Omani men love to wear Kashmiri pashmina turbans
Not many know of this Indian connection. Embroidered Kashmiri pashmina stoles, worn turban-style on the head and known as 'mussar', are a rage among Omani men.
It is not known for sure exactly when pashmina cloth became fashionable as headgear in this Gulf country, but most men wear it. The popularity of mussars can be guaged from the fact that men are never seen at the workplace and official engagements without it.
In Muscat, there are many Kashmiri shops selling white, off-white and beige coloured pashmina stoles. These are basically square-shaped pieces of finely woven wool or cotton fabric of a single colour, embroidered in various patterns and hues.
"Most men prefer pashmina because it is handmade, soft and the colour does not fade despite washing," said Munir Ahmed, a 25-year-old Kashmiri, who helps out his elder brother Farooq Abdullah at their shop in Sabco Centre.
"We are doing really well. Many men love to wear colourful mussar when they are getting married," Ahmed, who used to work in Goa before travelling to Muscat, told IANS. Ahmed said the Kashmiri traders do brisk business during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and when people are going for Haj.
The Sabco Centre has six shops run by Kashmiri traders who are among the over 600,000 people of Indian origin in Oman. Located in the Al Qurum area, it is one of the oldest shopping malls in Oman.
Ahmed said finer quality Kashmiri pashmina is called the 'turma'. While the mussar costs around 20 rials, the turma is usually priced highter at around 50 rials.
Then there is the 'khanjar' shawl, also made of pashmina, which is expensive at around 250 rials. This shawl is typically worn at the waist and acts as a holder for the 'khanjar' (dagger).
Rashid, an Omani who works as a taxi driver in a ministry, was all praise for the cloth. "We wear it to work. What is admirable is that the cloth never shrinks and the colours never fade despite several washes," he said.
While in India and most parts of the world, pashmina shawls are a hit with women, it's men who go for it in Oman.
"Mostly European women come for them and not for the Indian style shawls but for the stoles," said Mohammed Kamaluddin from Bangladesh who works in one of the shops at Sabco and has been in the business of selling pashmina for 10 years.
"People buy the colours according to their complexion.
"There are so many shops here selling pashmina. But we never cut into one another's business; we are all doing well," he said.
Apart from the mussar, the Kashmiri shopkeepers also sell the 'kummah', which is like a cap, and is worn during leisure. This cap too boasts of Kashmiri embroidery.
"It is hand-embroidered and comes in a multitude of colours and styles," Kamaluddin said. He said these are cheaper compared to the mussar.
But these days Kashmiri traders are facing a new threat - Chinese textiles.
"The Chinese are making inroads into our market. They are selling machine-made mussars and kummah, which are much cheaper," said Akhtar, a helper at one of the shops at Muttrah Souq, a market in the old quarter of Muscat.
Ahmed, however, hoped that quality would help them ward off this threat.
"We continue to be the best. People prefer the traditional hand-made mussar over machine-made ones. What we sell is value for money."