Hyderabad: Eyes of 32-year-old Bheema do not have any emotions to convey. Born on the footpath of Bathukamma Kunta in the city, Bheema’s life has been there on the street, bathing, eating, cooking, copulating and sleeping in the tottering tent made of torn polythene sheets. He is not just one, but one among the 60-odd members of around 10 families that eke out a living by making iron tools in the area.

Blacksmiths in the city are confined to areas like Amberpet, Uppal, Ramanthapur, Balanagar, Champapet and the like. In rural Telangana they live the lives of nomads, moving from one village to another, searching for work. But fact of the matter is, these nimble craftsmen are soon going to be wiped out from the society, only to live in history books for the progeny to learn.

A day’s work gets them about Rs 200 to Rs 300, but unfortunately the work comes once in a while. “We have an occasional customer ordering a construction tool and we need to wait for him sometimes for weeks. How can I support my family with the paltry amount I get?” asks Bheema, apparently resigned to his fate.

Their children play on the busy roads, their women sit in squalor, their men toil all the time. Their lives without any sheen revolve round the crumbling embers in the forge, anvil, tongs and hammer. Perhaps this is the last generation of wayside smiths.  “We are the last to continue with the tradition. Our children are going to schools now, and they will never need to take up this traditional occupation. In fact, with the production of machine made tools, no one requires our services,” says Bheema.

As it is anybody’s guess, these disappearing artificers face constant threat of evacuation by the civic authorities.  “We have been forcefully removed a couple of years ago by GHMC officials and were housed at Nandanavanam in Karmanghat. There was no water, no electricity, no jobs, nothing. We came back to the footpath after a while. Those houses are now abandoned and unfit to live. Life on the footpath here is better for us,” says a 60-something Rao Saab, who has been working at Amberpet for the past 50 years.

Known for their skills since 300 AD, blacksmiths of Telangana had a glorious past. Interestingly, a team of researchers that was fascinated by the high quality of Tipu Sultan’s sword that was put for Sotheby’s auction in 2012 in London wanted to find out the origin of the majestic sabre.  The sword was auctioned for an enormous 502,500 pounds.

The team comprised of Bangalore-based National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) and UK’s Exeter University finally traced the origins of the metal used to make the Sultan’s sword, which was known for its toughness due to high carbon content. To their utter surprise, they found out that the sword was made by blacksmiths of Telangana, maybe someone who lived between Nizamabad and Hyderabad.

The traditional blacksmith community is on the wane as the new generation is taking to other professions thus affecting the social fabric. There is an urgent need to conserve and showcase this festival.”

By: Payam Sudhakaran