Fish In Fashion

A news photographer created a social media page for selling pre-cooked Kashmir fish. He had forgotten the idea when orders landed in his in-box. A year in business, he sells more than two tons a month, reports Minhaj Masoodi

A news photographer who lives on the banks of Wullar lake launched an enterprise that delivers home-cooked fish to the customers. Cooking fish is a super technique in Kashmir kitchens. KL Image: Special Arrangemnet

The idea of a media professional selling fish handis may seem weird to many, not to Shuaib Masoodi. Originally from Mader in Bandipora, Shuaib is a photojournalist by profession. He currently lives at HMT in Srinagar outskirts. Apart from managing his profession, Shuaib is delivering delectable homemade fish Handis all over Kashmir.

It was last year, during the peak of Covid19 when Shuaib very casually created an Instagram page Wular Fish For All. “The idea struck me out of blue during Ramzan last year at the peak of Covid,” Shuaib said. This could have been the outcome of his continued thought process that he wanted to try something different. “Fish came to my mind and I chose the name Wular Fish for All. After the Insta page, I created one on Facebook as well.”

After some time, people started following his page on Instagram but he did not receive any orders. “I was all laid back. I had not seriously thought about it.”

A Memorable Eid

But on that Eid, everything changed. Shuaib went to his hometown in Bandipora to celebrate Eid that year, a day before. “On Arfa, the Eid eve, I went to Bandipora, my hometown,” Shuaib remembers. “I was idling through the day, when out of blue, I got three-four orders from Srinagar. Three orders had been placed on Instagram and one on Facebook. And they had to be delivered after Eid.”

It was a sweet surprise that choose its shocking way to get revealed. Shuaib became anxious. “I got really tense because until then, I had not taken it seriously. Now that I had orders to deliver, I became very concerned, because nothing was in place barring a page on social media,” he admitted.

That day, Shuaib’s brother-in-law had also come to Bandipore. He happened to share the idea as well as his anxiety with him. “I asked him for advice. He liked my idea and encouraged me to pursue it.”

Thus, Shuaib embarked on the journey with full conviction.

That day he got fish from the market and asked his family to cook it. “I told them, I have three-four orders, I have to deliver them anyhow.”

Pre-cooked Wullar Lake fish with Nadru, the Lotus Stem, ready for delivery to the customers. KL Image: Special Arrangement

New Tensions

“I remember being so anxious,” Shuaib reminisced. “I did not sleep all night.” He said he spent the night thinking, how to pack the orders, how to get them delivered. “Because I had no idea how to proceed forward.”

The next day, the thought of delivering fish in earthen Handis popped into his mind. “The idea appealed to me.” On the same day, Shuaib set out in search of potters in the town. Having narrowed down on a few, he approached them. “They were very aged. I asked them about pots in which I could deliver the fish.”

“They took me upstairs to an old dusty room. It had lots of pots lying there, gathering dust. I asked them about it,” Shuaib remembers the moments when he made the first contact with potters; a craft many believe was fading away. They said, “We have made them a decade ago.”

They were unsold for the last ten years; obviously for lack of demand in the market. The potters had now restricted themselves to making Kondals for Kangris. “I offered to buy their stock.”

Unlike, the catching through the netting, the practice involving Naarch badly mutilates the quarry. The fishhooks tear into their flesh; blood drenching the weapons.

The First Delivery

When the orders were ready, Shuaib set off for Srinagar with his brother-in-law to deliver the orders. “Our first order was from Sheikhpura, Budgam on Airport Road. Another delivery was in Jawahar Nagar, one in Tengpora. We had three-four orders that day.”

“Our first day went like this only,” Shuaib remembers. “In the evening, I received very positive comments from them on Instagram.” Thus, Wular Fish For All came practically into being. Delivering three-four-five orders per day became a routine.

Encouraged by the response, Shuaib became fully committed to his venture. He hired a couple of ladies, 2-3 helpers, an auto carrier to deliver fish and vegetables. “In Bandipora we also made a proper kitchen. Currently, we have 6-7 people working with us,” Shuaib said.

The Process

Shuaib gets his primary produce from Wular Lake. “We pay them a little extra for, sometimes even Rs 50 more, to get fish cleaned. We get them without heads, cut into proper pieces.”

For a Handi, Shuaib gets two kg live fish. “In a Handi, then we put seven pieces of fish, nadru (lotus stem), radish, tomato which then sells for Rs 1500 per Handi.” For spices, Shuaib gets the raw spice from the farmers. “We grind it at home.”

At present Shuaib is selling 15-20 Handis per day.

However, managing deliveries throughout Kashmir in a single day is not easy. For this, Shuaib had tried to tie up with a delivery company, but due to logistical issues and no assurances on time of delivery, the deal fell through.

Delivery System

“Since the delivery company could not promise us single day delivery, we have now kept our own boys,” Shuaib said. “It is a perishable item and cannot wait for long. There were also concerns about the delivery because sometimes people have guests at home, who order fish.”

Shuaib has designated boys who now deliver the orders. “We have selected a guy for Anantnag. We put the order with a cab driver at Jahangir Chowk. Our delivery guy at Anantnag coordinates with him and receives it. Then, he delivers it. We have three-four such guys. We have one guy in Jammu also. We give the consignment to a cab driver at TRC, it reaches Jammu by evening,” he said.

Shuaib is overwhelmed with the people’s response. “It has been fabulous,” He said. He has now diversified his product range. “Now we have started honey, homemade pickles under the same brand name.”

A daylong slog translates into fisherman catching about three kgs of fishes at an average in Srinagar’s Dal lake

Satisfactory Business

Although it is a capital intensive business, the sales have been good. To Shuaib, the best part of his business has been to be able to help those people living abroad or outside Jammu and Kashmir deliver gift wraps to their families back home. “The look of surprise and bewilderment on the face of family members of those people when they receive the order gives me immense happiness,” said Shuaib.

Shuaib has also got his business registered with the government. At the time of filing of the story he said, he was packing orders for Delhi, Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

Owing to decent sales and positive reviews, Shuaib has now been offered space in Bandipora town as well. “They tell me why to work from home.”

“I got offers from friends in Srinagar from Dalgate, Nehru Park, SK Park and other places, even Jahangir Chowk. I even got offers from people for partnership, but I refused,” he said insisting that he has politely refused offers of partnership. “We are intending to start office at Srinagar. Then expand it to other districts also. Hopefully, it will go fine.”

However, Shuaib is carrying on with his parent profession, photography. “My photography work is going on side by side,” he said. “But I am getting more and more inclined towards this business.”

Fisherwomen wait for customers to show up as moderate snowfall.

Fish Production

Wullar, Kashmir’s freshwater lake is a Ramsar site and is a major reservoir of fish, mostly the Schizothorax. Bashir Ahmad, who has been associated with fishing for most of his life said the entire population of 18 villages depends on the lake for fish. “My estimation suggests that on daily basis we catch around 4000 kg in summer till September,” Ahmad said. “In winters, it could be around one-fourth of it or less.”

Kashmir overall produces almost 21 thousand tonnes of fish a year but the market still has a deficit that is being managed by the imported varieties. Even the sea fish is now available in Srinagar. Off late, even the fisheries department is making trout available to the consumers.

Of late, health practitioners have been suggesting people improve their food intake by having a mix of poultry, mutton and fish. This is gradually spiking the demand and Shuaib’s initiative is creating a model of pre-cooked fish-selling to a new consumer, who lacks time – or even the capacity to cook, fish. “Right now, we are consuming upward of two tons of a month and that is a good beginning,” Shuaib said.

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