Despite being at the wrong level of social stratification, Kashmir‘The traditional bakery has always remained a dazzling activity. Sarmad Dev visit a village in the deep north which owes its prosperity to insomnia and the hard work of his youth in Srinagar‘s Kanderwans
No matter what the world a at breakfast, in Kashmir, it’s the Kander Chout, the traditional baker’s bread (the Kashmiri baker is called Kandur). For ages, the rich Kashmiri bakery has been breaking the morning fast with Lavassa, tortilla-type bread, or Girda made of clay tandoors.
Early risers, these bakers start working long before the Mouazin calls for Fajr prayers and by the time the prayers are over, people crowd in front of their stores to pick up the Chout residence. Each locality has a local baker and no baker serves the needs of less than 200 to 300 households. A smart estimate suggests that when Kashmir breaks the morning bread, it generates a turnover of no less than Rs 70 lakhs.
Over the years, however, Kashmir’s obsessive compulsion to take the path of work to define its social stratification has driven the Kandur, like artisans and peasants, to a lower social order. Many traditional bakers have stayed true to their centuries-old craft and migrated to Western baking or other professions leaving a void, now filled by professionals arriving from the outskirts of Kashmir.
For countless villages, which had made traditional baking their main profession, it is a huge agent of change on the upward mobility curve. A nascent sector, it counts in the peripheral social divisions, which are natural and fluid without complication.
A dark village
Dangerpora is one of those villages. Located nearly 65 km north of Srinagar in the heart of the Sangrama Green Belt, this visibly prosperous village is one of the main bulk suppliers of bakers in the city of Srinagar.
Locals said the village is home to around 1,700 people in 350 households and around 97% of the people have moved to Srinagar to run their bakeries. This village has less than 10 people working for the government. Lots of people work in the fields. This has been the tradition of the village for almost 60 years now.
As the car travels down a pothole-dug supply road from the impressive highway, Dangerpora literally appears out of nowhere like a beautiful settlement with a concrete house and not-so-dirty alleys. Apparently, each household has a means of transport as non-local workers are busy building the local mosque.
Residents regret the absence of the hospital and other public services. For some of them, who frequently visit and live in Srinagar, the lack of facilities is deeply felt. “Our road deteriorates when it snows and no vehicles can enter or leave this place, which makes living conditions very difficult here, especially for the elderly and patients,” said an elderly resident.
The inhabitants admit that their well-being owes nothing to their situation in the middle of green mountains. It is because of Srinagar where they run bakery chains and “without it poverty would have hit them”.
Warm and cultured, the residents speak with heart to Life in Kashmir reporting team; invite them to lunch, give apples or nuts as gifts.
Village elders, who now stay at home and rest while the new generation goes about their business, said the village has entered Kanderkar, bakery work, sometime after the 1960s. The specific reason the village chose bakery over other jobs was that it is cheap to set up a Kanderwan, bakery, and the necessary materials are readily available – firewood, earthenware oven, and flour.
“We were poor and mostly landless, so we took over this business and went to different neighborhoods to learn this trade”, Ghulam Nabi Bhat, the village Sarpanch, who also worked as a baker once, said. “It was easier and cheaper than other labor intensive jobs. I myself worked as a baker in Eidgah until 2000 and did not return home until after my father died.
“Overall, it’s a constraint,” says Ajaiz Ahmad Lone, a master’s student in sociology. “We have a lot of young people who are well educated and who are still in this job because of unemployment.” He admits that they are despised by society, but this work is the only way out for a dignified survival.
Muhammad Yasin Bhat, 55, worked as Kandur at Malbagh in Srinagar for 25 years. Self-employed, his shop is now run by his two sons, both having passed the tenth standard. Yasin’s neighbor Bashir Ahmad Bhat said all of his seven sons are currently in Kanderkar and they send home not less than one lakh rupee per month.
The lucrative nature of this profession encouraged even the next generation of the peasantry to take up baking. Muhammad Sultan Bhat, 70, said he had worked in his small fields all his life. “I have never made a single loaf of bread in my life,” he said. “When I saw that my people were earning well, I sent my children to Srinagar and for the past 15 years they have been there. They work all year except for a few months when they take turns returning home.
