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ETCHING a livelihood

After marble and cuddapah stone the engravers have found a new medium in the form of granites to exhibit their skill.

Name plate designs carved and engraved on granite slabs has become the order of the day.

It took almost 600 years for Indians to find a replacement for the white wonder stone, the marble. If it was made immortal by the Moghul Emperor, Shah Jehan, through Taj Mahal, then the modern day architects redefined the concept of usage of stones through granites.

"Granite is not only making its presence felt by way of flooring and kitchen tops, but it is also making an impact in the form of nameplates and plaque stones. Earlier it was the marble that was being widely used, right from flooring to plaques and from nameplates to tombstones. Then it was the trend for Cuddapah stones and now it is the time for granites,'' says Hamza Saleh of Bombay Marble and Cuddapah Stone Works.

The granite industry is classified into two segments. While the bulk dealers of the stones form one part the engravers and carvers form the other. The marketing of stones is a big industry and contributes to the national exchequer through domestic sales and foreign exchange by export.

Carving and engraving on the other hand is still the domain of a few artisans and has a regional presence.

A centre design for a room carved on marble and granite. Photos: C.V. Subrahmanyam.

"Originally all the stone carving and engraving works were dominated by artisans based in Agra and Jaipur, but over the years it has spread to other cities also. We were the first to set up a full-fledged mechanised unit in the city,'' says Mr. Hamza.

This activity revolves around nameplate making and engraving on plaques and tombstones. "Though we do a lot of other work with marbles and granites like carving designs on floors and walls, our staple diet is nameplates and tombstones, wherein we literally write the last words,'' says Appa Rao, an engraver.

While most of the engravers in the city use hand held grinding machines and chisels to etch out the letters, Hamza has an Italian carving machine, which he has modified locally to use it as engraver also.

On the machine he says, "A few years ago the chief of the Bhagavadgita Darshan Mandir, Bangalore, approached us to engrave all the slokas of the Gita in English, Hindi, Sanskrit and Kannada on 700 black granite slabs within a very short period. He came to us after almost all top engravers in the country declined the deal. We took it up as a challenge and decided to modify the carving machine to suit the requirement, and it worked. We delivered over 7,000 sft. of engraving on 700 granite slabs in three months.''

Carving marble chips in a grinding machine.

Explaining the functioning of the machine, he says: "It is simple. Just like in a printing machine we use an engraved or carved masterplate to give direction and use a carbide tipped chiseller instead of a diamond tipped one. Today we are in a position to deliver one 3 sft. engraved plate in two hours compared to two days earlier. We have a few standard designs for both carving and engraving, but if the client insists on something new then we get the design done by an artist first and later get it etched on a masterplate.''

Apart from normal engraving and carving, in-lay work is the in-thing today. "In-lay work is nothing but the combination of engraving and carving on one slab. This work is a very old art but was dormant for some time. Here designs are engraved on marble or granite slabs and carved chips of contrasting colours are embedded onto the slab. Normally white marble slabs form the base on which pieces of coloured marbles or black granite are carved and embedded. As of now this in-lay work is used for borders only, as they enhance the aesthetic value of the floor.''

Though it is a bit on the higher side, with price varying from Rs.70 to Rs.350 for every running foot, they certainly pep up the flooring. The price depends on the design and what type of marble one wants to use. "If the customer wants Italian marbles and tailor-made designs the prices are normally on the high side,'' says he.

The business of engraving and carving is good for Hamza, as the demand for quality and decorative ambience is on the rise, but it is not the same with other engravers.

"The health of the business depends on the volume of business. And the volume is with the top few in the city. We still depend on chisel and hammer while they have big machines to take care of their work. For us time and volume is a big factor. Nowadays, people want things to be done quickly and in large quantity, which is difficult for us, and that's where we lose in the race,'' bemoans Appa Rao.


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