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Sentinel of a shop

The Sohan shop has been around since 1967 in Hyderabad. Dealing in unique collections of handloom products and handicrafts, the quaint old shop will most certainly urge anyone into a second coming and more, should you step inside.

Photos: K. Ramesh Babu

OLD CURIOSITY SHOP: The clientele goes way back.

IN THESE days of shopping malls and their `unique shopping experiences' - each coveting the clientele of the other, there are some shops that almost seem to revel in their quaintness and a select, regular clientele. A life long relationship, and bonding with the buyer/customer gives these few shops of the city their definite old Indian charm in the realm of marketing. The Sohan shop (no. 35, Block IV) within the premises of the Lal Bahadur Stadium, Fateh Maidan, is one such old sentinel.

The location of the shop, its décor, its quietness, its manager and even its regular customers give one a strangely welcoming feeling - and once you have had a glimpse of the amazing, unique collections of handlooms, the shop will most certainly urge you into that second coming.

The shop was opened to public by no less a figure (in the world of handloom and handicrafts promotion) than Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, on December 1, 1967. The manager of the shop, Shantilal C. Shah, still retains that invitation card of the opening ceremony - almost withered with age. The Sohan shop in Hyderabad is part of the Sohan Sahkari Sangh - a consumers' cooperative society, started by a small group of friends in Mumbai, for promoting Indian handicrafts.

The Mumbai centre, which is the main office, was set up way back in 1961 on a small shop over the terrace at the Industrial Assurance Building in Churchgate - where it still stands. Prabha Shah was one of its founding members and continues to be its Chairperson, and she keeps in constant touch with the Hyderabad outlet through her regular visits.

With an initial network of a few craftsmen from different states, Sohan Sahkari Sangh was among the first few attempts - independent of the government's own handloom and handicrafts sector - to create an urban market for handloom and handicrafts. Among the many innovative ideas floated at SSS included (in the early 60s) circulating what they called `bearer tokens', for value of Rs. 10, 50 and 100, in exchange for which people could buy any of the products on sale at Sohan's shops and exhibitions. The idea was to help Sohan plan ahead with the craftspeople to create larger and more diverse range of products for sale.

There were also special `previews' for token holders to purchase goods worth up to one-and-a-half-times the value of the tokens they held, at these previews.

DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT: The shop has collections of handloom, dress materials, bedsheets, mats and rugs.

Shantilal Shah has been associated with SSS since its inception and has been looking after the shop in Hyderabad since 1967. That it has been a long association shows in the pride with which he shows off the wares in the shop.

The love for the handloom, the amazing sensibility towards the texture of the material, and its design - besides his conversational ability - makes one a buyer, either instantly, or at long last. And that is the essence of shopping at Sohan.

Sohan's shop has had an amazing number of sustained clientele in the city, including many eminent people. Artists, such as Laxma Goud, Surya Prakash, Kavita Deuskar, among many other prominent and well-known people of Hyderabad, figure in this list. Says Shantilal, "Some of our customers have been buying from us since 1967. In the initial years of the opening of shop, we had many customers from the Gandhi Medical College. There are some doctors today who were students of the college then, who come even now with their children. I can recollect all their faces, although not all their names. Initially, this shop was considered one for the elite. A lot of foreigners also used to visit. Besides the few government emporia, this was the only such shop in the city for exclusive handloom products."

"When our shop was established, Lal Bahadur stadium was just under construction, and this was a central location. One could see the Naubat Pahad and Ritz Hotel, sitting at this shop," he reminisces.

The shop has collections of handloom, dress materials, bedsheets, mats, rugs, kurtas, salwar suits, even halter tops, besides few jute bags and chappals - from Gujarat (Kutch, Baroda Ahmedabad), Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh. This is also one of the very few shops with its collection of genuine Chirala handloom stuff, including lovely dupattas and kurtas. A few kurtas are priced as low as Rs. 50. The price usually ranges between Rs. 250 and upwards.

Manager Shantilal claims, "Sohan really has some distinctly different stuff, both in terms of design and texture." This is made possible because the Chairperson of the Sohan Sahkari Sangh closely works with the weavers to bring about the variety.

However, SSS is not into crass commercialism. How do they survive in today's competitive world? Shantilal says, "We manage to balance our expenditure and sales. We do not involve in mass exhibitions of our products, and have only individual exhibitions. We work with few crafts persons in each state. We have managed fairly well all these years. Today, there are so many boutiques and shops catering to handlooms, but not when we started. This shows that there is awareness among people about handlooms."

For any lover of handloom and handicrafts, besides one looking for a shop with an old Hyderabadi association, a visit to Sohan can indeed be delightful. One visit is unlikely to end there.


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