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Locks for the picking

The last time I was locked out of my house, it took a locksmith under a minute to open my door lock. The same lock the hardware store had said could not be picked.

world Updated: Oct 29, 2008 23:44 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

The last time I was locked out of my house, it took a locksmith under a minute to open my door lock. The same lock the hardware store had said could not be picked.

Karachi-based locksmith Mohammed Saleem Ansari who has been picking locks and making keys for the past 40 years says there are a set of unwritten rules that locksmiths in our part of the world follow. In 1947, Ansari left his home in Rajasthan and migrated to Karachi where he continues to practice the only skill he knows. Ansari says that locksmiths in both India and Pakistan follow the same set of rules.

Locksmiths in South Asia, he says, have a certain set of personal rules. He says that he follows the rules as this is a highly risky job and can land one in a lot of trouble.The rules are passed on from one generation to another. In his case, his father was his mentor.

After he was trained, his father one day intentionally left money in their family shop and then locked the cupboard with a very basic lock. “That was the test,” recalls Ansari. By resisting the temptation of picking the lock, he passed the test.

Not all persons are born into the profession. In Ansari's case, he has six shagirds (taughts) who have learnt the trade from him. When he started his trade in Nazimabad, a locality of Karachi, there was no one for miles around. Now there are over 50 locksmiths within a mile radius.

Before he takes on a shagird, he does his own background check.“His neighbours are questioned, it is checked whether that person has ever been involved in drugs or any illegal activities and if something is discovered then the new locksmith is fired.”

His complaint now is at the lack of workmanship. “This is because computers and machines have replaced the hand and the eye,” he laments. Many people without going through the right training are now making keys.