Disturbed by the plight of artisan a young boy is out to change the system. Ubeer Naqushbandi reports the legacy of a business family and its fall and rise
One afternoon in November 2007, Junaid Shahdar, 26, was sitting in father’s cozy office when a man walked in.
“Khudyah mae karzee saahal…meh chuey kooree khandar (God help me… my daughter’s marriage is on the cards).
Junaid, then a Class 12 student, was pained by this man’s misery.
“Who is this man,” Junaid asked his father Fareed Shahdhar, a noted businessman from Khanyar, Srinagar.
“He is an artisan,” said his father.
Junaid looked back at his father with baffled expressions. “They are the people with golden hands,” said Junaid’s father.
“They why is he in such a miserable condition,” asked Juniad innocently.
This was Junaid’s first interaction with an artisan, though a brief one. It left an impression on his young mind. “I wanted to help artisans. I could have joined my father’s business to realize that. But I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer,” says Junaid.
However, with time Junaid’s ambitions changed too.
Four years later, Junaid, after completing his MBA from Kashmir University, was again dreaming of helping artisans get out of misery.
But the question was how? “I knew it is no cakewalk. There are a lot of big guns involved in the trade,” said Junaid.
Finally he found a way. Without telling anybody about his actual plan, Junaid entered into partnership with his uncle Ajaz Ahmed and set up ‘Srinagar Rolling Mills’. “I ventured into real estate too,” said Junaid.
With his feet set, Junaid finally joined his father’s business of Pashmina shawl trading. “This was point I circled around for,” said Junaid.
But, soon Junaid realized, Pashmina is no cakewalk as he had thought earlier. One needs to have expertise to tell apart fake from authentic. “Serving as a manager in my father’s firm gave me much needed experience and expertise,” said Junaid.
Finally, one day Junaid told his father about his future plans. “I told him that I want to help artisans get out of poverty,” said Junaid. “He happily agreed. His only concern was: how will you do it?”
To answer that Junaid met Rouf Bhat, president of Karighar Union, and discussed his plans with him. “You are just a kid. How can you change the system,” said Rouf.
Heartbroken, Junaid asked Rouf for a chance to prove himself. “I told him to at least have a look at what I want to do,” said Junaid. “He agreed.”
Few days later, Rouf along with another person landed at Junaid’s doorstep, with an offer of cooperation. “It was a great relief.”
Straightaway Junaid started looking for areas where he could intervene to uplift the status of artisans.
First thing he noticed was that artisans were paid just Rs 1 spinning a single Pashmina thread. “The rates have not changed since last 60 years.”
Junaid noticed, artisans, especially women, would buy 10 grams of Pashmina for spinning for Rs 100. After spending ten days at spinning, it would earn them just Rs 350. “This was too less,” said Junaid.
After taking his father on board, and in consultation with Karigari Union, Junaid decided to give 10 grams of Pashmina wool to artisans free of cost. Then the artisans were paid Rs 350 as labour to spin the same. “This was the first step towards emancipating artisans,” said Junaid.
Another pressing issue was to get rid of power looms, as they had robbed artisans of their work. Junaid discussed the issue with government authorities, who after deliberations, decided to label machine and handmade Pashmina products separately. “Around same time Geographical index on handmade shawls was made mandatory,” said Junaid.
Recently Junaid launched www.phamb.co.in, to showcase Kashmiri Pashmina products globally. The portal showcases a wide range of Pashmina products including men’s blazers, overcoats, waistcoats, ties, pherans, sweaters, bedding, blankets and unstitched fabric etc. For women, there are Kaftans, suiting, pherans etc. “The idea is to help artisans get global exposure. They are the actual backbone of our shawl industry.”
“We promise cent percent genuine Pashmina products on our website,” claims Junaid. “If we compromise with our quality it will have direct bearing on artisans.”
Junaid is planning to offer washing of Pashmina products, tradional Rofu and tailoring services on his website. In order to keep a check on his products Junaid introduced unique coding system for every product that sells online.
“My father was an orthodox businessman, a very successful one in his own way. I just added a new dimension,” said Junaid.
But Junaid’s father Mohammad Fareed Shahdhar, a noted copper merchant, has an interesting journey with Pashmina too. Fareed’s grandfather Haji Ghulam Mohammad Shahdhar, a well known businessman dealing in handicrafts owned three showrooms in 1920s. “These showrooms were located at present day State Bank building at Residency Road,” said Fareed.
The business was part of legacy left by Fareed’s ancestor Haji Anwar Shah Shahdhar, who lived in Lahore in late 19th century.
But the legacy was cut short when Fareed’s father Mohammad Amin Shahdhar was born. “My grandmother died soon after delivering a baby,” said Fareed.
Fareed’s father was then raised in his maternal home. When he grew up, instead of Pashmina, he took up his maternal side’s profession of copper business.
In 1984, when Fareed completed his studies, he not only continued working with copper at his Habba Kadal shop, but also worked to revive his family’s original business: Pashmina.
“But Pashmina needed huge investment,” said Fareed. For next sixteen years, Fareed carried this dream along.
Finally in 2000, Fareed ventured into Pashmina trade. “Everybody thought it was like suicide,” recalls Fareed. Within four years, Fareed was a major name in Pashmina trade across Kashmir.
Fareed set up a Pashmina factory at Ganderbal’s industrial estate employing twenty one people. Fareed also developed repo with Pashmina artisans from Narwara, Eidgah, Hawal, Zoonimar (Srinagar), Pattan, Shoolipora (Budgam), Shuhama and Sheikhpora in Ganderbal. “There is a huge demand for Pashmina products from Middle East, especially Muscat,” said Fareed. “Muscat Masser or Rumal (head scarf) is in huge demand there. The annual export is over Rs 300 crore,” said Fareed.
Now the business is looked after by Fareed’s son Junaid. “The legacy has survived,” said Fareed with a smile.