Wednesday, July 30, 2014





(Photo 1911...A Kashmiri Pandit tailoring shop at Batyaar, Alikadal in Srinagar The tailor master is at work with his Singer foot pedal sewing machine while a group of Pandits are seated on the shop front and busy in gossiping )

According to Walter Lawrence ( From “Valley of Kashmir “ published in 1895 ),

‘The vast majority of the Pandits belong to the Karkun class and have usually made their livelihood in the employment of the state. But as state employment became harder to obtain and the numbers of the Pandits increased, the Brahmans of Kashmir sought other occupations. Briefly, it may be said that a Pandit may follow any trade or occupation except those of the cobbler, potter, corn-friar, porter, boatman, carpenter, mason, or fruit-seller, etc.

 The Pandits have been known to adopt the profession of acting and music, and a Pandit now in my employment was once a cavalry soldier in the army of His Highness the Maharaja of Oodeypore ( Udaipur ). As time goes on, these intelligent and quick-witted people will no doubt take to new occupations. But the present Karkun Pandit regards the pen as his natural destiny, and though many have taken to agriculture and many more are looking to land as a means of employment and subsistence, they would infinitely prefer to spend their lives as clerks in some office. The Pandits of the villages consider it no degradation to follow the plough and to carry manure, but the city Pandit, who has not severed himself from the literary atmosphere of the capital is inclined to look down upon the Brahman agriculturist, and though he will take a wife from the villages he will not, if a man of any position, permit his daughter to marry into a village family.
 The future of the city Pandits is a matter of some anxiety. They have not the keen trading instinct of the natives of Punjab and may neglect the chances of commerce which easier communications with India should now offer. ’

From the above statement of Walter Lawrence, it appears that Kashmiri Pandits had no hesitation towards taking up tailoring as a a profession in the 19th century.

 I have also read that cinema actor A K Hangal ( 1914-2012 ), born in a Kashmiri Pandit family of Peshawar, started his early life as a tailor. This Kashmiri Pandit family had migrated out from Kashmir valley long back and as such was far away from the mainstream and core Kashmiri Pandit society.

For sure, Kashmiri Pandits had some aversion towards joining any business activity. A job that required a pen in hand or meant writing work was generally sought after by them. That is why no Kashmiri Pandit was an artisan. By artisan I mean carpenter, tailor, mason, blacksmith, papier mache artist, shawl embroider, carpet weaver, plumber, etc. During my childhood, I could see just one mason, one carpenter and one shawl embroider from the Kashmiri Pandit community.   

Although many Pandits had bakery ( Kaandhar Vaan ) shops or worked as professional cooks but for marriage within the core Kashmiri Pandit society, these men could not get a match. Accordingly, most of them had to get married to girls from nearby hilly areas of Kishtawar, Bhaderwah and Ramban. 

You can see from the above photograph clicked in 1911 that there were Kashmiri Pandit tailoring shops in Srinagar city. I am informed by elders that there was a problem for boys engaged in this business when they had to look for a match to get married. Kashmiri Pandit society considered this business as something inferior and later shunned this occupation altogether.

But then again, Sometime around 1940, Lamboodhar Nath Tikoo, an educated and enterprising Kashmiri Pandit, belonging to an affluent and influential family, surprised his community members when he opened a tailoring shop under the name and style of ‘ Navyug Tailors‘ at Habba Kadal Srinagar. Pandit Kashyap Bandhu, a reformist leader amongst Kashmiri Pandits during those days, personally attended the opening ceremony of this shop at Habba Kadal. To attract VIP and European customers, the business location was immediately shifted to posh Amira Kadal in Srinagar city. 

Son of an engineer who had built the Banihal Cart Road during Maharaja's rule, Lamboodhar Nath went to Bombay to study engineering but returned to the valley after learning professional tailoring. He would cater to VIP customers and was much in demand for stitching stylish three-piece suits, coats and fashionable shirts. Very soon, Navyug Tailors opened another branch at Residency Road in Srinagar city. Pandit Triloki Nath Tikoo, a young Kashmiri Pandit with a modern outlook, joined his brother Lamboodhar Nath Tikoo in this venture from day one. For Tikoo brothers, it was also a step towards reforming the community and motivating youth for starting such like business ventures that were traditionally shunned. Tikoo family was from Reshi Peer Mohalla in downtown Srinagar.

Pandit Laxman Joo Tikoo ( father of Lamboodhar Nath and Triloki Nath ), felt sad and disillusioned at the venture of his sons. Lamboodhar Nath had to start an Urdu Newspaper ‘ Navyug ‘ simultaneously to protect his father from recurring satires from relations and friends for this tailoring venture that was looked down upon by orthodox Kashmiri Pandit society during those days. Young Nand Lal Wattal ( who later joined as editor of Urdu newspaper Khidmat ) from Rainawari was brought in as editor of this newspaper. Tailoring business of Tikoo brothers was directly hit by the second world war as most of their European clients had to move out of Kashmir. The tribal raid of 1947 dried up almost all the residual clientele of Navyug Tailors. The The newspaper had to be closed down for various reasons. ‘ Navyug Tailors’ also pulled down its shutters permanently after some time.

 Some Muslim boys, who worked as apprentices at these shops became excellent tailor masters and opened independent tailoring shops in Srinagar city.

The noted scholar, Dr Shashi Shekhar Toshakhani informed me as under:-

“ Pandits have been throughout taunted and stereotyped as people who despise all manual work or business and prefer only to wield the pen, their objection to other jobs being that they are ‘derogatory to their Brahmin identity.’ This, however, is highly exaggerated. While Pandits living in rural areas would cultivate their fields, tend their cows and attend to other farming jobs, many among those living in urban areas had long discarded their objection to occupations other than white-collar jobs. Though belonging to an ‘intellectual class’, there were many who would even go for work in the factories like the silk-weaving factory of Srinagar, for instance, or take up jobs like that of a plumber, electrician, mechanic, driver, etc. besides work as shopkeepers or small traders. Of course, being Brahmins they may still not "engage in polluting activities such as barbering, removing and skinning dead animals, making shoes, winnowing pans and drums, slaughtering goats and sheep as eminent sociologist Prof. T. N. Madan has pointed out in his study of the Pandits of Uttarsu-Umanagri. I knew a Kashmiri Brahmin who worked as a barber and had his shop at Fateh Kadal, Srinagar. He sported a rather large Tilak on his forehead, perhaps to attract Kashmiri Pandit clients. I have had several haircuts done at his shop when I was in my teens. ”

 Up to 1975, there was a tailoring shop at Kraal Khod, Habba Kadal run by one Shamboo Nath Ji under the name and style of Lakshmi Tailors. Pandit Shamboo Nath Ji was himself an expert tailor master who could stitch fashionable three-piece suits.

( Avtar Mota )

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