The Last Stone Mason by Sigrun Srivastava

Following text is by Sigrun Srivastav, who is an Indian author of German origin.

The young man threw the hammer and the chisel to the ground and cried: “I’m leaving you, father, I’m leaving you and your work. Look what it has brought us”.

He spread out his arms, looked at the small, congested dark room, the slabs of stone and marble stacked up in one corner, the cot covered with heaps of used clothes. The paint of whitewashed walls has come off. “Look what it has brought us - nothing , nothing!” the young man repeated in anger. “This kind of work just doesn’t pay.”

The old man stared at his son. His voice, though trembling, had not lost its usual gentleness. “It is not the money alone that matters, son. It is the service, our service to God.”

“Father, times have changed, and so has the stone mason’s work. You cannot live carving sculptures for temples only. Come on, father! You have to mass produce like all the other people in Agra.”

The lines around the old man’s mouth tightened. He said, “No, my son. This is the work I have learnt from my father and he had learnt from his father. We have kept up this tradition for hundreds of years. And I hoped you would continue our work.”

“No, father, there is so much more money in candle stands, paper-weights, ashtrays and plates for tourists”. The young man walked out of the room angrily.

The old man sat before the half finished marble statues of Radha and Krishna.

He dropped his hands into his lap and closed his eyes. He was praying. He did not seem to listen to the hesitant, “goodbye”, the son called out from the door. He sat still.

“Masterjee. Masterjee” Salim, the servant boy entered the workshop. His voice was filled with concern. He held a cup of tea in his hand. The old man lifted his head. He had a pale face and looked old and tired. He said, “Salim, soon I’ll be the last stone mason here, as everyone has gone to Agra. Look, Gopal my son has gone too. Now I’ll have to finish this sculpture all by myself”. The old man looked at the orphaned boy Salim and said, “I have very little strength. I can’t work with the chisel the way I used to. Carving takes too long a time. I have to finish the work and I will.”

The boy offered tea to the man and said, “Please drink this. It will do you good. Yes, I know you will finish this work.”

The old man sighed and picked up the chisel and the hammer. He loved his work and didn’t want to change it for any other work in the world. For days together the man worked continuously without taking any rest. His one desire was to finish the sculpture, which would be his last. He worked till his hands began to tremble and his shoulders started to ache. His arms grew heavy and his eyes grew tired. And then he couldn’t see anymore.

At that moment Salim returned. He saw the old man and asked him to eat some food. The old man whispered, “I am not going to finish it. I will not complete it. If Gopal was here, it would have been different, although he was not a good sculptor. He had difficulty in carving the face and hands properly. There was something missing in his fingers, and that something can’t be taught.”

Salim whispered, “Because it comes from somewhere deep inside you.” “You are right Salim.” And then the old man added, “And if you don’t have it inside you, then you’d better go to Agra and mass produce ashtrays for the tourists.”

The boy asked Masterjee to eat, and after feeling a little better the old man picked up his hammer and chisel again and worked till late in the night. In those days he prayed a lot. Now he prayed for help and strength and he prayed for his son. In the early hours of the morning the chisel fell from the old man’s hand, the hammer dropped to the ground and he fainted.

When the old man opened his eyes he found himself on the cot in his bedroom covered by a light cotton blanket. From the workshop the chipping around of the chisel reached his ears. He listened. Had he heard correctly? He could hear it again, strong blow of the hammer on the top of a chisel. Gopal! He was back. Gopal had returned. He should help him. They would finish the statue together. Weakly he walked to the door. Gopal! He was about to say, but the words froze on his lips. “No!” he wanted to cry out. “Stop the Work!” But he couldn’t move and stood staring at the young stone carver working at the face of the statue. It wasn’t his son Gopal, but Salim, his servant. The old man watched stunned, unable to speak. Anger gave way to a feeling of admiration, “Hai Ram,” the old man whispered. Finally when the weakness had left him, he walked over to the boy, put his hand on his shoulder. “Salim.” The boy started. He turned, looking up at his master.

“ I…I….only want to help,” whispered the boy. I…. “I’ll learn, if you teach me, Masterjee! I have been practicing secretly. For almost two years, in the quarry. I know. I should not have done this. But isn’t this different, Masterjee? This is sculpture, isn’t it?”

The old man pulled the boy’s head against his shoulder and whispered, “There is nothing I can teach you, my son. Go ahead, you have it in your heart. I know you will be one of the best stone masons India will ever have.”


'The Last Stone Mason' is a story of a sculptor who belonged to a family of artisans where the traditional art was handed down from one generation to another. For generations, the family had been carving statues of gods and goddesses for temples. The old mason found much pleasure and satisfaction in doing so.

Although he turned out beautifully carved statues, he did not earn much money. But he loved his profession so much that he couldn’t think of doing anything else to make more money. His young son, however, had a different opinion. He was young and ambitious and refused to pursue the family profession. He felt that it would be better to relocate to Agra and trade in gifts for tourists which are mass produced in factories. These were quick selling items and an individual could make more money in a short time.

He decided to move to Agra leaving his old father alone. The old mason was saddened by this development. He worried that if the entire young generation thought like his son, there would be no one to pursue the tradition and then it would soon die; in that case, he would be the last stone mason left in this world.

The Mason, however, had a young helper, Salim (his son’s age). Salim had seen his master’s passion for his art and how worried he was. He had admired his skills and secretly practised stone sculpting at the quarry. He knew that perfection comes when people do things out of love.

One day, the mason fell unconscious while working. When he regained his consciousness, he heard a hammering sound from the adjacent room. He thought perhaps his son had returned but when he peeped in, he saw, to his pleasant surprise, young Salim trying to complete his work.

He was happy - at last his fears were allayed.