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Srinagar’s oldest shops

Post by on Wednesday, October 20, 2021

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Decades old shops of Srinagar have sustained through a number of ups and downs. The old walls of the shops might have cracks but they open every day and continue to make their place in the market. The present-day generation took the remnants from their elders and continues to keep the shops alive. 
The small provisional store in Ganpatyar area, adjacent to Habba Kadal in Srinagar has been running for three generations. A specially abled man in his 50s sits in the shop and around him are the cupboards full of eatables and household items.
Abdul Rasheed Khan is a third generation who runs an age-old provision store. As claimed by Rasheed and the locals of the area, the shop is 150 years old.
Mohammad Sultan Khan, grandfather of Rasheed started the provision store almost decades back. Rasheed didn’t remember much about the time but he recalled that he used to pay Rs 3 as rent to the owner of the shop. “It used to be a huge amount those days. My grandfather supported his family only with this shop,” Rasheed said while attending to his customer.
After Mohammad Sultan Khan, his son Ghulam Mohammad Khan popularly known as Gule Khan among the locals, took the responsibility of the shop for more than 60 years. During the time of Ghulam Mohammad Khan, the shop was often visited by customers. “There always used to be hustle and bustle on the street. There was also a school opposite our shop. Children would come and get their favourite candies during morning and lunch time. He had a variety of candies and other things that no one could have during those days,” Rasheed said.
“The locality has people of every religion and this shop catered to everyone. During 1990, the shop suffered huge losses but Rasheed said that his father’s kindness kept this shop alive.
“Naeki Chani Ravan Zah (Kindness never gets wasted). My father was very kind and helpful towards people and has never encountered any inconvenience in his life from any source. He used to give people items on credit.” said Rasheed.
When Ghulam Mohammad Khan died at the age of 95 due to brief illness, the whole responsibility came on Rasheed’s shoulders.
Rasheed, whose left hand and left leg are not working properly and is also not able to speak properly, took up the responsibility for he thinks it’s fortunate to carry forward the legacy.
The shop which once bore the expense of the whole family, has hardly any customers now. He said, “It’s like curfew these days. The shop suffered huge losses as many other shops started coming up in the area which led to the less flow of customers.  Also, I don’t keep many things in the shop as nobody buys and the stock gets wasted.”
During 2014 floods, half of the shop was inundated with flood water and Rasheed couldn’t get all the stock to home. He said, “Everything was damaged. The food was spoiled. Later on, the shop owner renovated the shop but the relief money was not paid. Then again, I setup the shop.”
The ongoing pandemic has also caused huge loss to Rasheed. “Last year, the shop was closed for seven to eight months due to a pandemic. Also, people used to visit less for the fear of getting infection but the shop is back to life and will continue to remain alive,” he said.
After Rasheed, any of his nephews will take up the place in the shop. He thinks the one who is fortunate enough will keep the shop alive as the place is a relic given by his grandfather.
An old man walking with the help of a stick came and sat near the shop. “This shop was my favourite place to hang out. Me and my friends used to come here every evening and discuss everything from politics to society. Many of them died, many have shifted to other places but I have never stopped visiting this shop,” said the old man.
Walking further towards Badiyar Balla is a jewelry shop that has been sustaining since 1968. Ishfaq, the shop-keeper said that the license was issued in 1968 but the shop was functioning before that as well. After facing loss in the cooperative market, Ghulam Rasool, his father started the jewelry shop.
Ishfaq who manages the shop after his father said, “Earlier, the situation was very good and the business was blooming too. My father would rarely come home because he used to be occupied with the work. He and his employees would attend the customer in the day time and during night time, they would make jewelry pieces. Not only him, other shopkeepers would work at night too.”
The street which was once packed with almost 247 shops and was a popular market among people, now gives a deserted look. 
“As time passed and the situation started getting tense, the market suffered huge losses and most of the shops were shut because they couldn’t even afford to pay the rent of the shops. I couldn’t afford to move to another place,” he said.
Badiyar Balla which is half a kilometer away from the City Center Lal Chowk, Ishfaq said, the area is like a backward town where few visitors would pay a visit to the existing shops.
