Foreign Affairs

“What time is it?”

“hmm..”, taking out the phone from the pocket, “7.50”, I tell him.

“At this time of the day, nobody would be out. If a young boy goes out, the soldiers will just take a stick and start beating. I miss Kashmir. But I don’t miss that fear. You know I come from a village. It is blacklisted. Nobody cares about us. No roads. No hospitals. No schools. And beatings if you are found by the soldiers after dark. It is only because of the cement factories near our village that people still live. These factories give some facility to the people, clinic, school etc.”

“how far is Pakistan from your place?”

“There is a short hike, and from top of a mountain you can actually see Pakistan. There is another point were you can see Afghanistan as well.”

“oh! Afghanistan? We share a border with Afghanistan? I don’t remember the map.”

” Yeah we do. Anyway the actual LOC you cannot see in most maps. One side taken  by Pakistan. Another by China. China takes a few kilometers everyday. You don’t believe me?”

“Why wouldn’t I? I know India is far less aggressive. But few kilometers everyday?”

“Yeah because India does not know where the actual LOC is. So China takes advantage. You know kashmiri people don’t need visa to visit China. Chinese consider Kashmir as theirs. You just need a passport. If the address in your passport is in Kashmir, you can just walk in. Infact whenever chinese tourists come, most of them take me out for Pizza :).”

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This is the second part of the series of conversations I have had with a Kashmiri friend of mine. You can read the first part here called Sales.

 

Sales

“I have always wanted to see this place from inside. Finally”, I said smiling.

“This is a much smaller shop. If you see my MG Road showroom it is 5 times bigger.”

“Oh… what is in that small room?”, I asked moving towards it.

“Sit. First what will you have, coke, tea…Indian tea haan!”

“Tea will be nice”, I said settling into the chair.

He went outside to a nearby cafe, while I waited for him in the chair, looking around. He was back in 5 minutes.

Between us was a glass showcase in which scores of jewellery gleamed. Rings, lockets, semi precious stones, crystals.

“This looks beautiful,” I said pointing to a oxidized silver locket.

“This is unique. You see this ring, I can get it made from my jeweller. I just have to call him, and tell him the model  number. He will make an exact replica. But not this. This is from a collection. If I sell it. It is gone. I don’t know how to get another one.”

“Who buys these then?,” I asked.

“There are people who are specialists. They travel around buying things and adding to the collections. They come to shops like us and then sell us there entire collection. For example, one guy brought me these tibetan jewellery 3 years ago. I have sold almost 80% of it. Only these 6 pieces remain. I have tried finding them again. But impossible. ”

There was a a red coral oblong like a tablet, with silver inscription of some tibetan text.

“It says Om Mani Pad Mani Om,” he said. “This hear is lapis lazuli. It comes from Afghan.” He pointed to another oval stone with just a tibetan Om in silver.

“How much is this?” I asked pointing to one of them.

“This here is 3350. This smaller one is 1850.”

“I love this one. I might come some day to get it. Not today though. Sorry I am wasting your time.”

“No no. You are my friend,” he said, sounding 100% genuine.

“Are most indian customers like me?”

“It depends. People from Coimbatore have lots of money. Once a lady came and bought 6 pashmina shawls. She was a professor. Very old. Didn’t even bargain. If I say the real price for harem pants, 350, then they will say, “Bhaiyya, kam keejiye na. Real price batayiye.” I don’t entertain. They can go to other shops where they will first say 500, and then finally give for 350. You know sometimes real good people come. Once a german guy came. As soon as he entered, he put his finger to his lips. “Shhh…” he said. Don’t say anything. Then he started picking up things from here. There. Shawl. Meditation bowl. The bill came out 60k. He paid with card. And forgot his card when he left. Good thing he had mentioned the guest house he was staying. I took it back. He hugged me when I gave him the card back.  He came back the next year he was here. ”

“Don’t you go to your other shop, the MG Road one?, I asked.

“That is run by my uncle. You know. He has a different style. He is a very good salesman. I have a different style. I don’t try to sell. I make friends. Once a guy came and asked to see chess sets. I asked him whether he would like to play. We played. You know make friends. Offer tea. Thats how I sell.”

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This is the first part of a series of posts I will be writing based on my conversations with a Kashmiri friend who has a handicrafts showroom. I can vouch for this guy, if anyone coming to Auroville wants to do some handicraft shopping. Hot indian chai guaranteed :).

UPDATE- You can read the second part of the series here called – Foreign Affairs.