Bibaji, the bangle seller from Rajasthan, has ‘held’ hands of royals, politicians

He proudly shares the long list of customers, ranging from the Ambanis and the Pawars to film personalities and sportspersons, including Kiwi cricketer Ross Taylor

October 22, 2022 08:27 pm | Updated October 24, 2022 10:18 am IST - Jodhpur

Abdul Sattar Biba and his family at their shop in Jodhpur.

Abdul Sattar Biba and his family at their shop in Jodhpur. | Photo Credit: Anuj Kumar

Jab Laadi sa yaad farmate hain, hum jaate hain (when daughters-in-law remember us, we go),” said an unassuming Abdul Sattar Biba, the 64-year-old bangle seller who runs the popular Bibaji Churi Wale in the old city.

The tiny shop that specialises in lacquer and glass bangles is one of the repositories of rich Rajasthani culture and its deep syncretic roots. Be it Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s wife or former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, Mr. Sattar’s customers are spread across the political and social spectrum.

‘Faith on my choice’

Interestingly, there is no bangle on display, for Mr. Sattar feels that his clients have faith in his choice and he reserves the best for them. He proudly talks of the 150-year association of his family with the Rajput rulers which goes back to the time when Umed Bhawan was not built. “Till the early 1970s (when the privy purse was abolished), no woman of the royal family would come to market for shopping. We had to go to their households. And I was one of the very few who has had access to the living rooms.”

The association started when his grandmother Mariam, fondly called Bibi, started serving the royal households with hand-made bangles. “She would often take my father Mohd Baksh with her for help. One day, somebody called him Biba and the name Bibi Biba stuck. Similarly, when I turned 15, my father started taking me along and nobody objected.”

When reminded of an incident where a Muslim bangle seller was allegedly targeted because of his religion, Mr. Sattar says there is no such feeling in his region. “All my patrons are Hindus because it is the sacred symbol of  suhag (marriage) in their religion. Ours is a relationship of trust.”

A practicing Muslim, he says, they carry Islamic symbols like beards, but are never judged. “The old ladies of the house introduce me as maternal uncle and the daughters-in-law touch my feet,” says Mr Sattar.

In Islam, he adds, there is no such religious custom related to bangles. “Muslim women started wearing bangles only because they grew up in this culture.”

When asked about the Karva Chauth rush, Mr. Sattar dismisses it as a part of Punjabi culture. “In Rajasthan, women buy bangles for Deepavali.”

Lahariya bangles

In olden times, he says, women wore only red coloured bangles but as the culture of matching set in, they were forced to try different colours. “Now, we make lahariya bangles in lacquer to match the traditional tie-and-dye saris. Earlier, we used only glass, crystal and lacquer, but now plastic is also being used because it provides more options. But those who believe in Hindu tradition avoid it. We also tell them it doesn’t go with our culture.”

Mr. Sattar says there was a time when women protected their glass bangles so scrupulously that he would remove the bangles he had helped them wear a year before.

His son Mohd Irfan says the same for Jodhpur’s composite culture. “The city never saw communal clashes. But in the recent months there have been two flare-ups that could have easily snowballed into something big, but both the communities realised the political motives in time.”

He says Vasundhara Raje doesn’t have a communal image but it remains to be seen whether she would be fielded as the CM’s choice.

Another significant source of Mr. Sattar’s income are the cantonment areas where wives of Army personnel have few options for shopping. “My name is there in their books. I have just returned from Bhatinda cantonment.”

Mr. Sattar and his family have been serving families across political lines and proudly share the long list of customers -- ranging from the Ambanis and the Pawars to film personalities and sportspersons. He remembers how Kiwi cricketer Ross Taylor visited the shop during the 2011 World Cup. One of Mr. Sattar’s biggest regrets is that he could not recognise former U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton when she offered her wrist to him during the wedding of the daughter of Mukesh Ambani in 2018.

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