In Meerut, a tryst with scissor-makers

In Meerut, a tryst with scissor-makers

The teeming industrial township of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh lays claim to being the largest maker of hand-forged scissors in the world. In small workshops across the city and in its neighbouring villages, the process of forging over 16 different varieties of these sharp-edged scissors is part of a four-century-old tradition. Shipped across the country and overseas, these scissors are reputed to last beyond a century of use.

From the culture

The root of the Meerut scissor lies in the culture of betel-leaf offering and eating. The making of the paan was and remains an elaborate procedure even today. Its ingredients include fragrant spices, rose preserves, tobacco, coconut shavings and finely cut betel nut. The tools were equally important and the finely crafted betel nut cracker was an essential component. From the elaborately ornamented to the most basic one, all kinds of nutcrackers demanded high-quality crafting that included sharp blades and a pivot.  

Apocryphal legend talks of the inventiveness of an Asli Akhon who first produced the scissors. His technique was rapidly copied and the industry grew, as did its reputation for strength, versatility and the sharpness of its products. The nutcrackers, razors, knives and scissors of Meerut followed the same processing principles and the products continued to flourish till World War II. Soon after, competition from other makers, both in India and overseas, triggered a decline till the government set up a heat treatment workshop in 1951 to improve the quality of these scissors.

The Meerut scissor hasn't looked back since, with demand constantly outpacing supply. Over 250 small-scale units employ over 70,000 people, both directly and indirectly. Men forge the scissors while women pack and check the quality of the products.

From barbers, tailors, paper-workers, leather units, housewives to students, the users swear by their Meerut scissors. What more, there's a variety of Meerut scissors too. Each type is suited to its purpose with specific blades, weights and lengths, either tapered or blunt-tipped, matched to its use.

The crafting process uses minimal machines with the cut blades being arched and twisted slightly by the craftsman along the cutting edge to achieve a tension and friction between the two edges. The precision grinding of the cutting edge and its angling depends on its final use.

Shaped and balanced, the craftsman then rivets the two blades together with an adjustable metal screw. This allows for replacement of broken blades, rebalancing and repair. The blades are made of carbon steel that is sourced from scrap salvaged from railway rolling stock and automobile industry. Most of such scrap is upcycled as toughened scissors. The off-the-shelf sizes vary from 6 to 16 inches and are angled according to its required practice with the handles cast in brass and fused on to the blades. Ergonomically designed, the grip of the handle is fitted to exert power and precision.

Important tools

Scissors are always taken for granted till they start to malfunction, and the bane of every scissor-user is an uneven cut, superfluous effort or a damaged blade. That is what makes the Meerut scissor so extra special and a must-have in tailoring units, leather factories, barber shops, offices and homes.

Barbers are aware that using incorrect scissors will result in split ends or damaged hair. Special heavy-weight tailor scissors can slice through 16 folds of fabric!

Unlike most other scissors available in the market, the Meerut scissor is not a throwaway item as it is repairable and readjustable, while its blades can be resharpened as many times as required.

Several other factors combine to make the Meerut scissor a great Indian success as a corollary to its crafting is the huge network of tertiary jobs and skills it has spawned. Across India, from large urban cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bengaluru to Chennai, and on to the smallest village, scissor-sharpeners in small workshops or moving around from door-to-door on cycles call out their services of sharpening and repair.  

Here's to Indian ingenuity at its best!

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