‘Turkish’ Tastemaker in Wazwan Town

Shadab Chashoo with his Turkish ‘wall of fame’. KO Photos by Auqib Javeed.

In the heartland of Kashmiri Wazwan makers, a native is trying to create his niche as a Turkish tastemaker.

THE window that once opened into the “Venice of East” now offers a bustling sight on a bludgeoned blacktop privy to Kashmir’s polemic past. But while the scene stays static, both Nallamar and its showmen have long proceeded as legends in the political amphitheater of the valley. However, the lasting signs—like a clan of classic goldsmiths—continue to make it a “Jewel Street” of Kashmir.

Watching this old-world charm enhanced by the pigeon-lofted heritage houses in his hometown, a native who recently returned with a new-age avatar gets alerted by another order at his door.

Looking at his hometown hues.

In the busy stretch of Old Srinagar, between Bohri Kadal and Saraf Kadal, Shadab Chashoo, 29, has lately established himself as a new tastemaker.

The tall and handsome man has set up his eatery in the place where the raging spark would mostly discourage many to go for branding based on a popular culture.

But the native whose family moved from the place during Kashmir’s tumultuous years not only returned, but demonstrated a steely resolve to introduce popular culture in his café.

Inspired by the Turkish television show Diriliş: Ertuğrul, Shadab has started his own café and restaurant based on the Ertugrul theme in Downtown. The decision, he says, was driven by his belief of serving the tastes with a difference.

Inside the café, the epic drama’s characters have become a wall of fame. A throne, Turgut bay’s iconic axe, flags of Kayi tribe, Turkish lights and swords are uplifting the dramatic mood.

“The idea was to create that feel,” Shadab, a man of few words, says. “At the end of the day, whatever initiative one is taking has to have certain distinct feel and flavour.”

That feel and flavour might be barely a couple of fortnights old, but the downtown—long awaiting a popular culture based hangout place—has already started responding to the native’s cause.

“The response is overwhelming,” Shadab says, while helping his staff to ensure a timely delivery of online orders. “Most of the times, I myself act as a delivery boy.”

Wall of Fame.

But creating a niche in the old city — that takes a certain pride for housing some finest Wazwan chefs of Kashmir — doesn’t appear to be a cakewalk for the native son. At a stone’s throw from his café, there lives some legendary Wazas by the name of Khosas and Bandaris, besides an entire neighbourhood of chefs called Wazpora.

“People have a sense of taste here,” Shadab says. “So, in a way, it’s a bit challenging, but I’m up for it.”

But unlike others getting swayed by the new-age café wave around the city of seven bridges, Shadab has an advantage of a spry street housing some top merchants and their full of go clientele.

Prior to this theme-based café, the area was merely known for the celebrated ice-cream sellers of Bohri Kadal and some random street barbeque stalls. It lacked a good eatery, especially for the family dining and special outing.

Turkish delight.

Before his return with a “business with difference” mindset, Shadab as a young boy had walked away from the place in 1995. In his new home in Srinagar’s Naseem Bagh, he soon lost his father to a critical disease. Along with his mother and sibling, he lived a quintessential “life of uncertainty” in the valley.

By the time he joined Islamia College, he would make rounds of his birthplace and often wonder about the ways to infuse a new life in what had then become a rundown residence. After an MBA degree and a job stint in Pune, Shadab decided to revive his roots.

But even then, there was no clarity about what to do with that ancestral piece of property before New Delhi enforced communication clampdown in the valley.

“As everything was shut after the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, I along with my friends once went for a pizza outing,” Shadab, sitting on the window of his ancestral house turned trendy café, says. “We ended up visiting a small pizza shop in a very narrow lane in Srinagar. The idea struck me there that if this man can run his business in that small space and during such a challenging time when everything had come to a grinding halt in Kashmir, I can also do that.”

But his resolve still needed a eureka moment. It came when he saw his cousins, friends and acquaintances consuming Turkish drama at length during lockdown.

“I thought, why not to start something on the theme which had suddenly become a pan-Kashmir lockdown engagement,” Shadab recalls. “It had a huge fan-base, especially among youth delivering the Turkish warrior series to each other through pen-drives amid internet blockade.”

The series featuring Ertugrul Ghazi, warrior and father of Ottoman Empire founder Osman, depicts the struggles, tyranny, oppression, suffering, identity and justice of Kayi, a minor group of Turkish tribe of 2,000 people.

That dramatic ambiance.

However, the pandemic lockdown came as a spoiler for Shadab. But once the viral wave thawed, he opened the padlock, dusted his birthplace, and started what has now become ‘Kardesler: The Kashmir Café’. (Kardesler, in Turkish, means brother.)

Apart from Turkish theme, the young café owner is also introducing the Turkish taste in his hometown.

On Turkish throne.

“Things just got delayed because of this second viral wave,” he says. “We’re introducing Turkish dishes soon on our platter to create a distinct flavour.”

Once confirming some quick online orders, Shadab again sits on the window where his forefathers used to watch Nallamar meandering through the heritage city. But unlike others, he doesn’t seem nostalgic about it. He’s only eager about striking some fresh change.

“At the end of the day all glories fade away with time,” he smiles. “But that shouldn’t stop us from creating new ones.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is a Srinagar-based journalist and tweets @AuqibJaveed.

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