Mohamad bhai, the sieve-maker of Ahmedabad

Living on the margins of a smart city in Gujarat, he juggles between a job and a micro business venture—a LIVELIHOOD

The last of a kind, Mohamad Charnawala trims and smooths the wires at the edge of a sieve. He spends Rs 35,000 on raw material every few months; his monthly earnings come to
Rs 6,000–7,000 (photo: Umesh Solanki via PARI)
The last of a kind, Mohamad Charnawala trims and smooths the wires at the edge of a sieve. He spends Rs 35,000 on raw material every few months; his monthly earnings come to Rs 6,000–7,000 (photo: Umesh Solanki via PARI)
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Umesh Solanki

Shuru shuru mein ek nug banane mein aadhi kalak lagati thi meri [Earlier it used to take me half an hour to make a single piece].”

Mohamad bhai is stroking the cuts on his fingertips with his thumb as he speaks about sieve making. He may still cut his fingers while working, but it has become easier for him with time and experience.

He speaks in a peculiar Hindi, a kind that is often spoken among Muslims in Gujarat, with a generous smattering of Gujarati words: “Ek mahina taklif padi mere ko. Ab ek nug paanch minute mein ban jaata hai [It was tough for about a month, but now I can make one piece in five minutes],” he smiles.

We are sitting in a 10x10 room inside Qutbi Building in Ahmedabad, home to Mohamad Charnawala, 43, and his 76-year-old ammi (mother), Ruqaiya Moizhusaini. Theirs is one of the 24 homes in this two-storey building in Daudi Vora’s Roza, near Ahmedabad’s Kalupur station, a chawl where working-class Muslims reside.

Step on the other side of the modern-looking railway station, and you are in the old city.

Making your way through the lanes, the food, the fights and squabbles, occasional abusive words in the air and slow-moving traffic, you will hit a web of roads—one diagonal, one winding towards the right, one turning left into a dead end and one meandering, then straightening and then merging into another. That is the one that brings you to Qutbi Building, owned by the Vora Trust in Daudi Vora’s Roza, where a total of 110 families live.

Mohamad bhai walks from here for about 30 kilometres, pushing his wooden cart across the city, three days a week. He starts at 6 a.m.

“Where his father used to go!” Ruqaiya exclaims, remembering her husband, wiping her face with her chunni. “He used to go beyond the river, to the other side of the Sabarmati and return late at 9 or 10 in the night.” Abba Moizhusaini died in February 2023. He was 79 then.

No, Mohamad bhai did not learn his craft from his father. “Ho gayi himmat toh kar liya (I had the courage to give it a try and I did it),” he says. “I used to watch him make those [sieves] at home. But I never touched a piece when he was alive. I guess I learnt by watching.”

His father used to work in his maternal uncle’s tea shop, but after a fight he quit and started making sieves. Mohamad bhai recalls that “from 1974, when we moved to Saraspur, my father used to go out with his cart” and that he continued till he died.

Mohamad bhai, however, is new to this work. He only started five months after his father’s death.

Thrice a week, Mohamad bhai pushes his 'sale or repair' cart of sieves around the city from 6 a.m. in the morning—the only remaining itinerant artisan of his kind. Some days he earns Rs 100, some days Rs 500, some days nothing at all. (photo: Umesh Solanki via PARI)
Thrice a week, Mohamad bhai pushes his 'sale or repair' cart of sieves around the city from 6 a.m. in the morning—the only remaining itinerant artisan of his kind. Some days he earns Rs 100, some days Rs 500, some days nothing at all. (photo: Umesh Solanki via PARI)
Umesh Solanki via PARI

And he does this for three days a week. “On other days, I paint 200–250 kg valves for diesel, petrol, gas that are used in bigger units. I go from 9 a.m. in the morning till 7.30 p.m. in the evening. I get Rs 400 a day.”

His sieve repair work does not bring him much money. “Koi din sau aaye. Koi din panch sau bhi le ke aye. Koi din nahi bhi laaye. Koi nakki nahi [Some days I bring Rs 100, some days I may bring Rs 500, some days there will be nothing at all. Nothing is fixed],” he says.

But then why doesn’t he do the valve colouring work all through the week?

“If you are in a business, you can hope to grow, make progress. The other thing is called a job—you go in the morning, you come back at night.” He looks exhausted and hopeful at the same time.

“I studied till Class 7. I was even admitted to Class 8. The riots broke out. I never went back to school. Started working from then. Worked in a shop repairing Primus stoves for Rs 5 a day. I even made kerosene pumps, welding rods. Did many things,” he says.

Making and repairing sieves is his latest venture.


There are many sieve repairers in Ahmedabad and other cities, but not many who offer a doorstep repairing service like Mohamad bhai.

“First it was only my father, and now it is me. I do not know of anyone else who runs a repair servicing cart. Have heard of no one, have seen no one. I am the only one walking around with this cart,” he says.

His cart is laden with iron nets of different strength and thickness, some old sieves, a chisel, a few rivets, a plier, a rather big pair of scissors, a couple of hammers and a piece of railway track about 3 ft long.

Clad sometimes in a kurta–pyjama, sometimes in a trouser and shirt, a pair of old slippers on his feet, a napkin on his shoulder to wipe his face, he pushes his cart, weighing a 100 kilograms, through the city lanes.

Making one sieve means more than one visit to the market.

Mohamad bhai first buys a tin sheet from the market, then cuts the sheet to the desired length and width. Then he takes the cut sheets to a 'press' in the market to get them folded and get flat bars ready for the rim.

What he calls ‘press’ is more like a little shop where they cut and press iron sheets into shape.

At home, he fixes two rivets with a link on the bars, and then off to the market again, this time to get ‘kor-kandoro’—a process where they get the frame and the skirt for the sieve ready. Once home, he fixes the woven wire mesh and the rivets to the now-round frame of the sieve.

“You use a wider mesh for popcorn, puffed rice, roasted gram and betelnut. We call that one with bigger opening ‘No. 5’. Everything else is a ‘running item’, used for wheat, rice, millet and all,” Mohamad bhai speaks holding a big sieve in front of me.

“I sell a new one for Rs 70 rupees, I can repair an old one for Rs 40–45. It all depends on the quality of the mesh.”

Mohamad bhai's 100 kg cart is stocked with sieves made with two kinds of mesh — the more open 'No. 5' and the finer 'running item' (photo: Umesh Solanki via PARI)
Mohamad bhai's 100 kg cart is stocked with sieves made with two kinds of mesh — the more open 'No. 5' and the finer 'running item' (photo: Umesh Solanki via PARI)
Umesh Solanki via PARI

The quality of the mesh is another way of identifying the sieve in addition to its size, he explains.

“They can come in various sizes: 10-, 12-, 13-, 15- or 16-inch in diameter, and each one of them can have a different quality of mesh as well,”
he explains.

“One 300 m roll of woven wire mesh costs about Rs 4,000. I charge Rs 10–40 for 'running items', ordinary sieves. For No. 12, I may charge Rs 70–80, it all depends on the customer. There are those who are willing to give me Rs 90–100 as well.”

He spends Rs 35,000 on the raw material every few months. His monthly earnings come to Rs 6,000–7,000.

The expenses are heavy, he says with a sigh. “There are just two of us and yet we spend almost all that I bring home.”

Then he smiles suddenly and says, “I don’t go to work anywhere on a Sunday. One day I rest.”

UMESH SOLANKI is an Ahmedabad-based photographer, documentary filmmaker and writer. Courtesy: People’s Archive of Rural India

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