The Key Maker


A boat maker works on the seaside in a coastal town, the embroiderer creates her trousseau at home, the basket weaver gets bamboo and grass from nearby forests, but there are some, that don’t have geographical or cultural boundaries. Some crafts are so well merged in the workings of the society, that they become ubiquitous to every city and every village.


The key maker, sitting on the roadside under the shade of a drying tree, or walking around streets carrying a bunch of uncarved iron almost-keys, is the inconspicuous savior during the funny accidents of being locked out of one’s own house. For making a key when you lose one, or for making duplicates, locksmiths have the magical skill of solving the puzzle of locks by the careful touch of hand and precise carving.


The earliest locks were used about 4000 years ago and with centuries of evolution, they have developed into many different kinds, such as the lever lock, the pin lock, the combination lock to name a few. This mechanical device used for security has now become a mass manufactured industrial product, but there are some who still make every part of the lock and assemble them, all by hand. After all, each lock should be different from another and it is hand crafting which gives that uniqueness to each of them.


On the road side of a dusty crossroads in Ahmedabad, there sits a locksmith assembling a diamond shaped lock, inspired by the diamond motif etched on the roundabout a few feet from there. Saiyyad Shaukat Hussain is not just a key maker; he is an inventor trying to create locks of amazing complexities. Every craft requires apprenticeship, and he learned the skill of making keys from his grandfather. Now, thirty five years later, he has taught himself the construction of locks, and not just regular locks, but such amazing pieces of craftsmanship, that he finds a place in the Limca Book of Records for lock inspired from the map of India.


Key making is his day job, but he tries to push the boundaries of his profession. He thinks about an idea for days together and then a quick rough sketch is all that is needed to facilitate the transformation of the idea into reality. Each part of the lock is hand crafted from sheet metal cut, folded and welded with hammer, drill, files and other tools. The levers are made in brass and the body of the lock in steel that is given a polish. The lock’s cover may appear decorative, but its purpose is to hide the workings of the lock.


Saiyyad’s locks are like puzzles for fellow locksmiths. How do you open a lock which has one key hole but two locks? How about a lock that has not one or two, but twenty one keys? This wonder has twenty one keys but only twenty key holes; a nightmare for robbers, it weighs 14 kgs!


Among the countess key makers practicing their craft, some driven by sheer passion can take this seemingly commonplace profession to completely new levels and make it an art; such craftsmen-inventors can be truly inspiring.