Abdul Hameed Wani, who owns and runs Kashmir’s only private apple mandi deep in south Kashmir is a self-made businessman, whose trade is dictated by the urge to contribute differently to society, reports Babra Wani
Abdul Hameed Wani’s story is one of resilience and triumph over adversity. He was only in fourth grade when his father made a life-altering decision, urging him to drop out and work as a labourer. This pivotal moment, etched in Hameed’s memory for over four decades, still evokes profound emotions. “I was too young to comprehend,” he said.
Now, Hameed stands as a thriving entrepreneur and proud owner of Kashmir’s first privately owned fruit Mandi in Rebban (Zainpora), Shopian. What is even more intriguing is the modest Rs 11 commission he charges on traded commodities in comparison to eight to 12 per cent charged in the formal mandis in Shopian. Kulgam, Sopore and other places.
Hameed, 58, vividly remembers the heart-wrenching conversation with his father. “After I completed fourth grade,” he recounts, “my father advised me to abandon my studies and focus on earning a livelihood. I asked, ‘What can I do? I am too young.’ His response was for me to seek work in Srinagar.”
Soon he found himself labouring alongside older individuals, assisting in woodcutting. “I was among the youngest there,” he remembers. “I worked for nearly two years, earning a small sum that I contributed to my family while managing my expenses.”
Later, Hameed’s father proposed another opportunity – working outside Kashmir with a contractor. “My father mentioned an out-of-state contractor,” Hameed explains. “He offered around Rs 150 as payment, even during the harsh winter months. I agreed, saying ‘Alright.'”
Off to Punjab, he went, working as a cleaner for two years. During his time there, he encountered a generous Hindu who suggested he learn to tailor. Hameed struck a deal, purchasing a tailoring machine with funds provided by the man. Upon his return, he honed his skills under the tutelage of a local tailor in his village.
“Later,” Hameed recounts, “I opened my tailoring shop. It was around the 1980s, and I was still very young, unmarried, and ambitious.” As he observed the burgeoning fruit trade in Kashmir, he began contemplating a new venture. However, financial constraints loomed large.
Hameed remembered how his customers paid him not in currency but with wheat. “Some gave a kilogram, others more, in exchange for stitching their clothing,” he recalls. “In those days, poverty was widespread, and wheat was a precious commodity.”
Yet, destiny had other plans. Two neighbours offered their fruit produce as a starting point. “They suggested I begin with this,” Hameed remembers, “and when I asked about the advance amount, one family requested Rs 500 rupees, while the other asked for Rs 1000.” His savings, accumulated over time, came to the rescue. “Simultaneously, a trader from Punjab offered me Rs 5,000 in advance to kickstart my fruit trade. That is how it all began.”
Hameed’s commitment and integrity quickly translated into profits. He recounts an incident where a shop owner in Anantnag offered a seasonal investment of Rs 50,000 in my business. “I agreed and used the money to buy produce from local growers. I made a Rs 10,000 profit, promptly returning it to the owner without retaining a single penny.”
Later, Hameed sought out an investor from Punjab. This eventually marked the beginning of a successful partnership. “Subsequently,” Hameed continues, “more traders joined, asking me to supply fruits taking into consideration my reputation in the market.”
The Journey Unfolds
It was at this stage that his father realised Hameed’s contributions and understood the toll he was put to especially when two of his younger brothers studied. His business flourished, thanks to his devotion, hard work, and unshakable honesty.
Realising the demand for his services, he decided to establish his own Mandi four years ago. This Mandi serves as a terminal shed for collecting and dispatching produce.
People welcomed his decision, offering their produce willingly. Concerns arose about commissions, to which Hameed responded, “There will be no commission. This place belongs to you, and you are free to sell your produce here. Even if you bring your labourers, I won’t mind.”
This generous offer endeared Hameed to the community, with no other similar facility offering such terms. “I dedicated this place to my people,” he said. On every box of fruit sold at his Mandi, he fixes a commission of Rs 11, of which Rs 6 go to the labourers and he retains only five. “I want people to know that I am just like them, very common and that they should not feel pressured or scared to approach me.” His earnings amount to less than one per cent of the overall sale of one fruit box.
Despite suggestions to construct a formal office, Hameed declined, wishing to maintain an approachable atmosphere. His current office is a simple white-painted room with basic furnishings and a large television connected to CCTV cameras installed in the Mandi. In 2022, his mandi sold nearly one million apple boxes.
Hameed believes in fostering meaningful connections in society, emphasizing the importance of comfortable conversations. Today, Hameed is a father to three sons. One is a teacher, another assists him in their business, and the youngest aspires to become a doctor.
Impact on the Community
The Mandi, established four years ago, has transformed into a thriving hub, providing livelihoods to many people. The Mandi also serves as a shelter for labourers and traders from distant areas, boasting an annual turnover of nearly Rs 50 Crore.
Despite the tranquillity of his present life, Hameed’s past struggles still bring tears to his eyes. He finds immense satisfaction in paying his employees, equating the feeling to being in heaven. “Work hard, stay honest, remain grounded, and humility will lead you to excel in life.”