“Many people used to visit the shops as the market was known for its crafted artisans. Bad situations led to the decrease in the flow of passersby. The transport service was also suspended. The customers we had years ago are still associated plus some of our nears and dears visit us but no new customer comes,” he said.
Ishfaq said that most of the time, he gets engaged in chat with other shopkeepers because of the less work he gets and considers prayers that keeps his shop alive. “It’s the prayers and help from Almighty that I am still running the shop,” he said.
Khan Copperware Shop in Basant Bagh, one of the oldest copperware shops in Srinagar claimed to function from 80 years. The shop in the area near Maisuma is surrounded with activity and buzz. Ali Mohammad Khan ran the shop for almost 60 years.  He started the shop at a very young age and earned huge respect and esteem from the locals.
After his death, his two sons Mushtaq Ahmad Khan and Mukhtar Ahmad Khan took over the business.
Mushtaq said, “Our father sold the copper for Rs. 10 -15 per kilogram and we sell it for thousands today. A generation has passed. We started as salesmen in our father’s shop until we learnt all about the business. After him, we worked really hard so that in his absence, the shop could maintain the position as it had during his time.”
Earlier, the shop which was wooden and presented a historic look got damaged due to 2014 flash floods. The shop was reconstructed and the business was again started. “We suffered huge losses at the time of floods. Our shop and the goddown were totally submerged. Many copper utensils were damaged and had a stinky smell,” he said.
Mustaq recalled the time when his father would attend a customer. He said, “He was known for his warm nature. Our father’s customers still come and purchase from us. They respect us and we respect them too. Our business is going well. People are also aware of what is good for them. Even doctors advise people to use copper utensils. Sometimes we face loss too but it is a part of the business,” he said.
The younger generation of the Khan family is studying currently. They are all pursuing professional courses. The duo brothers are not sure whether their children will take up the business. They want their children to study.
“I don’t think they are interested in running the shop and we won’t force them. If they think of taking up business, it’s their choice. But we want them to complete their studies first. We brothers will keep running this shop until God wills,” he said.
Moving towards Maharaj Gung area of Old City, a frail old man aged 70, Mohammad Shafi has been managing the shop of wedding essentials for 50 years. In his small wooden shop, he sells fancy wedding garlands, artificial flowers, wrappers and much more.
Initially his brother started with the business of soiled note exchange. Later on, wedding essentials were kept in the shop. Mohammad Shafi recalled the time when he was young and would do a number of jobs to earn livelihood for his family. He said that because of his age, he can’t manage much work and sits in the shop which he claims is 150 years old.
“The business is good during wedding seasons. During those months, 50-60 customers visit the shop per day but in winters, the rush of customers is low,” he said.
The wooden shop has huge importance for Shafi as, now, it acts as a support in his old age. “This shop has helped me earn a livelihood all these years. With the earning from the shop, I have provided education to my children and also married them,” he said.
Shafi said that once a popular market in Srinagar, Maharaj Gung is losing its sheen with other fancy shops coming up in the market. “Earlier the people would come like bees because the items sold here were good in quality and had lesser price as compared to the other place,” he said.
He believes that his son, who is educated and works in a private company, will take up the shop and keep the legacy alive.
Walking a few steps forward, is another shop – Gana Wani – which is also claimed to survive from 150 years. Ghulam Nabi has managed the shop for last 60 years. The shop is filled with bags containing turmeric, cardamom, black cardamom, cumin, cinnamon and other spices. One can get the aroma of spices while standing near the shop. The business of spices has been going on since the time of his grandfather.
“We are known for spices in Kashmir.  We have another shop where we have more varieties than here. Even the traditional chefs who cook at the occasions know that we have quality things to offer,” said Ghulam Nabi.
The shop has suffered huge losses while reaching the present time but Ghulam Nabi is proud that he has made a reputation among customers. He said, “Customers come from far flung areas. During the pandemic, our work was going well because spices are used in every household.”
“I have a number of health ailments. My son handles much of the business at another shop but I still sit here at the place of my elders to keep the shop going,” he added.

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