From the dusty alleys of downtown Srinagar, Rifat Masoodi has emerged as a symbol of success in the male-dominated bat industry in Kashmir. Indeed, they now fondly call her ‘batwoman’.
The mother of two set out on the task in 2003, three years after the death of her father-in-law brought the curtains down on the Masoodi Arts and Sports factory, a 40-year-old bat manufacturing unit. “I asked my husband Showkat if I could restart the unit and he readily agreed,” says Masoodi.
Showkat put her in touch with former workers, willow dealers and customers based outside Jammu and Kashmir. There were teething troubles, delays in product delivery and payments etc. “But my workers helped a great deal in making me what I am today,” says Masoodi, sitting in a dimly lit room with gleaming MAS (Masoodi Arts and Sports) bats stacked all along the mud walls.
Bat manufacturing requires “skills like a goldsmith”, says Masoodi, a cursory look and quick feel should tell you whether the bat is gold or a dud. She checks each finished bat herself for any defects. Riyaz Ahmad Ganai had been working at the bat unit for more than two decades till the three-year shutdown forced him to return to his village and take up menial work. With Masoodi reviving the business, he’s happy, thankful that his “children’s education was not disrupted”. “It is not her success alone, but ours too,” he says.
A J&K government officer, who works in promoting start-ups, says he is bitterly disappointed at how successive governments have been unable to prioritise the industry and capitalise on the huge demand for Kashmir willow across the globe. “It’s rare to see Kashmir brand bats in the national or international markets,” he says. “The state government doesn’t have the will to curb illegal trade and promote ‘Brand Kashmir’. Raw clefts from the Valley are illegally ferried to outside states where prominent brands use their own stickers to pass it off as their product.” Which is why Masoodi sends out only finished products, to ensure that her brand, MAS, acts as an “ambassador” for Kashmir.