Muheet ul Islam
Srinagar: Khalid Ahmad Mir waits eagerly and peeps into the glass panel of the shop front where a variety of pickles are displayed. The shop is closed for the midday prayers. “Why does he display the pickles when he is not present in the shop,” Mir says satirically.
The smell emanating from the bottles of pickles in the display at Seeno Kashmiri Pickles in Habba-Kadal here are mouth-watering.
Mir, like most pedestrians that walk the pavements in this market, is desperate to taste some
As 70-year-old Haji Ghulam Qadir Seeno arrives, he immediately recognizes Mir. Warm greetings are exchanged, and a conversation picks up. “I come to Kashmir once a year and, you know, I don’t go back without buying pickles from you,” 27-year-old Mir, who works in Dubai, tells Seeno.
Seeno’s is a well established pickle brand in Kashmir. Shopkeepers as well as pedestrians guide you as you look for directions. Ghulam Qadir Seeno, the owner, started selling pickles thirty years ago. He says he sold four kilograms a day at first. “I used to earn mere 500-1000 rupees a month. Once people started liking my product, I increased the quantity,” says Seeno.
Today, as Seeno sits facing in his shop the boats 100 different types of pickles – vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian – it is the variety as much as uniqueness of the products that attracts food lovers. “I sell items that hardly anyone would find in Kashmir,” Seeno says.
“In the non-vegetarian category, we sell mutton, chicken and fish pickles. Rest are vegetarian pickles. Every item here is special. No one in India will manufacture apricot pickles, for example,” Seeno boasts. “Name a pickle, I will give you to relish it.” Huge tumblers placed in a sequence around him contain the likes of apricot, peach, onion, mango and lemon. Customers, many of them from outside the valley, get to taste these pickles before Seeno sends them off with bagfuls of pickles.
Thirty years ago, when Seeno was not selling pickles, people knew him as a transporter. His five trucks that transported goods across India; Seeno himself drove one of the trucks. As armed conflict raged in Kashmir, Seeno says he lost everything to the war between militants and government forces. “I would say that I was forced to pick up this work. Otherwise a transporter and pickle seller have no match.”
A sudden grimness overtakes as Seeno begins to recall his days as a transporter. He quickly gets up from his seat and leaves his shop. He returns with a bunch of cigarettes, blowing out thick puffs of smoke. After a few paces around the shop, he settles back in his seat, cross legged, still pulling at a cigarette. In a few minutes that follow, he smokes three more cigarettes, lost in his thoughts that make his aging face crease even more. When he finally speaks, his heavy voice reveals his pain.
“Do me a favour, do not ask me any questions about that time,” he says, shaking his head.
But he mutters after a pause: “Two of my sons were killed by the army.” Again, Seeno becomes mute.
“Please stop! Can’t you see what I’m going through? What will you gain from it? It hurts…” he says as I try to seek details.
A few customers enter the store. The buzz of the market breaks the spell of trauma Seeno had slipped into. Noticing that I was enquiring about his family, they request me to “stop hurting him”.
“He is old and you must keep that in mind. If he asked you to stop, you must respect his wish,” one of the men tells me.
I leave the store and wish a goodbye to Seeno, and the wonderful pickles he makes. He sends me off with a smile.