Hot wheels: Creating art pieces that move Karachi’s citizens, literally

Every rickshaw looking for a <br /> makeover inevitably makes its way<br /> to the artists in Gadha Gali.



KARACHI:


They call it the Gadha Gali - the Donkey Street. But donkeys no longer live in this street of Patel Para’s rickshaw market. The domesticated animals have been replaced by three-wheeler rickshaws, their decorators’ shops and workplaces.


Twenty-eight-year-old Kamal Ustaad has been decorating rickshaws in Gadha Gali for the past 17 years and is revered in the entire rickshaw community. Like his teacher, Rafeeq Ustaad, Kamal is famous across the country for his dexterity in decorating rickshaws.



Kamal Ustaad and his assistants are famous among the rickshaw drivers for their innovative designs and catch-phrases. The Gadha Gali, where Kamal’s workshop is located, houses a number of other workshops that deal solely in makeovers for rickshaws. PHOTOS: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS



Every rickshaw owner and driver, in need of perking up their vehicle, has to make his way to the street where Kamal Ustaad and 10 other workshops give the ride a whooping makeover with rexine [artificial leather], steel pipes and steel sheets.

Patel Para is the biggest rickshaw market in Karachi and with the mushroom growth in the number of CNG rickshaws, the decoration business has sufficiently prospered in Gadha Gali.

Kamal, who used to intern with Rafiq at Rs25 per day, now makes up to Rs5,000 a day. His five assistants get up to Rs1,500 per day. His work includes rexine roofing, fixing seats, side paddings, mates and steel sheets decoration.

The ‘ustaad’, which literally means teacher, is famous in the market for his innovative designs. “The market has a lot of decorators but the art is to know what your customer likes and the current trend in the market.” From mock poetry painted at the back of the rickshaw to romantic sound bites and simple drawings of birds and animals, Kamal magically transforms a simple odd-looking chassis of a rickshaw into moving piece of art.



Kamal Ustaad and his assistants are famous among the rickshaw drivers for their innovative designs and catch-phrases. The Gadha Gali, where Kamal’s workshop is located, houses a number of other workshops that deal solely in makeovers for rickshaws. PHOTOS: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS



The rexine and cloth come from China and Lahore, respectively. Each rickshaw takes approximately 11 metres of cloth to decorate completely. This includes the seats, interior carpeting and roof cover. The Chinese cloth is called Pearl, while the one from Lahore is known as Shoo. The Pearl is a shiny, waterproof material used to cover the roof and the sides.

“Pearl is waterproof and sun-resistant and has a life of almost five years which is why people prefer to use it for the roofing and the sides,” said Abdur Razzaq, a tailor who works with Kamal. Razzaq works all day on his Jokey-555 sewing machine on the first floor of an old building. His student, Siddique, 14, who is learning the art from Razzaq, helps him with the finer details. “You need at least eight months of training to become a tailor in our business,” he said, showing off the designs he is currently working on.

An ordinary makeover usually costs around Rs10,000. But if you’re looking for something special, the decorations may cost anywhere between Rs15,000 to Rs25,000.



Kamal Ustaad and his assistants are famous among the rickshaw drivers for their innovative designs and catch-phrases. The Gadha Gali, where Kamal’s workshop is located, houses a number of other workshops that deal solely in makeovers for rickshaws. PHOTOS: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS



Each type of work has its own expert in the street - Allah Rakha and Shani Ustaad are famous for the Rapaitta work while Musharraf Ustaad has earned a name in steel plating. Despite the ban on multi-seater rickshaws and the decline in the two-stoke vehicles, Kamal proudly claims his handiwork is moving in every street of the city. “I may not be as experienced as the others in the market but my designs can be seen everywhere in the city - some very flashy, others a bit more suave,” he says with a grin.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th,2014. 

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