Years before his death, Haji Ghulam Rasool, who passed away as a nonagenarian in 1995, was promised by Abdul Rashid Lone, a distant relative who was then in his 30s, that he would keep Mr. Rasool’s name alive.
With adjacent shops, the two would spend hours conversing with each other. Mr. Lone remembers Mr. Rasool telling him with sadness on his face that nobody after him will make Kashmiri soaps like he did and nobody will continue the business.
The thought of fading away had bothered Mr. Rasool a lot in his last days. “Qo’dratan zindi’ thew, choun naaw thaw bi zindi yeth’thas. If I live, I will keep your name alive,” Mr. Lone had told him.
Mr. Lone was 20-years-old when he opened a cycle repairing shop adjacent to Mr. Rasool’s nameless shop in the Fatehkadal area of Downtown Srinagar.
The nameless shop was of a Kashmiri soap maker who didn’t need a name. “People knew where to buy their soap,” said Mr. Lone.
Shortly after Mr. Rasool’s death, the government demolished the shops to widen the road. In the same year, Mr. Lone opened the soap shop at the same place, slightly backward, with his own cycle repairing shop and started running the business of Mr. Rasool as promised.
“He had a nameless shop,” said Mr. Lone, smiles and recalls how Mr. Rasool loved making and selling Kashmiri Soaps for 80 years. “I gave a name to it.”
When Mr. Lone continued the work of Mr. Rasool by running his shop, that used to be full of Kashmiri soap back in the times. Today, the wooden shelves in a 6*4 sized shop are stacked with different types of soaps that come from outside Kashmir, as the variety of manufactured soaps came into the market. “When people started buying new soaps before 11-15 years, I also started selling them along with my own brand, to run my shop,” said Mr. Lone.
The small shop front has a rectangular slab of off-white-colored Kashmiri soap that Mr. Lone makes at home with the help of his twenty-eight-year-old son.
Since it was one of the oldest shops in the Fatehkadal area of the old city, people still come to buy the soap from Mr. Lone, as the local artisans use the soap for making a famous Kashmiri carpet – namdah (woolen rug), “I sell a soap that is used in making of namdah and soap that is used for washing clothes,” he said, adding that there is a decline in the sales of former soap while the latter one still has a good number of customers. “People hardly make namdah anymore. There are only a few left now.”
He quipped with a chuckle: “It even helps in treating dandruff.”
Local namdah artists, who are still in business, buy the soap from him as it works as glue in carpet making. The artisans sketch the pattern on to the namdah base. The unspun wool, pounded with water is placed on the rug – size as per required – on which this Kashmiri soap is melted on it multiple times until a flat base of wool is achieved.
Recently, a customer from Islamabad had bought Kashmiri soap for a thousand rupees. “As I said, people still buy this soap. It has always been famous in Kashmir,” he said.
Mr. Lone makes 200 kilograms of soap that stays in his shop for at least 15 days before the customers take the entire stock. In the beginning, he used to sell a kilogram of soap for 25 rupees and today, he sells per kilogram for 80 rupees. “Time has changed. The inflation in the market is the reason for an increase in the price,” he said.
Mr. Lone has always loved making and selling soaps like Mr. Rasool and is content with the work, he said.
Mr. Lone, with a wide smile on his face and eyes squinted, sat on an old shabby looking chair at his shop front and lamented about the vibe of old times — when he used to sit with his relative cum mentor for soap making and the man who had a nameless shop, next to his own shop.
During the Urs of the Khanqah-e-Molla shrine, old customers from different districts still visit the shop and buy the soap from him. “Old people, who know how famous this soap was, come to me and buy a good amount of it. It seems like it’s tabarruk [blessing] for them,” he chuckled.
25 years later, he has kept the promise and gave it a name, Modern Kashmir Soap. “Adkyah, thowun hey panin kin naaw zindi tihund. Of course, I believe I kept his name alive,” said Mr. Lone, remembering his promise as he sat in the shop of the old man he had given a name to.
This story was first published in the 26 – 31 October 2020 print edition.