Close to the Alam Sahib’s shrine in Narwara, Rifat Jan lives like any other Kashmiri woman. However there is one aspect which makes her special. Rifat runs the only bat manufacturing unit in the city by the name of Masoodi Arts and Sports.
“I couldn’t have done this without my husband. He gave me all the support I needed,’’ said a beaming Rifat. “ At first I was reluctant to start the unit as my husband cannot run it for being a government employee, but I made up my mind and decided to give it a shot. Since then we have come a long way.”
Rifat’s husband, Showkat Masoodi, who is the coach of the Forest Department’s football team and also runs a football academy ,says that at first she needed a lot of help but now he just fixes minor glitches. “I cannot do a business as I am a government employee. More than that, I am a coach and I have to give time to the academy also. All my time goes with my official and coaching assignments,’’ said Masoodi.
The unit also boasts to sell bats under its own brand name MAS, which is unusual in the valley. However, almost all the 10,000 pieces, mostly tennis ball bats, which they produce per-year are sent to other states of the India. The reason for that, as the couple says is lack of sports infrastructure and sporting culture at the grass root level.
Rifat informs that when the unit started in 1996, things were slow. The only way to increase the sales was to uphold quality. “At that time we used to send bats to Chennai (then Madras). We knew that if we want to make a mark, quality has to be exceptional. And we did that. Now by the grace of Allah, our product is being used in Mumbai, Delhi and many other places.”
She also pointed out that they are the only ones who sell by their own name. “In Kashmir by and large, semi finish bats are produced. That means the producers send the product to companies without stickers and then they sell them under their own name. But we have our own brand, our own identity, “she said adding that the response has been above expectations.
“When people see our bats outside, they do ask the dealer where it was manufactured. When they hear Kashmir, they are a little bit surprised as almost every unit here sells semi-finish bats not an own brand like us.”
Rifat also feels that her unit has almost no competition in the valley. “Competition is there but outside, not here. Our product has competition from big companies like DCS, who manufacture good tennis bats,’’she says.
They even got a call from a dealer in Meerut who was ready to pay more than the market rate for a semi finished product. “We said no. We cannot sell our product under any other name. It has to be MAS, “ said Rifat.
Rifat also mentioned that Kashmir not being the market is not as kids don’t play but the state of infrastructure and lack of sports at school level. “In Kashmir, we don’t have a big market. And the reason is not that kids don’t play cricket. It’s the environment which matters. Look at the grounds here. How many do we have. In Mumbai, a coach is compulsory, which makes sports compulsory. There are school tournaments held on regular intervals. We don’t see such environment here. Sometimes I wonder people who are solely dependent on sports how do they meet ends.”
She added that because of such level of gaming at the school level Mumbai is her biggest market. “Our biggest market is off course in Mumbai. It’s the hub of cricket. And they have this grass root culture. Kids start playing at a young age and then that talent gets honed in schools which provide them with that environment. There are so many academies there who need bats. What do we have here? Amar Singh club and I don’t see anything else on a big scale. Forget academies, point out a school where after regular classes a coach comes a teaches a bunch of 50 kids.”
Job motivation for sportsmen
Masoodi, her husband voices her concern and says that football in the valley faces similar problems.
“Earlier there was a team of almost every government department here. So it was very good for everyone. Now talented players are jobless. If a department has no team then what would he do? Now tell me how many can JK Bank and Forest accommodate?, “ asks Masoodi, who also runs Iddgah Fooball Academy.
He added, “ If a player is good and he wants to make a career how can he do it without a job. Government should look into it. Even if they accommodate four boys in every department in a year and keep a sports quota, like it is everywhere then it can be a huge motivator.”
Masoodi, who took over as the coach of Forest XI in 2012, says that there is abundant talent in the valley however, they lack incentives and motivation due to a bleak future. “ After I took over as coach Forests’ team has won every tournament. They even defeated the powerful JK Bank team recently. But the players are still contractual employees. They wonder why this happens to them. This dents their morale. Our players have played Santosh Trophy many times, which is the biggest tournament in the country, still they don’t get what they deserve, “ rues Masoodi.
He says that government wants youth look at the brighter side when they don’t help them out. “It is simple. If you want to keep the youth happy and engaged, you have to give them jobs by which they can pursue their dreams.”