Kashmir Coffee Culture Changemakers
This is the story of two girls creating their own spaces in the growing Kashmir food chain.
By Sheikh Mehvish
AJ noon, as the crowds grow inside a popular restaurant in Srinagar, a young manager gathers her troops and keeps order in the house.
As a tough leader, the supervisor puts food on every table without letting her customer complain about the late delivery.
But despite this friendly conduct, the presence of the administrator herself turns heads.
While boys working in restaurants are commonplace in Kashmir, the presence of girls on staff remains a surprising sight for many.
But 23-year-old Saika challenges and changes that notion with her determination.
She is among the new-age changemakers working in part-time restaurants amid the growing cafe culture in Kashmir.
Aware of the cultural sensitivities of her community, Saika tries to manage public perceptions with her business-friendly conduct at Pizza Hut in Citywalk Mall, Srinagar.
“I always wanted to do something on my own, and I had the idea of doing a part-time job,” says Saika. “That’s how I ended up at Pizza Hut as a team leader a year ago.”
Her decision was supported by her parents and friends, which inspired her to carve out a niche in the male-dominated industry.
“I’m glad I chose to work here,” says Saika. “My colleagues, especially the men, always try to make me feel comfortable and I never felt like I was working in a male-only space.”
Amid the cafe boom in Kashmir’s recent past, Parsa’s Food founded by Javed Parsa was the first restaurant to come up with the idea of recruiting girls in 2018.
Basically, says Javid, it was a small effort to create work opportunities for young women who were inactive and had no support system.
“As most of these women don’t go out to work,” he says, “so I thought about playing my little role. But then it was not easy.
There were people, Javid says, who would come into his restaurant and tell his worker it wasn’t the right place for her.
“But I believe things will fall into place sooner or later,” he hopes. “Acceptance comes in society as long as your initiative or idea does not harm anyone.”
To be the forerunners of this change, says Javid, more people need to create spaces for women in their businesses, “so that single, disadvantaged girls also have the opportunity to support their families.”
Working at By its Sara City Center since August 2021, 22-year-old Iqra Nazir wants to follow her employer’s shoes.
“As soon as I learned that girls were working at Parsa, I didn’t think twice and applied,” says Iqra.
“In the end, he was my inspiration. And I remember how he shared with me his difficult days, when people laughed at him for “selling biryani” in the name of opening a chain of restaurants.
Javid even suggested that Iqra ignore the naysayers.
“And he was right,” she said.
“If he had listened to them himself, he wouldn’t be here today. So, yeah, those encouraging little talks lifted my spirits to do it with more determination.
Iqra is quite assertive about how her workplace is filled with comfort contrary to the usually exaggerated apprehensions society tries to instill in young girls like her.
“Out of 10 people I meet at the restaurant, only one could question my job,” she says.
“But a lot of it you can see people and their perspective changing, which is a good thing for us as a society. That said, I have always been assured that I did nothing wrong by choosing this field. People treat me with respect wherever I go and that motivates me to work hard every day.
Today, as the tribe of Saika and Iqra grows, the duo believe that women should aspire to new goals and areas in life with the support of their families and friends.
“We should never let people dictate our choices,” says Saika.
“What matters is your happiness that you derive from doing the right thing with resilience and determination.”
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