As life slows down in Valley, Kashmiris bank on traditional wear to earn a living
Sahil Ali worked as a travel agent and Bilal, who uses one name, was an accountant, but the lockdown in Kashmir after abrogation of Article 370 slowed down business to such an extent that the men had to change track and bank on exquisite traditional fabrics and clothing to earn a living.
The fact that 25 handloom stalls, many of them run by Kashmiris, have been set up at the National Craft Mela at Manimajra’s Kalagram this year against 12 last year, is testimony to the fact.
Many of the Kashmiri youth are participating in the festival for the first time, selling stoles and shawls made of fine cashmere wool, also known as Pashmina and other fabrics. Ali, from Alamgiri Bazar, Srinagar, is one of them. “I have worked as a travel agent for the past 15 years, but the lockdown in Kashmir which affected tourism has forced me to take up this traditional business,” he says.
Also from Srinagar, Bilal was working for five years as an accountant for a chartered accountant. However, as business folded up he started selling clothes.
“No business is working in Kashmir at present,” says stall owner Tanveer Kashmir, who is from Srinagar’s famous Lal Bazar, but has been participating in the Crafts Mela for the past 10 years. “More stalls here also mean decreased profit margins for us, but people from Kashmir need money.”
Traders this year have come from all parts of Jammu and Kashmir and Leh and Ladakh and are selling pashmina, angora and other winter wear, with prices starting from ₹250 and going up to as much as ₹4lakh, Kashmir adds.
Ali says the going has been smooth so far at the Crafts Mela. “We haven’t faced any problems here either from the management or from the people. In fact, they have been very kind to us.”
The only problem was finding short-term accommodation, but we “finally got a room in Panchkula,” he says.
So far the response at the mela to their stalls have been good. “People are expressing interest in our traditional winter wear and salwar kameez are selling out,” he adds.