“We have seen curfews, riots, earthquake, tsunami, assasinations of Prime Ministers, Navnirman and Anamat Andolan but we have never witnessed a time like this,” laments 60-year-old Bhagchand Anandani, a garment trader, sitting in his cramped showroom-cum-office inside a dilapidated market complex at Sindhi Market in Kalupur of old city Ahmedabad.
Anandani, a Sindhi, has been into garment business for the past 45 years, following in the footsteps of his father, and holds important positions in six business associations, including the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce.
At his small office, he has affixed a portrait of himself with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee when the latter visited Ahmedabad back in 1989. Anandani claims that he had worked with Narendra Modi once as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) karyakarta in the old city.
“I am a loyal worker of the BJP but I won’t shy away from stating the truth about garments business in Sindhi market. Sales have dipped by more than 80% compared to last year due to the lockdown. Our business survives on credit system… During lockdown, many businessmen committed suicide due to impending loans and we have been trying to help their families with our Sindhi community outreach programme,” says Anandani who is also the founder president of Sindhu Gaurav Foundation.
On November 19, Labh Pancham day, considered as an auspicious day for businesses, observed after the Gujarati new year, not many shops were open at the Sindhi market.
Located near Prem Darwaza in Kalupur, the market was founded after the Partition of India in 1947 when a sizable chunk of Sindhi population migrated to Ahmedabad from areas that are now in Pakistan. At present, it houses more than 600 shops that are primarily engaged in garments and footwear business.
Elders here recount that there was a time when shopkeepers would not open their shutters on Labh Pancham day due to a superstition that something evil may befall on those who open their shops first in the market.
Speaking to The Indian Express, 70-year-old Nirmal Bhagchandani of ‘Radhe Krishna marketing’, a wholesale shop for disposable items, says, “When I first came to Sindhi market in 1969, shops used to open as early as 6 am as people believed that if they don’t get business on Labh Pancham day, they won’t get any for the entire year. Those days, the market would be decked up a bride and shopkeepers used to start their new account books on Gujarati new year.”
The tradition, Baghchandani says, ended after the government of India started new financial year with March 31 as last day. “Over the past 50 years, I have seen many ups and downs in the Sindhi market… we have even done business during riots and curfews but this time it is completely different,” he says.
The Sindhi market now has third generation youngsters taking over their ancestral businesses with hopes to resurrect sales after three months of lockdown.
“For three months, we had to shut shops. Our payments were pending and we somehow managed to stay afloat. When lockdown restrictions were uplifted, business was good for a month but again it slumped. We have huge stocks of garments in our godown but even during Diwali there was no respite,” says Mahesh Jadwani (27), a garment shop owner.
“This year, we were able to do only 50 per cent business compared to 2019,” says Arun Bhatia (33), the owner of Dhir Creations handloom.
“When lockdown was announced in Ahmedabad city, we turned to villages and did better business over there by selling footwear to small retailers. The goods were transported to the retailers as per demand and we did better than our expectations. I hope that the next year will bring more prosperity,” says Avinash Dholani (32) who owns a footwear shop.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the young businessmen do not hold on to any beliefs or superstitions. “Our staff go on leave from Diwali for 10 days and usually there is no business on Labh Pancham day. However, since its auspicious, we open then shop for two-three hours for puja,” explains Dholani.
“Other than Sunday, we don’t close our shop at all. Business in the days of our fathers and grandfathers was different but now it is all digital,” says Alok Bhatia, another businessman.
However, there is one thing where there is no ambiguity among the young businessmen of Sindhi market who keep hope for a better future.
“Hope is what sustained our business for the past 50 years and kept us alive in times of distress,” says 33-year-old Jayesh Bhagchandani, son of Nirmal Bhagchandani, who has taken over the affairs at his shop.
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