Thriving on Sawdust

Persistent poverty at home made them to start from scratch. But over the years, Bhats of Babademb have established themselves ‘preferable’ address for all types of timber products. Bilal Handoo reports the venture of brothers who are unwittingly restoring the ‘fading’ traditional wood works of Kashmir 

Wooden-Art

A mist of sawdust is slowly settling over doors, windows and other timber products placed on a shop at Srinagar’s Babademb area. At a right corner, men with machines are polishing timber. It is a buzzing market outside. Nearby a construction of a gate to old city is going on. Sidewalk is decorated with many shops selling timber products.

One shop belongs to Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, who is attending a beeline of customers at his Hayat Traders started in 2005 with Rs 2700. Ten years on, Fayaz is one of the main suppliers of timber products of Srinagar.

But before a boom of business started, this part of Babademb was part of lagoon. It was the laying of metallic road in the area in 1995-96 that gave a facelift to the entire area and motivated many to setup their venture on the stretch.

By 2005, Fayaz and his brothers were the first to open their shop on what used to be a deserted stretch. At the outset though, they were mocked and laughed at – as many thought: opening a shop in hinterland is a pure madness!

But as time triggered a business buzz in the same “hinterland”, the mockers rued over the missed opportunity to start a shop of their own for a paltry sum.

However, before Fayaz would sit back to attend a rush at his shop, he was leading a life without “wishes and wants”. His labourer father was only earning hand to mouth. To break free from such life, Fayaz worked as cloth merchant and visited various villages across valley. His two brothers also did odd jobs for the family welfare.

But their life wasn’t getting on normal track. In face of insufficient income, the rising home expenses only made them restive. With three unmarried sisters at home, the family sold their land in desperation. The family prospects, however, continued to be distressing.

And then one evening, the three brothers sat together. A long discussion ensued about the future plans. One after another, ideas were discussed. But to their woes, each idea would require hefty amount to execute. “Okay, let’s end this crap!” Fayaz blurted out during that sitting. “Be ready tomorrow. We will first set up our own shop.”

The next morning, the brothers set up a makeshift shed in their yard close to the road. One of them went to purchase some second hand construction timber. Another went to hire a carpenter on daily basis.

“Selling timber and its products wasn’t our domain,” continues Fayaz, “but somehow we were too desperate to end our misery.”

The beginning of the business was laid with only Rs 2700. Start was easy, but going was tough. A troubled times followed. There seemed no takers of their trade for a while. With no sales for days together, they would sit wearing worrisome faces.

Jali-wooden-design-srinagar-kashmir

“But we couldn’t have afforded to wind up what we had started with a purpose,” says Qayoom Bhat, the eldest among the trio. “The only way to survive was to stay put and stay patient.” Their patience did pay.

Things started changing after a spillover of malls and shopping complexes from nearby Munawarabad reached Babademb. Soon the area too witnessed mushrooming of shops and garages. Bhats eventually got noticed. Supply orders started pouring. And sales slowly maintain a steady run.

A swelling customer baseline motivated them to install wood furnishing machines in their shop. The first machine was installed in 2007. The rising graph of business didn’t stop after that. Earlier they used to register a single sale after weeks. But now, they would take home ‘handsome’ sales after calling it a day.

Shortly, Bhats jumped into variety of wood works. Apart from supplying construction timber, they now, unwittingly, support Kashmiri traditional wood works to sustain. “You named it and we will make it sure to supply every type of wood products to you,” says Qayoom.

Khatamband ceilings, Jalar windows, floorings and others traditional Kashmiri items are their speciality.

And to manufacture these items, some 32 Kashmiri artisans are working under them. There is a clear division of labour in their three workshops, where three different treatments to timber are being given.

One workshop is completely dedicated to Khatamband. Other workshop is meant for wood carving. And last one is dedicated to routine wood works.

Perhaps, it is because of their efforts that Khatamband ceiling is back in demand in the local market. “Yes, many people now place orders for Khatamband for their newly constructed homes,” says Qayoom.

Apart from Khatamband, Bhats are known for doing Punjabi Naqhche on wood. “Not many are doing it,” Qayoom says, “because it involves lot of intricate designs and patterns.” Punjabi panjras is also getting popular in local market, he says.

Besides Bhats have introduced three coloured flooring made of three different timbers – bryen, doon and kikur – in the local market. “Such floors look very beautiful,” says Abid, another brother, “because of its colour appeal.” It is in fact, he continues, better than the Chinese flooring.

Over the years, Bhats of Babademb have come a long way in life. Their first month earning was around Rs 1000, which has now risen to multiple figures. Today, the monthly salary of their single artisan is over Rs 20,000.

They too lead a life of wishes and wants now, which earlier wasn’t a case. “There was a time when we couldn’t even afford small things in life,” says Fayaz. “But now, life has changed for good.”

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