmiri musicians like the legendary Pandit Shivkumar Sharma. Sharma has received several national and international awards, including India’s highest civilian awards like Padma Shri and the Padma Vibhushan.
Zaz inherited the craft from his ancestors, who have been making instruments for seven generations. He belongs to the eighth generation, and inevitably the last, as his ancestral legacy has run its course: Zaz has three daughters who have chosen different lines of work, and his art will likely one day fade into the abyss.
“This trade has given me livelihood and contentment. I have no remorse that there’s no one after me,” said Zaz.
During the second wave of the pandemic, Zaz contracted the Covid-19 virus and was bedridden for nearly three months. And since then, he finds it difficult to work as industriously as he would before.
Although his working hours have gone down, Zaz, the last Santoor-maker of administered Kashmir’s capital city, is not disillusioned.
“I am happy, and will keep on doing this as long my health allows,” added the old man, who started his journey as an apprentice in 1953 when he was just 12 years old.