The floods in September last year continue to affect the inhabitants of Kashmir, some of whom find their livelihoods threatened. RIFAT MOHIDIN spoke to manufacturers and retailers of Kashmiri-willow cricket bats, who find themselves unable to cash in on World Cup fever.
Awantipora, Indian-administered Kashmir: In the highway town of Awantipora in south Kashmir, a cricket-bat factory struggles to stay alive. Odd, it would seem, with cricket on the mind of every boy and girl in the subcontinent during this year’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. But Fayaz Ahmad says his business of cutting clefts – the rough shape of a cricket blade before they are turned into bats – is in trouble.
“We were hopeful of having large sales ahead of this World Cup but unfortunately the flood washed away our World Cup dreams. We had been preparing for it for last many years,” Fayaz said.
“At this time, we would almost be making 50,000 to 60,000 clefts, but we have not made anything,” Fayaz said from his shop, Diljeet Sports, in Awanitipora, about 18km south of Srinagar.
Indian-administered Kashmir, nestled in the Himalayan mountains, was devastated by floods in September 2014. Even as the region grapples with the aftermath of the flood, which left more than 250 dead and tens of thousands homeless, there is no immediate end in sight to the miseries of local industries, including many bat-manufacturing units that dot the highway in Awantipora and its adjoining villages.
“Our machines were in water, the willow was in water. As the outside companies are well aware of our situation, they did not even make orders for local club cricket, never mind the World Cup,” said Fayaz, who has been associated with bat manufacturing for the last two decades.
With the 2015 cricket World Cup taking place in February and March, local bat-manufacturing and trading companies have been expecting orders of raw material or finished products, none of which has materialised.
“This year even the tourists did not take any bat orders from us. We are in total loss. Earlier we would keep all eyes on the World Cup, but this time, there is no good season for our work now,” said Kuchay, who has started selling dry fruits in a bid to survive.
The bat-manufacturing industry suffered multiple layers of damage to the units already cut. But when the famed willow trees – the source of the raw material for the beautiful blades of cricket bats – were submerged for several weeks during the floods, the extended exposure to flood waters ruined the uncut trees as well.
The industry usually has an annual turnover of more than $18-million, and provides a livelihood to about 50,000 people, according to the stakeholders. As per their preliminary assessment, bat manufacturers have incurred losses of up to $13.9-million this season.
The devastating deluge last year wrecked parts of south and central Kashmir and sent the tourism industry into a spiral of losses from which it is yet to recover. Before the floods, the valley would receive more than 1-million visitors per year.
Fayaz now manufactures toy bats, which sell for Rs50 (nearly one US dollar), to keep himself busy. “I am here just to do away with depression and make these toy bats, otherwise there is no real work to do. The factory is almost shut; most of the people are without work,” he said.
The sub-continent traditionally sends the most number of cricketing teams to the World Cup from any one region. With India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh playing in the tournament, Kashmir’s bat industry has always been seen as having a lot of potential. However, the political uncertainty in Kashmir since 1990 has discouraged bat manufacturers from extending their markets to other countries beyond India, leaving an untapped market of millions of cricketing enthusiasts. It has also left cricket factories at the mercy of Indian needs and tourists.
Despite the losses and difficulties, some people, however, are optimistic. “If India wins [the World Cup] it might bring the fervour back and we might see some boost in our business,” said Feroz Ahmad, who owns a cricket-bat retail store in Awantipora.
Rifat Mohidin is a journalist based in Kashmir. You can follow her on Twitter at @rifatrathor.
– Featured image: Fayaz Ahmad at his bat-making factory in Awantipora. All images: By Rifat Mohidin.