Placing your feet into a khussa is often a tight squeeze. But life itself is the tight squeeze, for those who make the famous shoes.
Khussas have been made in Bahawalpur for generations, but this has brought no great material gain to those who hand-stitch them day in, day out.
Nazir Ahmed has done the job for ten years, following in the footsteps of his ancestors. He says the work is long and hard, whereas the pay is minimal. The maximum he can expect to earn in a month is Rs10,000. It takes Nazir two to three days to make a standard khussa, but eight to ten days to produce a ‘fancy’ khussa. The latter have extra embroidery, often using tilla material, work which is done using gold and silver wires.
The most ornamental shoes were made by Nazir’s forefathers for the Nawabs of Bahawalpur. At that time, the profession was well-rewarded: both in terms of prestige and money.
But now, with such a small income, Nazir has told his children to break from the family profession and work in another field.
He said that he learnt the craft from his father, Mohammad Ahmad, who used to tell them of the time who would make khussas with gold and silver wires.
“My father told me that the profession made him good money,” he said. “We were even able to gift them to our loved ones.”
Another khussa-maker, Habiba, told The Express Tribune that she had made the shoes for 20 years. It usually takes her four to five days to make a standard khussa and 10-15 on one with more embroidery. She said the work required full concentration but her pay was still very low, even though the shoes were sold at markets at high prices.
Another khussa maker, Inam Ahmad, 48, has been in the profession for 25 years. He said that despite being in the profession for such a long time, his family had remained hand to mouth.
Asghar, a resident of Shahdara, said he felt he was underpaid for the hard labour and craft they put in.
“I have told my children to pursue another profession,” he said.
The owner of a khussa store, Iqbal Ahmed, denied that the makers were underpaid. He said, “If the conditions are so unfair, why do manufacturers continue to make the shoes?”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2012.
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