Ye Rampuri hai, lag jae to khoon nikal jate (This is a Rampuri knife, a touch is enough to make you bleed), says legendary actor Pran, before tackling goons in the 1973 Bollywood movie Zanjeer.
He wasn’t the only one. The Rampuri knife brandished by scores of heroes and villains alike kept movie lovers engrossed through the 1970s and 80s.
But the spring-propelled knife that acquired cult status is now on the brink of obsolescence, choked by severe restrictions imposed in the 90s to check a spike in crime.
There are just five shops left in the western Uttar Pradesh town, down from more than 200 such outlets three decades ago that employed thousands of people and did brisk business.
The area goes to the polls in the second phase of the Uttar Pradesh elections on February 15. But despite eight-time MLA and Samajwadi Party strongman Azam Khan as one of the candidates, reviving the industry isn’t on any party’s agenda.
“No politician cares about reviving a business because it is seen as promoting a weapon. What they do not understand that we never wanted to sell this as a weapon of destruction but as a heritage product,” says 40-year-old Shavez Khan, who is among the few people still in the business.
Khan, who also sells garments to sustain himself as the business doesn’t give enough to ensure the livelihood, says, “Knives don’t kill, words kill. Riots didn’t take place because people had knives, it was because of hate speeches.”
Several people associated with the business now sell saris, while blacksmiths barely make a living as labourers or rickshaw pullers.
Many of them rue that an opportunity to turn the Rampuri knife into a tourism draw was lost and say red tape is killing whatever is left of the industry.
“We have to get our licences renewed every year for which we have to go to local court. It takes four to five days running after clerks. But, no politician has ever cared to fix this problem,” says Shehzad Alam, 38.
The tradition of the Rampuri knife began in the 18th century under Nawab Faizullah Khan and expanded in 1949, when export to other states began.
“We sold around 1,000 knives everyday as we received orders from other states. Ab to chaku bus islie bechte ki Rampur ki nak bachi rahe (Now we sell knives only to keep the old glory of Rampur alive),” says Khan.