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Business is thriving for Kashmir’s first woman bat manufacturer

Rifat Masoodi’s cricketing idols are Shahid Afridi and Sachin Tendulkar

Narwara is where we find ourselves — an aged neighbourhood in Srinagar’s old city, where devotees throng the shrine of Alam Sahib; also a place of unrest and violence where stone-pelting is not uncommon.

Not far from the shrine, in a modest building that houses her factory, we encounter Rifat Masoodi, holding a 4.25-inch willow plank in her hand. She’s busy grading wood for the cricket bats she makes. “It’s the grains and softness of Kashmir willow that set our bats apart. The better the grains and the fewer the knots, the greater the chances of a player playing longer and better knocks on a field,” she says.

Her cricketing idols are the game’s batting sensations — Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi and India’s Sachin Tendulkar. And yet, bar one instance when she lifted a bat during a six-hour match played with cousins in a by-lane in Srinagar back in the 90s, Rifat, 42, has no memory of ever playing the game, and rarely watches it on TV. But, as fate would have it, she has come to be known as Kashmir’s ‘batwoman,’ a sobriquet earned after she became the State’s first female bat manufacturer.

A graduate of Srinagar’s Vishwa Bharati College of Education, Rifat’s trajectory from ordinary housewife and mother of two until 2000 to expert bat-maker by 2019 tells a story of motivation and perseverance. “My father-in-law passed away in 2000. He owned a small bat factory. At home, there were discussions about closing it down. But I volunteered to run it from 2003, and my husband backed the idea. However, it was not easy,” she says.

Rifat Masoodi at her workshop.

Rifat Masoodi at her workshop.
 
| Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD

Her frequent visits to the workshop, with its all-male staff and carpenters, were subject to neighbourly scrutiny. “Kashmir is a conservative society. It was not easy to venture into a male space and not attract caustic and sarcastic remarks. It did not deter me,” she says, adding that the same neighbours now visit her for inspiration and tips on entrepreneurship.

No stopping her

The conflict in the Valley also threw a spanner in the works. In 2010, when a five-month-long cycle of shutdowns, clashes and curfews marred normal life, Narwara was among the worst-hit localities. However, it did not stop Rifat from meeting the deadlines on her orders. “My staff and I would meet every time there was a relaxation in the curfew, either early in the morning or late in the evening, to complete the orders. We did not disappoint our buyers,” she says.

Over nine years, orders have multiplied fivefold from around 1,000 bats a year when she took over; numbers that hold even in the depths of winter. “Winters slow down a craftsman. However, I ask them to take their time but ensure that the quality is maintained,” says Rifat.

Of late, orders and queries have been flooding in from all over the country. “Initially, I had to call up old buyers to pick up my bats. But now, orders are pouring in from across the country, especially from Maharashtra and Kerala. The buyers praise my workshop’s fine work and quality,” she says. She customises bats to suit preferences, with some players favouring a lighter weight and others heavy bats with broad faces.

Lined up at the factory, the bats sport the label MAS (Masoodi Arts and Sports). The prices range from ₹450 to ₹3,500 per bat. “I have maintained three to four grades of bats,” says Rifat. Recently, a new fad has been keeping her busy: bats with smoke patterns. “We are working on these smoky bats to compete in the market,” she adds. With her home not far from the factory, Rifat shuttles between her dual roles as mother and manufacturer. “My daughter and mother-in-law need attention. I can handle it,” she says. Her husband, Showkat Ahmad Masoodi, a forest department employee and football coach, has acted as a catalyst for Rifat. “A woman can perform equally in all professions. I am a witness to it,” he says.

Rifat, however, sounds less optimistic. When she looks around, she says, it seems as if women’s aspirations have died in Kashmir. But perhaps not in all fields. “The idea that a woman does not need to be dependent is picking up. More and more women have to venture out to live a comfortable and independent life. They will,” she says with a quiet confidence.

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