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Business pursuit: From Abbottabad to Shillong hills

Meghalaya’s capital has been home to families of jewellers from Abbottabad since Partition.

india Updated: Jun 04, 2018 23:02 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times, Shillong
SIKHS IN SHILLONG,Abbottabad,Shillong hills
Jeweller late Parma Singh and his wife Atam Kaur, who moved from Abbottabad after communal clashes started in the North West Frontier Province in mid-40s, to settle in Shillong.(HT Photo)

Given the enterprising spirit of Punjabis in travelling long distances to start a new venture, the first one such person who moved all the way from Abbottabad (now in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region) in the 1920s to the abode of the clouds at Shillong was Sham Singh.

Recounting the story of his grandfather’s decision to expand business by journeying 2,032 km from the cantonment in erstwhile North West Frontier Province (NWFP) set up by the British to the extreme East, Gurcharan Singh, 67, says: “Armymen patronised my grandfather’s shop, particularly the Nepalese who were very fond of gold ornaments. So when a large Gurkha company was moved to Shillong, my grandfather decided to visit the place and see if he could extend his business.”

This was how the first jewellery store by a Punjabi “Sham Jewels” was set up in the Bara Bazaar at the Motphran Point, which has been a disturbed area for the past few days.

As the communal clashes started in Pakistan Punjab and the NWFP in the mid 1940s, another legendary jeweller, Parma Singh, decided to visit Shillong with his eldest son Santokh Singh to set up a shop. Kulwant Kaur, 84, says: “My father Parma Singh and elder brother Santokh Singh visited Shillong, and finding climate and environment similar to that of Abbottabad, opened a small shop here called “Singh Jewellers”. However, it was not until the riots broke out a few months before the Partition that the family fled leaving their two homes and belongings behind to start afresh. “My father and brother worked hard and the family came up again with my younger brother who was just two-years-old then,” she recalls. Some other families in the jewellery business too moved from Abbottabad to Shillong and settled in Laitumukhra and the Umpling areas of the capital town.

Paramvir Singh, grandson of Parma Singh, a successful businessman and vice-president of the 50-year-old Shri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, the largest in town, says: “The local people have been good to us and we have been good to them. Our elders moved here to establish themselves after being displaced during Partition. They found a second home in Shillong.”

Kaur adds that she saw a shop being burnt down in the recent disturbance in Shillong and her younger son’s car, which was parked in the street, was also burnt when a petrol bomb was hurled at it. “We spent two uneasy nights and are relieved that some calm has descended on the town. Our prayers are for peace and we are very grateful to our neighbours for giving us emotional support.”

Initially, families of Punjabis in the jewellery business married among themselves and are related closely. But it has been different for the third generation here. Kaur tells with pride that her grandson is married to a Khasi girl and her nephew to a Sindhi.

However, one of the boys of the family who gained fame home and abroad was the younger son of Santokh Singh, Prithipal Singh Ladi, who is considered one of the most talented of contemporary Indian sculptors. Ladi, who has just completed sculpting his father’s bust, says: “I spent many years in Baroda and Delhi but Shillong is my home.”

First Published: Jun 03, 2018 21:27 IST