Laky ka kam (lacquer work)

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Country: Pakistan

Laky ka kam or Lacquer work is practiced in several parts of Pakistan, notably in Sillianwali and Chiniot in the Punjab, Dera Ismail Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Kashmor in Sindh. Commonly known as jandri ka kam, or lathe work, it employs three distinct stages in making: woodturning, lacquer coating and engraving.

The piece of wood selected to turn is usually round. After finishing and buffing the outer surface with sandpaper (raigmar), lac is applied in layers with the help of lac sticks that melt and transfer colour on the turning wood.  Once the first coat has been transferred, the surface of wood is levelled with a palm stick called rangatha. Each time a new coat of lac is applied, rangatha is rubbed to ensure that lac is spread evenly, fixed to the last coat of lac while brightening the surface.  

The next step is to dip a cotton ball in mustard oil and rub it on the lacquered wood to add glaze and shine. After completion of this process, different designs are engraved in multicolour by scraping the lacquered surface. As one goes deeper, shades of lacquer become visible adding a rainbow effect to the product. This technique is called chatrai ka kaam. Whereas in Sillianwali, this craft is referred to as naqshi, in D I Khan and D G Khan it is still called jandri ka kaam.

Engraving on lacquered surface can take on several different styles. The common most style and/or technique is naqshi in which the artisan scratches, scrapes or engraves the surface on which lacquer of different colours has already been applied.

Another style or technique is known as abri. According to this particular technique, the wooden article is first dusted with pottery dust followed by the application of any colour, either in a uniform layer or as minute dots with a special manual procedure. On top of that a fine layer of red or yellow is applied. Finally, the piece is polished on the lathe by means of a stone known as mohra. The process generates so much heat that the lacquer melts to a transparent film giving way to the minute dots to shine through.

Atishi, yet another style, incorporates scraping off the motifs on the wooden article after applying a patch of oil varnish. The article is then turned on the lathe, and the colours applied with a lacquer stick. Areas, which are scraped off, receive the new colours while the varnished areas remain unaffected. The process may be repeated several times until the desired effect is achieved.

During the British period, Chiniot was known for chessmen in lacquer technique. While there were around 125 artisans working in the field until recently, the number of artisans has been dwindling since, with only 20 still actively pursuing the profession. Bakhsh Ilahi Rajput is said to be its best exponent whose sons can still be found working in Mohalla Tarkhanan in Chiniot.

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