A week or so ago, a team of Kashmir Box in a bid to find the origins of Karakul Cap , visited a remote village , a hundred kilometres away from the summer capital of Indian Held Kashmir. Their quest led them to a matchbox sized workshop and an elderly gentleman popularly known as Abba. The wise man knew the mountains and the genesis of any craft like his backyard. The scars in his hands bore the hard work and skill involved in this craftsmanship. On few sips of tea, the gentleman opened up about his work
“I was just 17 when I learnt the art of stitching Karakul caps. The craft has always been on the pinnacle of glory as far as I remember. It saw certain highs and lows but never lost a tad of its luxurious glamour. In the olden times, only the elite could have afforded the Karakul. The accessory was more than just a cap – it was a symbol of status, pride, honor and dignity. In fact, the soft fur used in making Karakuls did not remain confined to these caps only. International labels and designers would gather it’s raw material to make overlays, bedding, bags, accessories and much more. The softness of the fur is non pareil. The skin comes from Afghanistan originally. We just clean, knit and stitch it here into the final silhouette”
Karakul was more than a cap. It was display of social status and one’s position in a society. For ages it’s been the symbol of pride and dignity. The world famous luxury Karakul caps are worn in parts of Afghanistan, Central Asia, Cashmere, Africa and also became very popular among Politburo members in the USSR. From Hamid Karzai to USSR, it’s remained synonyms to pride cutting through various ethnic divides.
Initially being reluctant to show the process in making of the cap, the artisan took the team inside the dark workshop and started explaining the process. Karakul is obtained from the Qarakul breed of the sheep, which is mainly found in Bukhara and Afghanistan. The sheep is unique in its ways of eating drinking and climatic conditions..
“The curls on its body form a ridged pattern which is as unique as the fingerprints of a human being. But in a few days, the curls get unfurled and rather rough. So the wool has to be acquired before that. Therefore a pregnant ewe has to be slaughtered, her stomach slashed wide so that a worker can remove the foetus. The foetus is then skinned and this skin becomes the raw material for the grand Karakul cap” Said Abba
It takes the skin of one lamb to make a Karakul. Two members accompanied the heartbroken guests to the place while a worker held a pregnant ewe and then dropped it on the floor. She kept squirming in pain, in vain.
One worker controlled her body by stepping on it with his foot to influence her to understand this is the end for her. The butcher slashed her throat with a long blade. The ewe continued wriggling and whipping her legs with immense pain until she slowed down.
A huge stream of blood rushed. The butcher twisted her head and the body was kept away. For a while, the unborn lamb kicked for life. Its kicks could be felt. Few moments later, the struggle stopped. The unborn lamb had died. Before the workers could toss the baby on the floor, Abba had already left teary eyed.
There have been many times when I decided to quit this work. But since my entire family depends on it, I have to gather strength, muster courage and move on”, Abba said with his head bowed down. “If I and so many others like me had an alternative, we would never dirty our hands to the brutality that surrounds the seeming luxury. At times, I thought of getting into some other craft, but these hands are old now. They have not known any other skill which could fill the empty stomach.”
The horrified team of Kashmir Box left the place with a heavy heart. The horrors that surrounded their favourite cap were petrifying and the infamous Karakul cap went out of stock from Kashmir Box forever.
This wasn’t us! This wasn’t what Kashmir Box does! This wasn’t even humane at the first place. The matter was finally taken to the Kashmir Box management and a collective decision taken to cease the selling of Karakul caps. The orders from customers were cancelled. The vendors were informed. The stock was returned. And the name Karakul was forgotten.
-Posted on Kashmir Box blog-
According to Kashmir Box many artisans have come up with their own modification of Karakul caps which include Kani print caps, Afghan styled Pakol caps, artisan made golf caps, anchored woolen caps but they don’t even remotely match the Karakul. Ink Bind welcomes this step taken Kashmir Box and hopes that business organisations like KB will continue to hold moral principles and don’t compromise them for monetary profits.