The crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses has not only affected people’s food habits, but has also left a big dent on the 400-year-old bone craft in Lucknow. Reason: Those engaged in the trade are not getting supply of buffalo bones after the state government launched the drive.
“Initially, it was thought to be a routine drive, but things got worse when almost all the slaughterhouses in the city downed their shutters,” said a craftsman.
The Allahabad high court had ordered closure of three slaughterhouses – in Motijheel, Fatehganj and Maulviganj areas of the city – on March 11, 2015. But, all these kept operating illegally. However, these were shut after the state government’s recent crackdown.
“Over 350 families are engaged in bone craft. In Lucknow, Hussainabad, Daulatganj, Thakurganj, Yaseenganj, Wazir Bagh, Billaujpura, Khadra and Mehbullapur areas are the hub of bone carving trade that is our city’s legacy since the nawab era,” said Israr Ahmed, a craftsman who received a President’s Award for his fine carvings in 2016.
He said the craftsmen buy buffalo bones on daily or bi-weekly basis. “If slaughterhouses remain closed for a few more days, bone carving trade will be adversely hit and artisans would be left in a hand-to-mouth situation,” added Ahmed.
“The art of carving bones or horns into intricate pieces got maximum patronage during the era of Nawabs. Lucknow used to be the centre of bone craft, which was largely done on ivory tusks,” said Ahmed, who has spent 40 years in the bone carving trade.
However, the trade virtually stopped after a global ban on ivory came into effect in the 1990s. “But the craftsmen found an alternative and switched over to carving buffalo and camel bones,” pointed out Mohammed Jalaluddin, another craftsman, hailing from Hussainabad.
“Buffalo bones are used for making small artefacts while camel bones are used for creating bigger ones,” added Jalaluddin.
Buffalo bone costs Rs 45 per kg while camel bone costs more than double at Rs 110 per kg.
Buffalo bones are widely used in Lucknow as camel bones are scarce. On an average, a trader buys around two to three quintal bones from slaughterhouses as there’s huge demand for this artwork abroad, he said.
The bones are first cleaned, trimmed using heavy duty grinders and then boiled with soda for at least four hours to give them a clean look.
“The bones are dipped in a solution of hydrogen peroxide and kept under the sun for around seven hours. The pieces are then joined together using adhesive and then comes the engraving part,” added Jalaluddin.
“Craftsmen make several patterns using miniature chisels, drills and special tools that are not easily available in the market. The final product is then buffed, polished and painted,” he said.
Other than UP, bone craft is popular in Hyderabad, Kolkata, Rajasthan and Chennai.