“Keep away from water and fire, it can survive for years!” says Mohammed Mustakin as he shows a kuppi from his collection.
Kuppis, made from raw animal skin, are traditionally used to store itra — the indigenous perfume. With a shape of a surahi (ewer shaped earthen pot to keep water cool), kuppis have a round shape and a small neck, ostensibly to prevent the volatile itra escape.
Mustakin (55), surrounded by kuppis of six-inch tall to some two feet tall, is currently displaying his work at the Dilli Haat in Pitampura at the ongoing Itra & Sugandhi Mela.
Mustakin comes from a family that has been into making kuppis for generations. All his neighbours in his village Safdarganj in Kannauj district of Uttar Pradesh were, till recently, in the trade of making these delicate yet strong containers.
Kannauj has a traditional heritage of all things associated with the business of itra and hence kuppis are in demand. The tedious art involves preparing a cast with saw dust and silt from lake’s bed, coating it with limewater after attaching a narrow funnel for a sleek outlet, dressing it with smoothened raw leather and when it is dry enough, removing the soil from insides.
But with every passing year, it is becoming hard to sustain. “Today we need to buy the silt and the leather at market price,” he rues, adding, “The government should intervene. Otherwise, the traditional heritage would be lost.”