With ‘steely’ resolve, this iron sculptor fought paralysis to mould his destiny
KARACHI: When someone says ‘Super Man’, Christopher Reeve, who portrayed the superhero on the big screen, comes to mind. He met an unfortunate accident which left him paralysed. There is another Super Man in Karachi who met the same fate but was determined to carry on.
As you walk down the sloping pathway leading to Karachi university’s visual studies department, a myriad sounds assault your senses – the cacophony of welding machines, hammers knocking hard wood and the chatter of students.
Walk further and you see metallic robots greeting you inside the kingdom of their master – Muhammad Ismail, who has been working at the visual studies department for 10 years. He sits on his wheelchair, much like a king on a throne, speaking to an eager audience. He is popular among the department’s students, assisting them whenever they get frazzled.
Ismail grew up in a village nestled between Bahawalpur and Multan in Punjab. “My siblings and I would play on the farms. We would make toys from the wet sand,” he says. “I left school when I failed in chemistry in grade 10.” To help with the finances, Ismail started working as a handy man at his brother’s shop, but he wasn’t satisfied. “I wanted to get out of the village and see the city.”
He then came to Karachi, where he toiled at a workshop near Kalapul. So how did he get to KU, making his own iron sculptures and holding exhibitions?
“Indus Valley students used to come to the workshop for their projects. Then one day, a teacher from Karachi University came and offered me a job. I started out as a welding instructor. Then I saw the chairperson of the visual studies department, Durriya Kazi, make a sculpture in just two days.” After seeing her, he decided to work on his own sculptures. “I made insects and bees – the movement of their bodies is so hard to capture as they are very small.” Ismail knew he was in the place of his dreams. With work going well, he went back to his village and got engaged.
The fall and rise
Only two months before the wedding, he came back to work. “I was helping a colleague store wood on the roof of my house when the support plank broke and we both fell. He got away with a cut on his foot but I landed on my spine. Next thing I knew, I was paralysed waist down,” says Ismail. “We visited every doctor but they all said the same thing – that I couldn’t walk again.”
“My mother would cry beside my bed but I would tell her it was okay, that it was all God’s will. Ms Kazi visited me, asking me to come back to work and I got worried. She obviously didn’t mean that they would fire me, but I didn’t want to be away for longer,” he said.
“At first I couldn’t move, I was helped on the wheelchair. Then Sir Munawwar – the drawing and sculpture teacher – asked me one day if I wanted to sell my sculptures. He told me there are people who would pay me a lot for my work.”
He arranged an exhibition to showcase Ismail’s talent. More than half of the art pieces were sold even before the exhibition opened.
“I believe God has given some kind of talent to every person; some spend their lives without knowing it, some spend their lives working to get there and there are others who are given such opportunities in their lifetime,” says Ismail. “These metal sheets are my friends, they talk to me. They tell me if you mould me from here, I will make this shape.”
After Ismail’s landlord told him to move out, his students started raising money to help him get his own house. Currently he lives in his workshop with his nephew.
Source: The Express Tribune