|Highway running through Dadri town|
About 15km from my house in Greater Noida is the old town of Dadri on the Grand Trunk Road. This is a typical north Indian town, cluttered, overcrowded, its roads usually jammed with undisciplined traffic and sides lined with shops, workshops and godowns.
I generally find such places unpleasant, unremarkable and tedious. Yesterday I took a motorcycle ride down to the place in search of a local hand plane maker. It was time for namaaz prayers and the plane maker, a Muslim, was away at the local mosque.
As I waited, I watched a chubby little puppy gambolling around the place, trying to get at the goats and generally looking very happy. The very next instant I heard a heartrending yelp; a car had swung in and run over the puppy's rear legs. The puppy shrieked like a child and tried to drag itself away, I couldn't bear to look as a crowd quickly gathered.
The crowd stood around contemplating the poor puppy; some were grinning, others looked on with macabre curiosity, the car driver looked somewhat uncomfortable and most lost interest almost instantly. Fortunately almost immediately the puppy fell silent. I could not bring myself to part the crowd to see what had happened. I should have intervened, I blamed myself but couldn't. It was hugely distressing so I decided to leave.
I returned to the plane maker this morning unable to shake off the memory of the unfortunate puppy and the reaction of the locals.
|Mousam Ali - Plane Maker|
The plane maker was somewhat of a relief; a small man with a white beard and bird like movements. He spoke softly with a slight stammer and invited us into his dingy workshop. He said he has been making hand planes and other tools since 1977.
Mousam Ali, the plane maker, was delighted to learn that I wanted him to make a 24 inch wooden plane for me. He told us to sit and offered us treacly tea in paper cups while to he got down to making the plane from a piece of seasoned Sheesham wood.
|Ancient Table Saw|
His dark workshop was worthy of a museum with its ancient tools, piles of seasoned wood and pitted cement walls. I spotted a drill press that looked at least a century old, a table saw of sorts and other difficult to identify pieces of machinery. All of them were apparently run by a single diesel engine with a flywheel for a belt that could be attached to individual machines.
The table saw looked ancient and dangerous. The plane maker said he used it only for making rough cuts; most of the work was done with saw, chisel and hand plane.
|Mousam Ali at work|
He worked rapidly and had the plane ready within an hour. The handles were made earlier and attached with two screws; the blade and cap iron had to be bought separately.
It took him about five minutes to finally fettle the plane after attaching the blade and adjusting the wedge to keep the blade and cap iron in place. I tried it on a piece of Sheesham and it seemed to work like a charm even though the blade was far from razor sharp.
|A sackful of handles|
I also spotted an assortment of other old planes lying in a dark corner of his workshop; they turned out to be plough and moulding planes of different kinds. I bought one recently made plough plane.
|Old Plough and Moulding Planes|
Mousam Ali was delighted by my interest in his hand planes. Very few people these days used wooden hand planes he explained. It was now the age of machines and cheap metal planes, he lamented.
He made very few hand planes these days and said he had switched to making wooden trowels for applying and smoothing cement plaster. Trowels had a large and steady market and he made about a hundred a day.
He said he would prefer to make planes like his father and grandfather had before him. They knew how to make dozens of different kinds of planes.
Mousam Ali stood at the doorway of his workshop to wave us goodbye. He looked a frail misfit, an anachronism with a workshop full of ancient tools, goats and stray dogs loitering outside, and motor cars and lorries roaring past. It was a miracle he hadn't been crushed to oblivion by now.
5 October 2015