Soon after partition a Pakistani man and a UP lady met and settled in Srinagar. Three generations later, the family is fighting odds to survive, reports Fazil Buchh
Not far away from Amira Kadal and a few yards before Masjid Hamzah is a shop that is usually open with half the shutter down.
The shop is literally stuffed with tobacco products: mouth tobacco sachets hanging all around, cigarette packets, pan products, large cloves of leaves used to hold the pan, mouth fresheners arranged on shelves. The top right corner of the interior wall holds a picture of a young man with black moustaches and a red tilak on the forehead, framed in glass and decorated with cream coloured garland
The counter separates the customer and a black chair on which sits Saveeta, a middle-aged dark complexioned woman. Her deep sunken eyes smudged with kajal make them distinct from the dark-circles below them. The dark eyes carry an ocean of pain.
Saveeta Chaurasia, 40, runs this shop. She is an expert in mixing different ingredients together to make various types of the pan, meetha pan, khatta pan. Finally, she wraps the mixture in a clove of the leaf. Apart from pan, she sells cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Saveeta was born in Lal Chowk to Mulkch Raj Chaurasia (father) and Sarojini Devi (mother)in 1979. Her father was from Pakistan and mother from Uttar Pradesh. Post-partition, they settled at Lal Chowk and started living in a rented apartment at Court Road where Savita still lives.
“My mother told me that they paid Rs 30 per month during those times to the lady who owns that house and now I pay Rs 10,000 for the same six rooms,” Saveeta said.
A local bicycle mechanic, who knows Saveeta’s father said Mulkch worked hard by selling cigarettes on bicycle initially until he managed to get a shop in Kokar Bazar where he would sell Pan. Her father left this world when Saveeta was in her childhood leaving behind her mother and four children; three daughters and a son, Sujeet Kumar. He actually brought up the family.
Saveeta recalls that after the death of her father, she started helping Bhai sahib and bhabi ji (Sujeet’s wife) in business from making pan to dealing with customers as they had no child.
In 2001, Saveeta married Shalinder Chaurasia, a Delhi resident. One of her sisters died of cancer and the other was married in Jhansi
Saveeta’s marriage took place in a yearly public gathering in which grooms meet brides and solemnise the marriage. Her mother had actually taken her to Delhi where she finally took the marriage vows.
Post marriage, a situation evolved that left no option other than Saveeta and her husband to come to Kashmir to take care of her mother. In 2003, her Bhai Sahab passed away and the tensions created a gulf between her and widow of Bhai Sahab.
The couple struggled and finally started selling pan masala and tobacco. This gave them an idea for survival.
In 2011, Saveeta and Shalinder were blessed with a daughter, Ananiya, now eight-year-old. But the crisis came knocked their door when in 2015, cancer killed Shalinder. This forced her to take over the small shop. A year later, Sarojini Devi, her mother also passed away.
Ananiya is a captivating child, who wants to become an air-hostess. Normally, sitting with her mother, she finishes her homework while helping her.
It is worth watching how the mother, who had studied up to the fifth primary, teaches her daughter and readies her for tuitions and school. She does all this while attending the customers.
“I miss my Papa the most during nights. I was very little when he passed away but I remember his face through a photograph,” little Ananya said. “Whenever I ask Mamma, she says life and death are in the hands of God.”