Burden on women
Since the main labor force is absent, the management of the small lands, orchards and the vegetable garden is the responsibility of women. They are supposed to take care of the children, their education and other issues that require quick decision making.
Locals said it was a serious crisis most of the time, but the arrival of the cell phone helped some of it. “Now we call them and they give their advice and in most cases they keep in touch 24 hours a day”, a lady, who manages the affairs of the household in the absence of her husband. In some cases, some of the migrant bakers took their children for a better education in Srinagar.
In most cases, however, husbands took their immediate families with them. Some of them gradually acquired the small houses of Srinagar and today are the proud owners of two places of residence.
While in their Kanderwans, these people have neither forgotten their roots nor the sweat they had to go through to change the economic profiles of their families. Some of them are highly qualified but the lack of opportunities kept them in the jobs their parents held.
Muhammad Asif, operates from his Batamaloo store. “I’ve been in this business for about 15 to 20 years and serve around 150 households every day,” Asif said, insisting he’s the first generation. Kandur as a father has never been in this business. “My only regret is that people do not respect us very much, do not give us the credit for being what we are – the craftsmen. Sometimes I wonder, what would happen to the culture if we weren’t there? “
Mohammad Amin Bhat has been operating from Lal Bazaar since 1990, where he serves the needs of nearly 120 houses each morning. “I entered this field because I wanted to get out of poverty but my kids chose their own path, which is good,” he said.
“We welcome around 1,500 people every morning,” said Imtiyaz Wani, 24, who operates from Soura. “We get up at 3 in the morning and we run this shop with three people – one is the breadmaker, the other takes care of the tandoori and you extract the baked bread and sell it, ”Wani said. “I started this job mainly because I had no other way to earn with dignity and my brother was my inspiration.”
In most cases, these people encourage their children to study and change jobs. One section, however, inherits cooking from one generation to the next.
Full of work
Bread in Kashmir is a huge industry as people never take tea without bread. The diversity of products is so great that it varies from place to place in Kashmir. People have bread for breakfast and during the afternoon tea break. Each time, you need a different type of bread.
In the morning, normal is lavasa Where girda. In the morning, a special girda is cooked that contains ghee. It is extremely popular with the working class and the seasonal migrant workforce. In the afternoon, the main bread that accompanies the tea is to taste. Some people, however, bakirkhawni Where katlum, known in Persian as nan-e-khushik (dry bread). All of Kashmir’s bread basket is rooted in Central Asia. In between, there are countless breads baked for seasonal or specific occasions involving births, deaths, and celebrations.
Kashmir’s weakness for its food is so disarming that when the Kashmiri Pandits migrated out of Kashmir in 1990, only two professionals were welcome – the pouj (butchers) and Kandur. Kashmiri pundits are considered the only Indians Halal-Hindus who eat sheep.
Part of this market is with housewives making chapattis at home, relieving the burden on traditional bakers. Western bakery is a separate and huge industry that has evolved over the centuries after the British took bakers from Srinagar and sent them to train in the English bakery. But this is another subject. In a number of cases, the tradition Kandur sees entering the bakery as a positive growth in status and income.
The job, however, remains a challenge. Most of them have trouble sleeping because they have to get up too early. They also work in an environment where they have to deal with extreme heat and smoke. This leads to certain health problems as a result of which a person retires from baking much earlier.
There has been no major intervention in this sector to modernize facilities and innovate. Previously there were efforts to have exhaust chimneys to handle the smoke but these were too complicated to handle the amount of smoke generated by the smoke. Kanderwan. At one point, even the tandoori was created that would heat with LPG or electricity. It couldn’t take off as well to the satisfaction of the trade either.
With some delay, however, the Srinagar district administration initiated a modernization process involving a small group on a pilot basis. It remains to be seen whether this process takes shape and brings about any changes. Abdul Majid Pampori, president of the Association of Local Bakers of Jammu and Kashmir and Kashmir Bread Makers, said there were around 800 bakers in Srinagar alone, with the number exceeding eight thousand across Kashmir.
At the same time, there is a need to improve the hygiene of Kanderwan.