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Name writing on rice, seashells — an unsung art


Photo: Kiran Palwasha

By Ishtiaq Ahmed

ISLAMABAD — This bag is whole of my professional belongings. Only those people admire my work who have some respect and recognition for art and handicrafts,” said Fazil, a seashell and rice writer.

With different name-quoted seashells and rice grains displayed on a steel-made hanger, he was awaiting customers in Melody Market to sell his products to earn sustenance.

Fazil has the skill to write down names and contact numbers on the seashell and writes complete name on a single grain of rice.

He has been associated with this business of seashell and rice writing since last two decades and has also trained many of his students enabling them to earn their livelihood through this work of art.

Hailing from Gujranwala, Fazil visits Islamabad infrequently to vend his products what he said brings in Rs 600 to 800 daily to support his family satisfactorily.


Muhammad Fazil

Having a bag full of his input material like seashells, rice, chemicals, a cigarette lighter and some pens and markers to write down the names on two natural items, Fazil feels easy to move his business from one place to the other.

Though apparently writing on seashell does not look too difficult, opting it as profession raises some doubts particularly in Pakistan, love for art is on low priority.

“Thanks God, I am satisfied with this work, I have never even though of switching to any other profession,” said Fazil while writing on a seashell with a special pen.

However, amidst rising inflation and weakening purchasing power in Pakistan, he plans to move abroad where the single piece of written seashell brings in $10 easily.

After writing a customer’s name, in English or Urdu, Fazil lights a lighter under the seashell for around 10 second to solidify the ink.

After a specific interval, he dips the seashell in a liquid chemical what he named as ‘etching’.

After drilling a hole and affixing a key chain, he hand over a unique key chain to the customer against Rs30 each.

DadMajority of my customers include the youngsters who love innovations or those who have some attachment with art works.

“This is for life time. It would never be erased or faded out,” Fazil said marketing his quality of work.

When questioned, he said this art work has so far received no recognition or appreciation at the government level, desiring that it should get some space there likewise other handicrafts.

Besides name writing on, the seashells had been in use for various other uses.


Photo: Kiran Palwasha

Seashells have been used as currency usually named as ‘cowry’ in various places, including many Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean islands, also in North America, Africa and the Caribbean.

Even in local markets, the seashells are traded with the very local name ‘cowry’ easily available on almost all herb dealing stores.

Besides their use for collection by hobbyists, the seashells had been in use as tools in accordance with their sizes, like bowls, bathtubs, scrapers, blades and oil lamps.

The grains of rice inscribed with names were no less than a surprise for many onlookers with many of them abruptly questioned, ‘how did u write it on?’


Fazil said he uses the pointer with sharpened nib to write down names on the grain.

He preserves the treated rice in an oil-filled vial, made of magnifier glass to enable reading the name easily besides protects it from fading out.

With plastic-made base and lid, the vials are used as locket that Fazil had priced at Rs100 each.

Rice writing was originated in Anatolia and India where rice grain is deeply symbolic culturally as well as religiously. As rice is itself is symbol of prosperity, the rice art also symbolizes good luck.

Likewise it is believed that anyone who gets his name written on rice grain would be very fortunate and could become prosperous that begot the tradition of gifting pieces of rice art.

One comment

  1. No doubt the governments must encourage such arts. But unfortunately they are entangled in political confrontations from all fronts and protecting their own interests

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