Kashmir’s silk odyssey might be lost in the downfall of the famed factory, but some native merchants are trying to create their own brand value by retaining the global interest in what was once the vibrant local sector of the valley.
By Romaan Arora
Inside his swanky South Delhi office, Tahir Mir, 37, demonstrates the quintessential Kashmiri hospitality with his warm demeanour. The suave self-starter is repetitively reaching out to his loyal suppliers over his cellphone. But despite his measured tone and tenor, he fails to crack the deal.
Business in times of the pandemic-triggered market meltdown is still bad, he grumps at the deal he’s trying to capture for a long time.
But in the commotion of the capital, this Kashmir Arts professional has long learned the tricks of the trade — making him one of the go-to craft-dealers in Delhi.
Tahir first arrived in the capital in 2001 as a fresh-faced student riding high on his immaculate academic record. Akin to a typical studious youngster, he was dreaming about his bright career prospects in Delhi.
“Back home then,” Tahir speaks retrospectively, “the educational structure had fallen due to the scathing strife. As a consequence, I was compelled to leave home and come here to pursue my studies.”
The young lad from Srinagar’s Rambagh area soon secured admission in IIPM Delhi. During his campus stint, he got fascinated with the idea of self-started enterprise. After completing his education and securing a handsome job, Tahir decided to go against the favour and fortunes and went for a profession that now has earned him the title of Kashmir’s diamond suit-seller.
“I had a phone and a laptop back then,” he chronicles his nostalgic journey. “Those two gadgets were enough for me to start my business. I searched for potential buyers day and night and researched thoroughly before finally launching this ever-growing brand.”
Even before starting his own venture, Tahir had inherited the legacy suit-selling business established by his great-grandfather on the heels of the 1947 Partition.
However, with a desire to do something different and not just getting his name featured with people doing nothing on their own, the young man founded his own firm by the same name. He instituted Diamond Silk the year he completed his campus degree.
“Initially, I used to buy all the Kashmiri suits from my father,” he recalls. “I would then sell them in India as well as abroad. This continued for three years before I finally bought a personal workshop in Kashmir and hired my own craftsmen.”
Those initial years were of great importance in Tahir’s life—because, as per him, they gave him the experience and professionalism required to work in an economic powerhouse, like New Delhi.
“I procured all the licenses required during these three years and built a massive market for my brand,” he says. “Therefore, during this period, buying quality goods effortlessly from my father was truly a blessing.”
In what appears to be an easy step, acquiring licenses was the toughest time for Tahir.
However, even after acquiring dozens of licenses, he was told that he still has to get a lot of papers approved to his brand’s name for exporting the royal Kashmiri suits to the globe. This cost Tahir some of the finest deals of that time, something he still regrets.
Nonetheless, the young man from the mountains didn’t lose hope and over the struggling period of four years, added a distinction to his name.
“Fortunately,” he says, “the hard work of those years paid massively and I won brands from Europe, America, and Russia.”
Tahir witnessed a big boom within those initial years of starting his business and managed to buy a swanky showroom in the heart of South Delhi.
But while his initial business journey was a bumpy ride, the fruitful years began only after he purchased the store along with a big warehouse. And since then, he never looked back.
Though many Kashmiris settled in Delhi miss a sense of home and belonging soon after arriving in the capital, this young man made a special bond with the new place in days after arriving there for the first time.
“I still remember I came here by car with my friend and this place felt like home in blink of an eye,” he says visiting his old yet fresh memory-lane.
Nonetheless, coming to Delhi wasn’t a spontaneous decision as the young trader still remembers how campus and commerce used to shut in Kashmir for months. The capital shift was equally sped up by his personal experience.
“I still remember my examination day in Jawahar Nagar Government School,” he recounts one of the unforgettable moments of his life. “The minute I entered the gate, I witnessed the campus commotion, which I had never experienced before.”
Soon after, he remembers, a guard came and told him to run for his life as “cops have arrived to crack whip on some students”.
To avoid such situation, he considered the campus shift, but years later, that run for his life is still making him feel uneasy.
His Delhi move, however, was shadowed by the typical Kashmiri security concerns outside the valley. But with the politically unstable homeland on one hand and a completely unfamiliar land on the other, Tahir’s parents decided to go for the latter one. “It was a very hard decision for them,” he says. “They had to fight a searing emotional battle with it.”
But today, his rise in the capital makes that decision worth all the pains. With his growing stature and success in life, Tahir makes a comparative case for himself.
“It’s a difference between digital and analogue,” he says while referring to the differences between his and his father’s places of operation.
“During my father’s time, Kashmir was peaceful. Work used to be done in days but it was safe. Now, it isn’t. However, Delhi is just opposite. Here, if you can’t keep the track of time, you can’t survive.”
For Tahir, throwing good products in the market along with delivering the finest after-sale services is the reason behind his brand getting traction across all spectrums. “I’ve a very loyal customer base, including the customers of my father. They are with me for ages.”
Also, he continues, the family has unique quality running down the generations.
The brand Diamond Silk, as it stands today, has a history of its own.
According to Tahir, the brand was first registered by Tahir’s grandfather when he used to work in a silk factory in Kashmir. The old man, with all his savings, used to buy silk from the same factory where he worked and established a niche for him in the handicraft history of Kashmir.
It eventually became such a big brand, that people from outside used to visit Kashmir, just to frequent the Diamond Silk.
Years later, Tahir says, the reason for starting his own branch was the motivation to do his bit for the legacy of his great grandfather.
“Everyone plays a separate role,” he turns thoughtful. “My great grandfather did the earliest hard work. Then came my grandfather who did his bit and then my father. Similarly, I opened a separate entity, with the motive to carry forward the same legacy.”
This sense of inheritance makes him a natural trader and gives him an edge over his competitors in the craft market.
“It may be easy to see a businessman in stress due to low sale,” Tahir says, “but it was the other way around for me.”
He still remembers the time when his sale boosted to an extent that his father had to make an emergency landing in Delhi just to become his support, Tahir remembers an interesting, better, and yet exhausting time.
Tahir eventually became an “export king” with over 80 per cent of his buyers from outside India. Among his domestic customers is an old clientele base cultivated by his forefathers. “This bonding is so strong that I just can’t resist their small demands as it’s about that age-old trust on the brand,” Tahir says.
To safeguard this trust, Tahir lately attended one of his family’s old clienteles — a couple who came to buy a shawl from him for the wedding of their daughter. The order came at an eleventh-hour, “but I made it sure to deliver it on time and keep their trust intact on my legacy,” he says. “That is how my forefathers did it.”
In the legacy business, he continues, certain ethics and beliefs are the key elements.
Based on those elements, Tahir has a word of advice for the struggling youth of Kashmir: “Whenever someone gives you a task or job to complete in 30 days, you should get it done by the 25th day itself. Because 31st is never an option for professionals. So, meet the deadline as fast you can.”
Despite this determined mindset, many say, one tends to grow weary in the din of Delhi. But the young craft-dealer from Kashmir is not only enjoying his capital stay, but also looking forward to many moments and milestones. As someone who means business, Tahir terms his two-decade-old Delhi journey a defining phase of his life.
“Since the day I came here, I have only prospered and moved ahead,” he says. “This place has given me so much that it has become my second home now. I have learned all the crucial aspects of life here only. My brand has its base here, and now it kind of flows in my vein.” (SOURCE: KASHMIR OBSERVER)