With the flick of a switch, a warm yellow light bounced off brass and copper church bells and kettles, giving the room a mystical amber hue.
Makkah Handicraft Store is filled with all things brass and copper, from lotas to Buddha statues and the traditional clock. Every item has a story to tell but no one knows where they came from - let alone how long they have been in the store for. Among the cluster of copper goods were small statues of King Tut, Medusa and Krishna.
The store is adjacent to the St Joseph’s Convent School and is owned by three brothers Ishtiaque Ahmed, Muhammad Ali and Ahmed Ali. It was passed down by their grandfather and has been running for 32 years. Despite the low sales the brothers have managed to keep the store running successfully and hope to one day pass it on to their children.
The outside is a stark contrast to the inside. Golden ornaments and framed surahs hang winking in the sunlight in an attempt to lure in passersby. The brothers say the biggest attractions are their mirrors and table lamps - some of which are ordered from India.
“Can I switch the lights off now? Electricity is expensive,” asked Ahmed Ali. Since business was slow last year, he has been trying to save as much money as he can. “Even though our sales are sporadic, we also offer services like polishing silver to keep the business running,” he said. After switching off the fan and lights, Ahmed Ali walked towards a broken couch sitting outside the store and watched an employee chisel the finishing touches of a chrome plate frame. He explained that the workers first print out the designs and then work on them accordingly.
Muhammad Ali, told The Express Tribune of how they often receive customers who are overwhelmed by their collection and convinced that the shop is full of priceless antiques. “I will never lie to them. I say yes, they are old, but not antiques,” he said. “Some of the items, such as the telephones with a dial, are 40 to 50 years old - but I would never call them antique. To me, an antique must be at least 100 years old.”
Small items such as napkin rings cost Rs100 while pieces such as a Mughal warrior on a horse cost Rs100,000. The store also makes products on order and there is a high demand for antiques and products from the partition era but, according to Ahmed Ali, those are hard to find.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2011.