The 8 dying professions of India

In India, several professions being passed on within families from one generation to the next have become redundant in 21st Century modern India, thanks to the economic restructuring. The last two decades have completely transformed India's cities. Traditional industries have been rendered redundant and new technologies have outdone the need of laborious tasks.

We bring you pictures from the new book, The Lost Generation, by author Nidhi Dugar Kundalia and those by photographer Clare Arni – both of whom have been chronicling "dying professions" of India.

First up - Those by Nidhi:


Scribes of Old Delhi

Back in the Mughal era, calligraphy was considered a virtuous and pious act. Members of the royal family often learnt calligraphy from the finest experts and offered them high positions in their courts. Wasim Ahmed, a scribe and teacher of Urdu, Persian and Arabic calligraphy, has been practising the art for over 30 years now. He once inscribed books and made hand-drawn posters and they then went to the printers to be replicated and were sold to people who believed the sacred verses would bring them good luck. But Mr Ahmed and others like him have long lost the patronage and the benefits that came with calligraphy after the introduction of Urdu font on computers.

Professional mourners of Rajasthan


In the Thar desert in the western states of Rajasthan, where women from privileged and upper-caste backgrounds are expected to preserve their dignity by not exhibiting their emotions in front of commoners, the lower-caste rudaalis are called in to mourn for them. They cry out aloud, toss their heads, and wail to the heavens, beating their chests and slapping the ground in front of them. This goes on for 12 days after a death. Over the years, families now prefer sophisticated, quieter funerals with rising literacy rates and migrations. Rudaalis are therefore increasingly losing their relevance.

Street dentist of Baroda

Amrit Singh's humble office is a street shop outside MS Baroda University. There's no mortar-and-brick structure, no ritzy chairs, no surgical light head. What you find is a few dentures, bottles and a tin box that holds extra dental tools. He makes his patients sit on a bamboo stool boot out any pain from their mouth with his corroded set of pliers. The street dentists in modern India learned their skills mostly from the Hubei community of China, who came looking for work in India in the early 1900s. Post-independence, regulations in dentistry practices were introduced, rendering street dentistry illegal but they continued to thrive in the dark underbelly of the country, tending to those for whom licensed dental services are still unaffordable.


Genealogist of Haridwar

After a death, male members in Indian families travel down to Haridwar to cremate their kins by pouring their ashes in the Ganga. The ceremony conducted by the family "panda" - priests who double up as genealogists. They are also in charge of the family register, of updating the family's genealogical tree with details of marriages, births and deaths. The reason for their existence has to do with the Hindu belief that the family is everlasting and comprehensive and that each Hindu must "look out" for his ancestors and perform ceremonies for their journey heavenwards and immortalise them by recording their names in the genealogical registers known as "vahis". Over the years, digitisation of their records and increasing scientific worldview are eating into the pandas' work but those like Mahendra Kumar continue to work.

Ittarwallah of Hyderabad


Before they bought a box-sized shop, Syed Abdul Gaffar's ancestors sold ittars from a wooden box that hung around their necks, walking the streets. They moved about the lanes of the old city that were lined with the homes of nobles and relatives of the Nawabs. The ittarwallahs would be invited in and the women would buy their scented wares - a vial of "raat ki rani", a flowery scent reminiscent of breathing the warm night air, or jasmine that would lure their husbands to their beds. Mr Gaffar now sells the ittar (perfumes) he makes to the few discerning customers who still have a nose for it. There is an increasing demand for branded synthetic perfumes which are more cost effective. But he refuses to make them, says it’s immoral.

Next up are those by British-born Clare Arni:

Tinning Process, Delhi


Copper is one of the best metals for conducting heat and was often used in cooking vessels, so that the heat spread evenly across the surface of the pot. The metal can, however, react with acidic foods to produce toxins, so in workshops like these the pots are lined with tin on the inside. This profession is now vanishing due to the availability of cheaper stainless steel vessels.

Woon Son Shoes, Kolkata

Christopher Francis Lin’s card said that he was an ‘Expert footwear designer and shoemaker’. At one time, each of the shoe moulds – or lasts, as they're called in the trade – were custom made to the shape and size of the customer's feet. But now, they sizes are standarised. “Then it was good money.”


The Potter, Duza Siguiera, Goa

Several members of Duza Siguiera family work together in a small red laterite workshop producing hand-pinched pots. The market has become less as everyone is using plastic and stainless steel despite the fact that it’s good to use terracotta for health.

(Image source: Clare Arni)