Be it human or bird migrations, Kashmir is known to host and house different types of floating populations throughout the calendar year. One such seasonal migrants from Rajasthan has been making brooms for Kashmir households for long now.
A labour-hardened man from Bikaner Rajasthan is busy making brooms in front of his highway shanty on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road. Amid whizzing vehicles around, he’s carrying out his traditional task with meditative looks on his sun-burnt face.
Some 650 odd miles from his roots in the deserts, he often arrives in the mountains to run his seasonal broom industry — and so do his tribe of gypsies in Kashmir.
His community of broom-makers live in makeshift tents pitched on fields and open spaces across many parts of the valley. Over a period of time, these broom-makers have become the chief broom suppliers in the region.
“I’ve been coming to Kashmir since the past thirty years now,” says Jaswant, a broom-maker in his mid-fifties, flashing his tobacco-stained teeth. “This land is our mother. This is where we sell brooms and feed our family.”
With a faint smile, the broom-maker recounts the day of the late eighties when he first came to Kashmir with his uncle.
“I was touched by the warmth and kindness of people here,” he says. “I’ve visited almost every corner of India, but I didn’t find a people like here anywhere. I fell in love with Kashmir.”
Dotting scores of patches on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway, these Indian gypsies make their sizeable presence felt in a stretch between Pattan and Palhalan.
Just outside their shacks, their children with uncut and caked hair raise a familiar pitch: “Jhaadu, Jhaadu”.
The barren land is congested with tents, housing nearly 30 such families.
“During the winters,” says Bindu, a middle-aged woman broom-maker, peeling the skin of chicken legs to be prepared for dinner, “we work hard in Rajasthan forests to collect grass which is the raw material for making brooms.”
While blowing air to a handmade hearth, she says, it takes many days for a household to take a broom from one phase to another.
“This process scratches our hands, aches our feet and even leaves us bruised,” she says. “But we keep thinking that this toil will feed us and our children.”
From elders to children, everyone is assigned their own work. There’re many sleepless nights and restless days which altogether enable them to make good quality brooms suiting their customers’ choices.
“We’re all neighbours and relatives here,” Manish, a young broom-maker, says. “Everyone is involved in this business. My father taught me and now I’m training my children and so on.”
These gypsies begin their Kashmir journey in the month of March. They announce their arrival by pitching their tents on open spaces around the highway. From Pampore to Baramulla, their presence is familiar.
They can be seen setting up stalls at many places or scattered throughout markets selling their brooms.
Besides brooms, a bunch of brooms-makers at Sangrama Baramulla sell many other things. There’re handmade decorated toys hanging outside their tents. Womenfolk seem to deal with them.
“We make very fine brooms and toys,” says Durga, a woman broom-maker in her sixties. “Our brooms are very famous here and there is a good demand for our articles. People often wait for our yearly arrival in Kashmir.”
Stretching her fractured leg to ease herself out, Durga says that her community’s familiarity with Kashmir comes handy for their business.
“But mostly,” she says, “our business is really hard in terms of money it makes us. It’s difficult to sustain, but we’re proud and satisfied to carry forward our traditional line of work in a friendly and warm place called Kashmir.”
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