In this third part of ‘Kashmir in Capital’ series, Kashmir Observer tells tale of Abdul Rasheed, whose journey from Shalimar to Nizamuddin revived the crumbling state of craft in Delhi’s ‘art of gallery’ arcade.
By Romaan Arora
AT a stone’s throw from Nizamuddin Markaz, ‘The Art of Kashmir’ is a small window of the valley in the sizzling souk of South Delhi.
Its owner, Abdul Rasheed, has been trying to uphold the capital’s craft reputation since mid-nineties after he introduced the art of embroidery and shawl-making from Kashmir.
“It was difficult in those days,” says Rasheed, who came to Delhi as a struggler in 1995.
“I was 35 at that time. I came here by road, and it was the first time I had gone outside the valley to earn.”
In the beginning, he worked as a hawker under the hostile sun, carrying a bundle of shawls to every nook and cranny of the capital. But the different culture, language and habits became barriers for him.
Once he overcame those initial hitches, he started visiting embassies to sell his shawls and suits to diplomats.
“I would interact with foreign tourists in Srinagar, so I applied that experience here,” Rasheed recalls. “It worked for me in Delhi.”
It went for around 5 years till 2000. After that, he realized there’s nothing much to gain from high commissions.
“So I changed my target location and started hawking around South Delhi. And it proved to be a good decision,” the Pashmina seller says.
But to create a niche in Nizamuddin wasn’t a pushover for Rasheed. It was more about setting and cementing his base based on the local trust and contacts.
After years of slog, his efforts finally paid off in 2008, when he opened his Pashmina store. He shortly rose to become a prominent Kashmiri trader in town.
Apart from selling ‘good quality products’, there was also the first-mover advantage and a blend of good business practices.
“If I’m here today,” Rasheed says, “it’s only because of my constant hard work.”
But since Kashmiri shawls stay in Delhi market for four months only, from November to March, Rasheed has to grapple with the eight-month-long workless period.
Even in the ongoing Covid-marred season, his customer base has badly shrunk. People from different states would arrive in Delhi on vacations during winters and buy his Pashmina stock.
“Apart from Indian clientele, I used to cater customers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and other foreign countries,” Rasheed says.
These tourists used to visit Nizamuddin Markaz (Islamic Centre for the religious congregation) during winters.
“But that winter rush has ended after Markaz was declared as the ‘Corona hotspot’ and closed down,” the trader says.
Markaz was one of his main sources of income, and its closure has made the whole market suffer in an unprecedented manner.
“It’s deserted now,” the Shalimar-born trader says. “So one can only imagine our plight, as a major share of our sale has gone.”
But Rasheed appears to be quite optimistic about future.
“If God wills, the Markaz shall start functioning again after March 2021,” he hopes. “So I am quite hopeful of a new and powerful start.”
Despite these twists and turns in the capital, the Kashmiri trader’s goodwill has earned him the local trust and support.
Rasheed praises the “helpful” people of Nizamuddin—considered as a “second home” to many Kashmiris. The nearby Bhogal area has a locality called Kashmiri Park named after the ethnicity of the majority of its residents.
“People here don’t discriminate against Kashmiris,” he says. “We never faced any sort of trouble here in the recent past when Kashmiris were facing hate attacks in different parts of India. The locals always came to our support whenever we needed them or whenever there was any issue.”
It’s because of this connection that he doesn’t regret his Delhi decision.
He still prefers staying in the capital because he can’t sustain the cold weather in Srinagar.
“My son Bilal is an engineer, who married a local girl and is settled here,” Rasheed says.
“But despite living here with my family, Kashmir is always in my heart.”
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.