KASHMIR In Capital: ‘Masterpieces’ of Valley in Delhi

 Syed Sajad at his Delhi showroom. KO Photos by Romaan Arora

In this sixth part of Kashmir In Capital series, Kashmir Observer talks to Syed Sajad — the Kashmiri art merchant ‘promoting’ and propagating papier mache in Delhi.

By Romaan Arora

RAMBLING in Lajpat Nagar of New Delhi introduced me to several shops owned by a successful Kashmiri business class. To my luck, the variety of different Kashmiri handicrafts instilled in each shop made me come across Sajad Enterprises, a renowned Kashmiri Papier Mache seller in Delhi.

Syed Sajad, now 61, came to the capital 30 years back to build a home outside home.

“When the banks became non-functional in 1990, I made my decision to move out,” said Sajad, sitting calmly on his desk.

“Also, I had 250 artisans to take care of. Hadn’t I moved out of the troubled home at that time, all the 250 artisans, along with their families, would have rendered jobless,” he added.

However, his family wasn’t fond of his decision, and his parents always insisted upon staying back in the valley and eating at the same dining table.

“It was a taste of life,” said Sajad, while referring to working in Kashmir, which he did for around eight-ten years. For him, just like other Kashmiris in Delhi, working in the valley is more of working at home, in a mesmerizing lovely atmosphere.

But, in the capital, things were different. Hot weather, unfamiliar faces, and different cultural practices proved difficult to master.

Yet, there was always a reason for Sajad to spend most of his life in a foreign land. “In the very first year [in 1991] I came here, I was coming back to Nizamuddin from Rashtrapati Bhavan in my own car. Since I didn’t know the route, I called another person in a car. But he didn’t respond,” he said.

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Nonetheless, things changed in the blink of an eye.

“The moment I returned empty-handed from the first person, a Navy General came to me, breaking his protocol, and informed me about the path ahead in the politest manner one could imagine,” he said.

This act of kindness made him steadfast upon the decision of establishing his commerce in Delhi.

However, it was Sajad’s association with the union textile department that accorded him immense notability. It also earned him few trips to Europe to promote the Kashmiri Handicrafts.

“My products are gems,” he continued. “They’re masterpieces produced by masters of craftsmanship. It’s all because of my premium quality products that I always find myself in good memories of my clientele.”

For Sajad, hard work is a synonym he attributes to himself. After all, it was his countless work period, irrespective of day and night, which earned him his name in the immeasurable market of India’s capital.

“One day, an American client of mine was in Pakistan. He called me at 9:30 in the morning and told me that he would be in India by 11 o’clock. He asked me to pick him from hotel ‘Holiday Inn’ adjacent to the IGI Airport in Delhi,” he recalled.

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Spending a whole day with this client, and selling him a huge quantity of his goods, made Sajad realize his value that he had earned through his excellent quality products.

“I was with him till four in the morning, and then I had to drive him back to the airport,” he recalled. “What a tiring day it was, and that too worth remembering.”

But, it was his client’s smile and trust that compensated for his tiring day.

However, having a bad day is common to someone who belongs to the business class, and so was the case with Sajad.

He still remembers how he met some cheats who never paid him back. More often than not, these incidents do worried him and made him think about winding his business in the capital.

But destiny had a different plan for him.

“GST was there, demonetization was there as well, and they created a hell lot of troubles. Yet both of them failed to jolt my roots. However, nowadays, things aren’t moving in a perfect direction,” he said.

Half an hour into the conversation, we were joined by his better half, Afroz.

Hailing from Srinagar, Afroz informed us about the diminishing share of Papier Mache in their business.

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“The art of Papier Mache once accounted for the highest share among our total products,” she said. “We’ve had customers from all across the world. It was a golden period.”

Over a period of last few years, its share in their overall product base has only dwindled. “I believe much of that has to do with the decreasing number of Papier Mache artists in Kashmir,” she said with a concerned look.

But despite all this, Sajad has cemented his place in the capital over the last three decades.

It was because of his experience that he sensed the abrogation of Article 370 in advance and moved out of the valley by the end of July 2019.

“I was there in Kashmir at that time,” he said. “Eid was near, and I had to clear Eid payment to my staff in Delhi and my artisans in Kashmir. The influx of further military made me smell the unease. The sooner I got the idea of what was going to happen, I left the valley.”

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“Though we aren’t always lucky enough,” added Afroz, while helping Sajad in recalling their joint memories of struggle. “Most of the time when there is some mishap in Kashmir, we bear the consequences, in the form of stoppage of procurement of our products. This leads to financial troubles. But, we have learned to live with it.”

Afroz mentioned a tragic fire incident in 1997, which gutted their warehouse in the Fateh Kadal area of Old Srinagar. It happened just one year after their marriage.

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“We had half of our clothes in our wardrobe in Srinagar, something we found only after arriving in Delhi. Yet we had to leave our home in an emergency because of the prevailing conditions,” she recalled.

And since then, she said, “we are only trying to promote our artistic identity away from home.”

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