Sheikh’s Topi Saaz

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He has capped some of the famous heads in Kashmir politics including Sheikh Abdullah and G M Shah. A cap-maker by profession and NC supporter by conviction, Mohammad Sidiq Wani talks to Syed Asma about his craft and life

Topi-Saaz

A five feet tall old man opened the door enthusiastically and introduced himself, “I suppose you have come here to meet me! I am Mohammad Sidiq Wani.”

Born in Zaina Kadal, Srinagar, Sidiq has now moved to a comparatively calmer place in city outskirts along with his nephew. Sidiq over the years has been living with his nephew.

Eighty-year-old Sidiq has been an established businessman of his times. He was running his family business of fur and making skull caps known as Karakuli in local parlances.

Apart from being famous for his craft, he is famous for his customer base as well.

Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, Mirza Mohammed Afzal Beg, Ghulam Mohammed Shah, Sofi Mohammed Akbar, Ghulam Rasool Kochak, Ghulam Nabi Kochak, V P Singh, Jai Prakash Narayan and many other prominent political faces have been wearing his hand-made Karakuli caps.

However, he left the job long back but has preserved the diary where he has noted down the required measurements for the Karakuli cap of all these prominent faces. He still remembers every minute detail associated with the making of Karakuli.

“Though, I have made maximum number of caps for Afzal Beg but my favourite is Sheikh Sahib,” he says with a shy smile. “His skull measured 25 inches in circumference and so was Dr Farooq’s and Afzal Beg’s,” he remembers, “I still remember the colours of the caps I have gifted to all those prominent figures.”

Sidiq famous as Mohammed Sidiq topi saaz claims he was very close to Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. He enjoys talking about Sheikh as a person but consciously avoids talking about the politics associated with him.

“I followed Sheikh to every gathering, every meeting, and on every single occasion; even in jails I accompanied him sometimes.”  Sidiq claiming to be very close to Sheikh even remembers the brand of Sheikh’s cigarettes – laalteen.

Sheikh was the most famous leader of his times and had significant number of followers and admirers, Sidiq was one of them but he got closer to him when Sheikh was jailed in 1953. They exchanged letters, Sidiq says. Besides, Sidiq was a close acquaintance of Begum Abdullah as well who was running a ‘Food Committee’ and of which Sidiq was a member since he was in his teens.

Besides, Sidiq was a staunch National Conference supporter and worker. He has participated in rallies, protests and even fierce fights for Sheikh and National Conference. The passion and loyalty for Sheikh took toll on Sidiq’s life. He got his leg fractured in one of the fights between National Conference and their opponents and is living with a limping leg.

“While fighting I was thrown into a deep Nallah, my leg got fractured. Though, I was operated upon many times but couldn’t get it [leg]better.”

Being a famous Karakuli maker of his times, he has made numerous caps for all of the prominent leaders of those times but none has paid a single Rupee to him. “I never asked for money, I mean, how I could have asked Sheikh Sahib for money. It was as good as committing a sin,” says Sidiq.

“Even same is true for Afzal Beg, I could never ask for money from him too. It was my token of love and respect for my leaders who were up for a cause.”

For Sidiq visiting Mujahid Manzil, the then movement’s headquarter, was almost a daily affair. He was there either for party meetings or taking measurements for his making caps for leaders.

He remembers, once in winters while Sidiq was working on two Karakuli caps ordered by Sheikh, one for himself and other for Dr Farooq. Sheikh called him up and ordered him to report at Mujahid Manzil within minutes. Being an obedient follower Sidiq reported there and saw a guest, Jaiprakash Narayan.

Sheikh introduced Sidiq and shared a wish of gifting a Karakuli cap to Narayan.

“I thought Sheikh Sahib will be gifting him a new one but he handed over to me the one he was wearing. I was in a fix.”

It was 2 PM and Narayan had to fly back to Delhi at 4 PM. Sidiq had to wash the cap and had to rearrange the measurements. Two hours were too little, Sidiq recalls.

“I had to work on the measurements as Sheikh’s cap looked very odd on Jaiprakash’s head. The measurement varied by 3.5 inches. But I managed and this impressed Sheikh Sahib a lot.”

Sidiq was and still is equally impressed with Sheikh and casts votes in favour of National conference in every election. “Yes I cast vote in every election but not for National Conference but for sheikh Sahib as he once took a promise from all of us [his supporter]that till we are alive we will cast votes in favour of his party which is as strong as an iron wall for Kashmir,” concludes Sidiq.

However, he was reluctant to elaborate over Sheikh’s calling National Conference an Iron wall.

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