New Delhi: Rhythmic clanging welcomes you as soon as you enter Moradabad’s Peerzada Road. Men sit hunched in every doorway, some hammering away at metal plates, some carving on with a hand so steady it makes your eyes water. Others are busy welding.

If the brass industry of Moradabad were to be described as a body, then Peerzada Road could well be the heart of it. This is where the moulds are cast, the finishing or chilhai, as it is known, takes place and the engraving is done.

Mohammed Idris is 64 years old and is busy carving intricate patterns on a brass vase. The work, he explains, is known as sada kalam.

He has just started work on the base of the first vase, while two others lie on the side.

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“I do three vases every day. Beyond that, my eyes hurt." For each vase, he charges Rs300.

Until 8 November, Idris used to finish 21 vases in a week, working on all seven days. Since demonetisation, his work has been cut by more than half. Now, he works three days a week.

“Mandi hai," he says, the market has slowed. The refrain is echoed in every house in this neighbourhood, be it that of Mohammed Mobin, who is welding intricately engraved miniature chairs, or of Afzal Hussain, as he uses tongs to manoeuvre a crucible glowing with heat to pour molten metal into castings.

“We have worked 10 days in the past 31, that’s what the state of affairs is," he says.

Everyone in this neighbourhood gets paid by cash, even though a few of them have bank accounts. And with the supply of cash reduced to a trickle, the industry is starting to worry about what the new year will bring.

“I wouldn’t say that we are starving. We have money, but we have to cut down on all expenses save the essentials," says Hussain.

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According to a recent report in Business Standard, the brassware export industry in Moradabad earns the city over $1 billion in annual revenue. In fact, this industry makes Moradabad one of the largest handicrafts exporters in India.

The city was established in the 17th century by Rustam Khan and named after Muhammad Murad Bakhsh, the youngest son of Shah Jahan. The bulk of the brass industry’s exports go to Europe, the US and Australia.

“We have completed all our export orders for Christmas but in January, the exhibitions start where we usually showcase our designs. These exhibitions take place in cities across the world like Frankfurt etc. The worry is that they will be unable to take orders," said Prashant Garg of Gargsons Exports, one of the larger export houses in the city.

“This is a very sensitive industry. Our quality, the intricacy of the workmanship and our commitment, it's dependent on all these factors. There will be shows, there will be requirements, how will these be fulfilled? The market has always run on cash and demonetisation has made it difficult for us to pay the artisans," he added.

The brass industry in Moradabad is divided into different groups, starting from the manufacturers of raw material. Then there are the dealers of manufactured items who run wholesale stores. Exporters like Gargsons form another group and then there are the artisans, who usually work either for big export houses or run their own units.

Garg has two daily wage artisans working outside his office, both of them carving patterns on candle holders.

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“I go wherever there is work. Sometimes I earn Rs200, sometimes I earn Rs250. Work is a little difficult to come by these days, but you must understand, life for people like me has always been difficult financially. Demonetization just adds another layer to it," says Mohammed Shakeel, a slight, bent man of 56 years. He does not have a bank account, and says he has never felt the need for one as his earnings did not amount to much.

Bank accounts for the artisans may be one way around this mess and Garg says he is encouraging his workers to open them.

“But it’s a mindset. And that takes years to change."

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