24 Mar 2019


How can we be creative every day? In reality, many of us use extraordinary skills on a daily basis. A paanwala swaying slowly while his quicksilver hands wrap a paan into a gilori with mesmerising elegance, a carpenter who brings a plank of wood to eye level to check if it’s perfect for use, a potter who centres a wad of clay and then effortlessly lifts it into a symmetrical pot, a surgeon who closes up a cut in a rhythm of knotted stitches, a cook slicing onions into uniform rings, a hairdresser whose scissors deftly style a mop into a sculpted form — the list seems endless. It’s the ‘without realising’ aspect that prevents us from feeling creative.

One of the ways in which objects or actions are valued is by naming them. The hand gestures or mudras of classical kathak dance each have very specific names. Similarly, buying a paan called “Un se na kehna” (Don’t tell my partner) from the famous PIDC Goodluck Paan Shop in Karachi added fun to the experience.

Lagawat ki ada se un ka kehna paan haazir hai
Qayamat hai sitam hai dil fida hai jaan hazir hai

Akbar Allahbadi

(The alluring way in which you said ‘here is the paan’
It’s the end of the world, it’s cruelty, I am smitten)

Naming also becomes a sharing of creative intention. In the 1930s, Maulvi Abdul Haq, known as the father of Urdu, fulfilled a 25-year-long dream by commissioning Maulvi Zafarur Rehman Dehlavi to travel the length and breadth of India to collect terminologies used by artisans. It resulted in a treasure in eight volumes called Istalahaat-i-Peshawaraan (Terminology of Artisans) that needs to be pulled off dusty shelves, republished and translated to share with the world. Pesha-i-maymari (architecture), ara kashi (working with a saw), chilmun saazi (making blinds for windows), khaakrobi (sweepers), kashti raani (the art of sailing), tayyari-i-paposh (shoemaking), zar baafi (working with gold thread), shireeni saazi (preparing sweetmeats), pasha-i-naanbai (bread-making), and jewellery-making, clothing, musical instruments and gardening and even terms used by criminals, were all mentioned in the book.

One of the ways in which objects or actions are valued is by naming them.

The Japanese understand that by naming actions these are not only organised and recognised but also acquire a spiritual significance. The practice of kintsugi or repairing with gold is an artform that joins broken pottery with golden lacquer, drawing attention to the breaks. In this way, the broken pot represents our own resilience in the face of misfortune. Kintsugi generated the Bunka Undo — which means cultural movement that gave rise to ceremonies like Sado and Ikebana — the tea ceremony and flower arrangements — reflecting the Zen philosophy of wabi-sabi (beauty in simplicity).

Just as making aesthetically balanced things can place us in a reflective awareness, it is equally restful to watch someone making something, whether simply watching someone neatly sweep the area outside their shop, the henna pattern applied to one’s palm, a florist making a garland of jasmine and roses, a gardener transferring a plant from a pot to a flowerbed, a crane lifting heavy building material to the top of a building or machines weaving cloth in a mill.

The internet is full of videos titled Stressful Day? Take A Deep Breath And Watch This Video Of An Artisan Putting Together A Wallet, or A Great Way To Calm Your Mind: Watch Japanese Craftsmen Make Paper By Hand. Many of us learn to heal by immersing themselves in some activity — knitting, quilting or golf.

The Zen master Koun Yamada reminds us, “The practice of Zen is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with something.”

Durriya Kazi is a Karachi-based artist and heads the department of visual studies at the University of Karachi

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 24th, 2019