Last week I met Abid Ali, a seasoned woodworker and teacher from Delhi.
I was taking a set of classes for pepperfry and due to some interesting scheduling I suddenly had a day in Delhi all to myself.
A quick message to Abid and by 8:45 in the AM, I was on my way to his place in Gurgaon.
I'd been dying to try out the Delhi metro; I'd heard so much about it. The various coloured lines and how it has really connected Delhi; this was my chance. I got myself a Delhi metro pass and then leaped onto the first train that was headed to the closest juntion, Rajiv Chowk. Rajeev chowk, to my amazement, was more like an airport that a train station. In fact it was more like an airport than Delhi airport itself.
Navigating the station though wasn't very difficult. There are signages and maps all over the place and I had no trouble making the connections I needed. Abid came to pick me up at Guru Dronacharya station and as I said, nothing could have been easier.
Now Abid has a fairly cosy Delhi accomodation and somehow while he has been relegated to the balcony his wife has an entire room. Hahaha, not odd at all, I had the same setup for almost a decade. Woodwork is best done in an openish space. Saw dust and finishing fumes etc can find a way out easily, or can be convinced to move out with the simple expedite of a table fan.
I was mind blown by the workshop space he has. The actual space is a balcony about 5 feet deep and 2 rooms longs. Like me he has made space over head to store wood. But he also has a whole lot of space for his tools. And what a collection of tools he has. Like Kingshuk in Kolkata, Abid specialises in hand tools.
On one side he had a major collection of saws, many tenon saws and a fair number of Japanese saws. Next to the saw collection he has a whole load of chisels; local stuff, Anant, Shobha, and even Narex. What I loved most was that they were all ready to go, beautifully sharpened and shiny. Abid doesn't use a sharpening guide and yet he even has a secondary bevel on his irons. One thing I really must do going forward is use a leather stope. I guess I've just been lazy all these years so now polishing compound is high on my list of things to get on my next trip to nagdevi.
Abid is also a major plane fan. And he has a whole load of wooden planes, with some fantastic irons. Some of these irons are really old and made from some really good steel. But I really fell in love with these little babies, the best part is that the y work, and they work really well.
With Abid like with most woodworkers I've met, I had an easy bond. We shared tips and techniques. He did more sharing and I did a lot of listening and admiring.
He showed me his collection of burl wood and even gave me some.
In India, I always feel, our main and biggest problem is sourcing. It is difficult to find the tools and the wood of the quality you need. Further compounding the problem is the fact that everything has a local name known only to the trades persons. Then there are the sellers who, eager to make good margins, stock fairly poor quality stuff. This is why it is important to teach woodworking. The more people in this field the better our chances of being serviced properly.
I must have spent only about 2 hours in his workshop. But what a fascinating 2 hours. Abid, like any veteran shared so many little insights. Stuff about vendors and who were good and who had troubles. Tools that worked and tools that were to be avoided. One of my favourite things was being shown a wood scrap yard, where all the wooden items come to get dismantled and perhaps reused. He says that a large amount of really good wood can be found at a steal at these places.
Of anyone know a similar place in Mumbai do let me know.
Ofcourse we shared experiences on our favourite topic; teaching woodworking. Both of us love to teach and both of us aren't too concerned about the money either. We just want people to learn woodworking. That I met Abid and was able to share notes on teaching at home, teaching away, helping people with projects and teaching at their houses was the biggest take away from the day.
I wasn't prepared to let Abid go that quickly so when he gave me the option of dropping me off at a metro station or coming to his tennis academy and then going out for kebabs it really was a no brainer.
His tennis academy is in Jesus and Mary college, and near by is the rail museum. While he was busy walking up and down courts correcting children's racket holds I was taking in a slice of our history.
The rail history in India is quite amazing and to see these workhorses up-close is a revelation. Very little can prepare you for the sheer size of these beasts and you certainly get an idea of what the rail engineer of old must have been dealing with. Temperatures, pressures, coal, water, gradients, traction WOW.
anyway I went quite cuckoo at the museum and I had to be located and thrown out at closing time.
So back to the academy and Abid I went. Getting lost on the way.
Abid then took me to this road side place called Alkauser. They have a limited menu but their kakori kebabs and golouti kebabs are to die for. Abid says the biryani is also good, but that it wouldn't be ready yet. So I did without.
This ended a most fruitful and enjoyable day in Delhi. Someday I need to go back and do a woodworking tool hunt here. But until then ...