Let me tell you about my favourite winter thing, it’s Mystical to me.
I was sitting in my room today, snuggled in a thin blanket, reading a novel, “Me Before You” to be particular. Enjoying the coveted Delhi winters when I heard him. “Shawl, Kashmiri Shawl” came the call. He was at the gate and banging the metal lock loudly to get my attention. I went out to check out the visitor, and there stood a lean man, in a jacket and holding two heavy, big bags on both shoulders. I beamed to see him; he is no other than Rashid, The Shawlwala. His coming is like an official declaration that winter is here.
My mother was reluctant to let him in as she was napping and he would spoil her sleep, and told me to tell him to go away now, and come back another time. But I was eager to meet him, hear his Kashmir stories, see his new collection, and feel that little bit of Kashmir he brings with him in his persona. He came inside with a humble “Salaam-Alaikum” as I greeted him with a Namaste. He has that Kashmiri air to him. His accent of a typical Kashmir resident, his dialect full of that sweet earthen accent all Kashmiri people possess.
Let me tell you a little about the Shawlwala culture before continuing with my tale. In the winter they move around with a bag of cotton on their shoulder and a cap on the head. Usually fair, handsome, sharp nose, bold cycle-travellers moving from one area to other. They carry a package of Embroidered Shawls, Phirans and fine weaved Pashminas. Like the Feriwalas they don’t call to sell their goods. Rather you can hear the slight tring-tring of cycle bell. In this way with their Shawls, Phirans, Pashminas they travel every winter. They carry hard work in their bags as some of those Shawls take years to make. Fingers that worked deftly and skillfully with the thread and needle embroidering the borders of shawls and adorning the necklines of suits with patterns and styles that were distinctly Kashmiri. Abdul Rashid Rishi is 45 and lives in Khimbar, Hazratbal, Srinagar, Kashmir. More than half of the year he is away from home earning for his family comprising of a wife, three daughters and a son. When away from home he moves from town to city in North India, cities like Agra, Jaipur, Meerut, Panipat and Delhi. He is on the road from some 10-12 hours, carrying a weight of 50 kg on his shoulders.
He asked me all the niceties one does on meeting someone after a long time, but added an affectionate “Ben”(sister) at the end of each sentence, making it more endearing. I told the servant to get some tea and refreshments for him, which he eats like the most cultured and polished man on Earth. And then he was all business. He opened his bag and unbundled the knotted Potli kept inside “The Stoles, plain, striped or in Jamawar, they are in Vogue. You will love them didi, The Pashmina Shawls; they are so elegant and warm. Take a look at these.” he said as he displayed them proudly. “Didi they weigh from 250 to 500 gram, its a 700 yr old art Didi,” he tells me little trivia with his fine salesmanship. The delicate fabric fluttered in the air, making a wave and diffusing with it a subtle aroma of the paradise it came from before it settled layer by layer in front of me as he started spreading them out bit by bit, one by one. The labourously crafted magnificence. I loved to stroke the fabric in my soft tender hands to feel its texture, it had a touch of the valley and felt like the valley id reciprocating by touching me. What Rashid brought to me was not hard to find in malls and emporiums, but with all their style and sophistication, they could not match his personal touch with which he handles each piece.
The varieties he carried were heavenly, fabrics like Raffle, Pashmina, Wool, Shahtoosh. Shahtoosh Shawls are so fine and light they can be passed through a wedding ring and are warm enough to hatch a pigeon egg. Its name was given by the Mughal Emperors, and it means “king of wools” in Persian.The embroidery on them had a variety of its own, Papier Mache, Kaani, Jamawar, Kalamkari and what not. The Motifs were in Florals, Paisley, Abstract and some were just plain. Some were quite affordable commonly while some were exorbitant. Ranging from 7,000 to 4,00,000 were the treasure pieces in his bag. Some pieces took from two to four years to be made. A woven Shawl goes through many processes as it reaches customer with some 20 people involved in its whole making, printing, dying, marketing and selling.
At the end of the three-hour marathon and the whole room spread with shawls and suits. And then started the pricing and the overall bargaining skill shows off. My mother and I picked up some two shawls for ourselves. Now was showtime. He and my mum had a nice tug of war at it. But there was no tension in the air; there was a funny feeling in me as both their faces showed understanding, which meant they both knew at what price the other will settle, which will be the actual good price for that particular shawl. Finally, they reached a price on which we all agreed, but it was amusing to see that while he held an expression on his face which clearly said “I sold it for loss” my mother’s face too held a look saying “I bought it for more”. Of course, it was just for show, to let the other person be satisfied with the bargain made.
At the time of farewell, he folded back all the Shawls, zipped his bags closed, told me to refer him to friends and family, gave me his number once again and made sure I save it. And then he gave me innumerable blessings, promising to be back for more when he has fresh stock, my mother rolled her eyes at that in a hilarious way. I told him I would be waiting for his next visit, which was true, as I might not buy more but would love to hear more Kashmir tales from him. He bid me a goodbye with another “Salaam” wishing me good health and got back on his bicycle and peddled it into the night. I came back in and held the Shawl I bought, running my fingers through it, grinning and admiring its beauty, its intricate latticework and posed for my mother wearing it in all sorts of different ways. Already for waiting for the next visit from The Shawlwala.
PS : He has told me to give his phone number for reference and I am complying 🙂 You can just leave me a message and I will give you his number.