KASHMIR In Capital: South Delhi’s Samaritan Shawl-man

  Basharat Saleem Sheikh at his shop in Lajpat Nagar. KO Photos by Romaan Arora

In this fifth part of the ‘Kashmir in Capital’ series, Kashmir Observer talks to Basharat Saleem Sheikh, owner of Kashmir Specialities in New Delhi, to find out his story of success from scratches.

By Romaan Arora

AS home to some proficient Kashmiris, Lajpat Nagar is a specimen of the skilled valley in the capital. One of the upholders of this craft spirit is Basharat Saleem Sheikh, an erstwhile resident of Rawalpora locality in Srinagar.

Basharat was 24 when he came to Delhi, and it took him 28 years of toiling and tireless efforts to reach the place where he stands today.

In October 1992, he arrived in the capital after braving the brunt of offensive back home.

“I was badly thrashed by security forces in Maharaj Bazar soon after a firing incident,” Basharat recalls. “I was on my scooter and was trying to escape from that mishap. But the government forces got hold of me and started beating me, even though I was innocent.”

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After this dreadful incident, his father sent him to New Delhi and got him a shop on lease in Hauz Khas locality where he worked for eight years till the year 2000.

His slog and single-minded devotion clicked his capital dream.

“It was a friend of mine who suggested me to buy a shop in Lajpat Nagar as it was emerging as a prominent marketplace during early 2000,” remembers Basharat, now in his early 50s.

“Since the owner was a friend of mine, he gave me five months to pay the complete amount.”

At that time the demand for Kashmiri Shawls was at a peak in Europe. He exported a good number of them and paid the complete amount to his buddy landlord.

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“Not only that,” he adds, “I also bought an adjacent basement at the double rate.”

In the span of almost three decades, Basharat has noticed quite a few differences between working in Kashmir and Delhi.

The first difference is of artisans, he says. “I’ve searched the whole of India but have never seen anyone matching the craftsmanship of Kashmiri artisans.”

Also, he asserts, Kashmiris are more honest. “Be it a businessman, or a customer, they all are honest. In fact, Kashmiris are respected in every part of the world not just in India. We’ve earned a global image because of our distinct features such as our state of the art handicrafts and our hospitality.”

Even the Amritsari shawls, he says, are sold in the name of Kashmir. “Our own distinct identity is responsible for this brand Kashmir fascination and appeal.”

Besides honesty, it was his fixed price policy that acts as a USP for his brand in Delhi.

“Different price for different buyers harms your own reputation,” Basharat, a ‘Samaritan’ in Delhi circles, says.

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“I believe that giving a gift to the customer is much better than giving a discount as it strengthens the relationship between the seller and the buyer.”

But settling down in Delhi was not a cakewalk for him. The struggle was especially searing during the initial phase. Being new to the city’s culture and living habits, he had no idea how to survive in the blistering capital.

“The culture was a hurdle here,” he says. “In Srinagar, you can’t put up till late, but here, you’ve to work late till 12 in the midnight to earn a satisfactory living.”

But while struggling for his brand building, he never faced any untoward incident in his life.

“I’ve seen all kinds of people in my life,” he says. “But luckily, I never faced any serious issue.”

While scripting his own capital success, he never felt any regret about his decision.

“Since the day I came in Delhi,” he says, “I’ve only prospered. There was never any incident that could have forced me to introspect my decision.”

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But all these years, he could also not take his birthplace out of his mind.

“In Kashmir,” Basharat says, “I’ve people who can risk their own life for me. And that is something which makes the feeling of homeland strong and special.”

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