The tales are many; of Vizagites leaving the city in search of something better. But here’s the tale of a man from Kashmir who made Vizag his home.
Driving through the bustling Harbour Town Kotha Road, Curio Crafts is a store you’d easily miss. But if you happen to glance at the display window holding elegantly embroidered carpets, hookahs and other paraphernalia, you’d be tempted to go in through the blacked out glass door and explore what lies beyond. The store that defines itself as a ‘Kashmir Art Palace’ is truly that. Reminiscent of antique shops in exotic locales, the store possesses an old world charm and mystique. Nothing the store contains is ever what it seems like. Boxes have concealed and complex locking systems, metal snuff-boxes dangle on chains, camel bone jewellery and Kashmiri papier-mâché art line the shelves.
People say Kashmir is paradise, but to me, it’s Vizag. I lead a happy life here.
The owner watches patiently as customers look through the store, offering descriptions of the artefacts that hold their attention. . It doesn’t seem to matter to him if the customers make a purchase, he seems content at letting them explore. An MA Economics student in Kashmir, Mohammad Afzal was taught craftsmanship in college as an alternative, in case he didn’t land a government job. Despite his attempt at securing various government posts, even that of a peon, fate had other things in store.
A couple of Americans familiar with the Coromandel Coast suggested that Afzal set up a shop in Visakhapatnam, just like the ones his family own in Kashmir, Bangalore, Cochin and Kodaikanal. With their encouragement he moved here, sceptical initially, but now there’s nowhere else he’d rather be. “People say Kashmir is paradise, but to me, it’s Vizag. I lead a happy life here.” In 1974, with his wife and two kids he came to Vizag and set up his store, Curio Crafts. But with the climate here being unsuitable for Kashmiris, his family moved back after many futile attempts to adapt. He stayed back and watched Vizag develop through the years.
Most of his customers are foreigners who sail into the harbour. He’s had American, Greek, Irish, British and Swiss customers in the past, but now only the Chinese come through. “They rule the world with their goods, but they seem to be in awe of our handicrafts,” he laughs.The artefacts of his store are hand-picked and sourced by him from all over the country.The job is tedious and requires patience, as there are times when he doesn’t have customers for months. But the customers he does get have been regular through the years. Residing above the shop, he comes in everyday to maintain the artifacts, just like a curator would. Handcrafted items are a rarity now, with the art-form dying, and he claims to be saddened by the fact. But despite all the setbacks and difficulties, Afzal continues to source and maintain his curios with care and love as we hope that the little store will one day grow so big and popular, that you just can’t miss it.