KASHMIR In Capital ­­­: From The House of Shaws

Miftah Shaw at his Delhi showroom. KO Photos by Romaan Arora.

As Kashmiri shawls are loved across the globe, Delhi over the years has emerged as a prime location for the shawl tourism. In the eighth part of Kashmir in Capital series, Kashmir Observer talks to a scion of Shaw Brothers in Defense Colony-New Delhi, who has seized upon the emerging markets of Kashmiri Handicrafts since the 1990s.

By Romaan Arora

ON a mildly cold morning, a tall and striking man—sporting his signature shawl style—walks inside the Shaw Brothers showroom with a smiling face.

In his early 50s, Miftah Shaw—who’s Mifi Shaw for his friends and family—carries the enthusiasm of a young entrepreneur filled with futuristic vision.

“You see, I have to instruct them for every job,” says Mifi Shaw while referring to his staff members.

One of the two Shaw/Shah scions, Miftah Shaw first came to Delhi in 1990 to carry forward his family business of Kashmiri handicrafts — shawls, carpets, jackets, and coats. His journey since then has only made Shaw Brothers a heritage brand in the capital.

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“It was my father who had opened up a shop in Connaught Place in 1978,” Miftah continues in a genial tone. “It was a seasonal business at that time.”

But for him, the seasonal business became permanent when he left Kashmir in 1990 because of the political turmoil. The strife-fuelled situation back home had brought the heritage handicraft business to its knees.

Such was the level of unemployment in Kashmir at that time that, as per him, the labourers involved in the renovation of his family house were owners of two houseboats each.

This dramatic scene motivated him to move out for better career opportunities and a better life. However, the journey of the brand, almost a synonym to Kashmiri Shawls and carpets, had started long back.

In the very beginning, Shaw Brothers was established as a brand by Mohammad Akbar Shah and his brothers in 1840. But the foundational journey had already started in the early 1800s when Akbar’s father Sidiqullah Shah started trading all along the Silk Route.

Initially started as Shah Brothers, the brand was renamed Shaw Brothers in the year 1912 to create a more general image and to attract customers from all across British India.

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Soon came the year of the great divide—1944—when the Shaw Brothers (now under the leadership of Miftah Shaw and his brother Mubashir Shaw) was split into two separate entities: Shaw Brothers and Shah Arts Emporium (owned by Miftah’s cousin, Mohsin Shah).

In what could be described as its days of glory, the Shaw Brothers used to have its outlets in all major business hubs of British India namely Calcutta, Peshawar, Karachi, and even in Singapore.

But, in the aftermath of the partition, they had to restructure their complete business.

Many years and milestones later, a man of gratitude, Miftah Shaw holds his father in high regard.

“It was feasible and possible for me to permanently establish here only because of the platform provided by my father,” he recalls.

“I, along with my brother, just took it to the next level as we started having international clients, while our father mainly focused on expanding the business in India only.”

However, moving to a distant land with the hope of establishing the heritage of the forefather may appear to be quite inspirational, but, for Miftah Shaw, it was never a cold morning breeze.

“In the beginning, it was very tough to meet the two ends,” he recalls. “We had around 1500 artisans at that time in Kashmir.”

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With no work in the valley, and tiring efforts to gain grounds in Delhi, the Shaw son had to pay his huge workforce despite very little earning.

“This continued till 1996,” Miftah remembers with a stressed look.

This level of hardworking, however, was meant to bring success and it did the same in the form of multiple outlets under the banner of Shaw Brothers at various locations in Delhi, such as Hotel Le Meridian, Barakhamba road, and finally in Defense colony in 2001.

Not more than 20 minutes into the conversation, Miftah Shaw goes to meet an awaited client and comes back only after an hour of extensive dealing.

“There is more professionalism here,” he says with a warm smile while resuming the conversation. “But in Kashmir, people are more laid back.”

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However, he believes the situation is changing, and now, he sees a promising Kashmir youth who is more serious about the business.

Apart from that, Miftah Shaw also points the difference in exposure one receives in the two places.

“Delhi receives people from all across the world. This exposure that you receive here is just perfect to become a professional businessman,” he claims.

Coming to establishing the brand in the capital, Miftah Shaw credits his family’s love for labour motto, quality, and honesty for the niche and the name.

Selling the right things to the right people, has always been our motive,” the scion continues amid the din of Delhi.

“We spend a good amount on research and development. We bring masterpieces to the market. If we say something, it means and, it has to. So by maintaining the quality and building trust through this quality, we have been here for the last 30 years.”

While his Delhi years have largely remained cordial, cultural barrier has always tested him. Much of this comes from his strong sense of belongingness—something he terms quite a Kashmiri thing.

But apart from these social adjustment realities, Miftah Shaw today appears a blend of calmness and concern. After spending 30 scorching summers in Delhi, he calls the timeline between 1996 and 2012 as his glorious capital years.

Post-2012, the trade isn’t the same.

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“It cycles in the world,” he says. “You’ve a boom and recession over the period of time. So our business has also seen this same global pattern of rising and downfall.” Currently, it’s the latter one that is prevailing.

But despite being hit by the global meltdowns and slowdowns, this Shaw scion is currently banking on his father’s legacy of catering to the domestic clientele.

Owing to his own story of struggle and eventually success, Miftah Shaw was quick to come up with an advice for the youth of Kashmir.

“To prosper, you have to strive, and for that, you must move out,” he suggests.

“I believe our youth is promising, and they possess the talent of turning things upside-down. But I would suggest it to them to come out of Kashmir for at least a year or two, to get the exposure of working in a better and more professional environment.”

Coming to Kashmir, Shaw has a sense of regret, along with optimism.

“I haven’t paid my motherland as much as I must have done. But I am hopeful I will be doing this thing,” he remarks with a firm belief.

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“For instance, I want to upgrade the Khanqa-e-Maula shrine of Mir Syed Ali Hamadani. I want to renovate it and to take it to the next level.”

“Also,” he continues, “I have the same plan for the downtown — I want to turn it into an Italian Downtown or Moroccan Downtown.”

The sense of paying back to his motherland came when he, along with his friend, visited Kashmir. “My friend from Bangkok went to the shrine of Shah-e-Hamadan with me,” Miftah recalls.

“After we left the shrine, he confronted me and said, ‘I pity you! You are here, and yet you are doing nothing for this place! What kind of person you are?’ These words sparked the fire inside me and strengthened my will.”

Today, he may be willing to play his part in the sanctum up-gradation, but he faces the hitch in the form of hierarchy of permissions.

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“Unfortunately, I am not able to do this because of the bureaucracy,” he says. “There are too many hurdles and obstacles. You can’t cross and convince the municipality in Srinagar, keep aside talking to the tourism department.”

“But,” he resumes, “I am hopeful that I shall get this chance to serve my motherland. Just one ray and I shall immediately capitalize it. I have to do it because I owe it to My Kashmir,” he concludes with sparkling eyes.

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