It’s 4:00 am and under the thick blanket on my bed I can hear sounds coming from the yard below my window. These January days start cold. It’s pitch black outside and I can see my breath as I shuffle into my jeans and head for the bathroom across the hall. The house is waking and Pradiip Maharjan is already up and has disappeared down the stairs to start the fires. Today he is casting copper – months of delicate wax carvings buried underneath clay and cow dung moulds – strange shapes that bear little relation to the forms inside.
Outside I find Pradiip and another worker crouched at different ends of the rough brick kiln. The top is open; flames are starting to lick against the inside walls from the fires underneath. All around the base long wooden planks are sticking out of the fireboxes and a bright orange glow is crackling as the heat intensifies. I ask him if all is going well and he nods and smiles. Smoke rises above the kiln, drifts up to the high corrugated iron roof and drifts into the Kathmandu morning sky. The sun is rising and the dogs are barking.
By 7am the fire is raging – the bright red moulds are smoking as the wax melts inside. At small outlets at the base the molten material is pouring into pots for recycling. The man in charge of the metal mixture is weighing recycled copper wires and new zinc blocks and soon the oil burner is started up, throwing intense flames into the base of the firebox with a roar. Pradiip tells me that this man is a specialist. Few people know the art – for mixing the metal to get the best cast is a highly skilled profession – and he travels from one workshop to another around Kathmandu doing just this. The noise of the burner is deafening, and flames shoot up out of the top of the furnace high into the air. The heat from both fires is intense making it difficult to take photographs. By noon the casting has begun.