Sunday, 12 February 2017

QK Archives: Romance and the Mannequin

Romance and the Mannequin Man
Maryam Babar
May 18 2004
Statesman Peshawar
Mamoon is a 32-year-old man who lives in Azakhel. As a boy, he used to go for after school tuitions to the house of an older cousin. This cousin was one of four brothers with a youngest sister, Khalida. Khalida had been born with multiple heart defects and was a quiet, pale, sickly child. But, Mamoon fell in love and nothing could stop him.
Orphaned at a young age, Mamoon was the doted upon youngest sibling. His family was horrified at the idea of him marrying such a delicate flower. How would they be able to support her and her constant medical bills? They urged him to forget her and concentrate on his studies. They threatened to disown him and eventually his dedicated pursuit of his romantic dream forced him to leave his home.
He rented a small room for himself and his prospective bride. He was warned that not only would she be an immensely expensive burden, she would also not be able to bear children or rear them. He declared that children were not an option he was willing to even consider. He just wanted to marry Khalida!
One night she, accompanied by her family and a Qazi came to his little room and she was married to him. There was no dowry, no festivities or even an exchange of gifts. Contrary to all dire predictions and the warnings of the doctors, she bore him three healthy sons.
The medical bills kept piling up and supporting his young family drove Mamoon to seek work in Lahore. There he worked as a daily wage labourer on construction sites. Though he was unused to such hard, physical work he strove to make enough money to feed his family.
One day, during the short rest period they were allowed for lunch, he sat down next to the site carpenter. There was a piece of wood scrap lying on the ground and Mamoon started drawing on it. Now, Khalida was his first love but Mamoon had another passion. Drawing and painting. An unusual hobby for a mazdoor! Looking over his shoulder, the jealous carpenter disparaged his work and an argument ensued. Hurt by the unasked for criticism, Mamoon threw away the bit of wood and said he only drew for his personal pleasure so why was the other man being so aggressive.
However, another of the men on the site had seen Mamoon’s work and spoke about it to an acquaintance of his, a local artist, Sohail Khan Mamdot. This man was to have a profound effect on Mammon’s future.
Sohail Khan came to the site and spoke to Mamoon and asked him to come and work for him.
However, when Mamoon went to see Mr Mamdot, he was told that he would be expected to work as a house servant, earning Rs2,000 a month and that his duties would include helping Sohail Khan in his studio. He was also told that he would have to present a reliable person as his guarantor.
As he knew no one in Lahore this was impossible and he never went back. But, Sohail Khan had been so impressed by the work of the young artist that he told him to come see him again.
Mamoon went back and discussed his problems. He was told that he should continue to work as a labourer but, to earn his board and lodging, he would have to work in the artist’s studio in the evenings. Thereby started his training as a professional artist. He often worked till 2 o’clock in the morning and though he was happy with what he was learning, it started to take a heavy toll on his energy.
Mr Mamdot suggested that he give up being a construction worker and start earning his living with his skills as a painter and artist. Mamoon started designing elaborate embroidery patterns for Zari karigaars in the city markets. He could sell a butter paper tracing for sometimes as much as Rs250. This seemed to him to be easy money... to get paid for what he best loved doing!
After a while it became clear that Khalida’s health was fast deteriorating. He knew he would have to find some way to earn the money for the surgery she needed. He left for Karachi.
There he started working in a small factory that made mannequins for shop windows. His excellent painting soon won him the coveted task of painting the faces. After serving as an unpaid apprentice for a short while, he started making the molds and casting the whole body. He soon earned enough to be able to pay for the three operations that his wife needed.
And he also had a new dream. He wanted to start making his own mannequins.
He came back to dusty Azakhel, reconciled with his family and moved into the very room he had been born in with his wife and three sons.
He found a small house and set up business. But, no matter how hard he tried, his production was slow and he didn’t have the capital to start a real factory. Then he learnt that while he had been away his village had organised itself into a community and his brothers were members of the tanzeem. He joined the committee and learnt about the micro credit facility. He borrowed Rs20,000 and contributed a similar amount from his fast depleting savings. It should be pointed out that he has already returned the borrowed amount and established a good credit reputation.
Having heard about Mamoon I went to take a look at his factory. A fancy name for a pretty shoe string operation. It consists of an overgrown grass patch, two mud rooms and a shed. One room has a rickety charpoy, a chair and some shelves heavy with drawing pads and unframed paintings. Perhaps the neat drawings should have prepared me for the surprise in the next room! If anyone has seen a more unusual sight then I would like to hear about it! The room is full of the most beautiful mannequins. Elaborately painted faces and gracefully cast limbs look more like sculptures than mere shop window mannequins.
I asked him if, in these changing times, he was doing something to which his village community objected. He said that not only did they not object, he was actually popular in the village as he employed six local craftsmen and was also training another young artist from Azakhel. He even has a man in charge of marketing who goes around the local boutiques with a catalogue and gets regular orders. As his mannequins are well known all over Pakistan for their delicately painted faces, he sends his finished products as far away as Karachi and Kabul.
The next time you go into a bridal shop and pick out a pattern to embroider on your duppatta, spare a thought for the person who painstakingly drew that intricate design. When you drive down Tahkaal Road, look into the shop windows and be proud that our own little Azakhel is providing the stately mannequins. And when you watch the next episode of the Bold and the Beautiful, think of our locally grown Leila and Majnoon and the strength of a love that made them rise above all the constraints of poverty and society and build a life for themselves. How many of us can claim to be living with the love of our lives and earning a decent living doing what we like best?
I thought this whole story utterly charming. Star crossed lovers, a struggling artist and the modern miracle of micro credit. Our very own La Boheme if only someone would write the musical score.

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