Breaking the Mould
Muslim women in Mumbai are venturing into business in increasing numbers breaking the traditional mould as well as the myths
M. H. Lakdawala
TIMES are changing and with it new equations are evolving. Feminism might not be fashionable anymore, but women are definitely getting a better deal in their careers. Amongst the most vulnerable section of society Muslim women in particular have begun to assert themselves.
Muslim women entrepreneurs have begun to dismantle the stereotypes about the community. These women do not preside over art exhibitions or flower and kennel shows. Neither do they organize seminars or workshops. In fact, they do not even get involved in charities. Sans famous surnames, ample inheritances and a public face, these Muslim women entrepreneur have worked in the grime and dust to find a place in the world of business.
Threatened, cheated or at the best ignored on the way, a number of women with next to no resources in their kitty have come a long way, the hard way.
Singer Mohammad Rafi's daughter is a boutique owner while Rukhsana Memon manages catering
Shamim Qureshi had been painting pottery since last five years. Her calligraphy on pottery has given her recognition. With no formal training, she learns the art while assisting different artists. Operating from ten by ten feet room, her residence in an innocuous chawl at Kazipura in South Mumbai, Shamim has neither resources nor support. She has grown by her wit and desire to achieve." Initially I had no money even to buy the pottery. I did odd jobs and saved enough money to start the business," she said.
Since she has to move and remain outdoors for marketing, the residents of the chawl started whispering about her character. "I had to face character assassination. But once my talent was acknowledge by Urdu daily Inquilab, things improved and I could concentrate on my work."
Today Shamim's pottery is being exported to the Gulf countries. Her customers have gifted many of her products to celebrities, which includes Sonia Gandhi and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. What is amazing about Shamim's creations is despite the constrains of space in her residence her products have perfect finish. Except a specific made to order knife she does not has any other implement to aid her.
Rehmatbai, Shamim's mother said, "She is successful today only because of her hardwork. She had never allowed adversity to affect her. Today we are proud of her". Shamim is making preparation to hold an exhibitions of her creations at Mumbai's famous art gallery. She is looking forward for the exhibition to elevate her business in the higher orbit.
When one talks about art galleries and art circles, the name of Arshiya Lokhandwala comes to mind. To blend business interest and promoting art she started Lakeeren an art gallery in Vile parle in North Mumbai.
Arshiya says that Lakeeren was started with the idea of creating an awareness of contemporary art by providing a forum for appreciation of art and art form through knowledge based interaction. "This is much more than only a business for me. It is also a learning process," she said sitting in her beautiful art gallery.
Mumtaz has emerged as a leading spice exporter. She once envied those who had flats with two bed rooms. Today she employs 40 workers
In these five years, Arshiya has organized many unique exhibitions. Arshiya also says that an art gallery owner needs to have an eye of a spectator and a heart of an artist to look at every creation. That is why each and every art form has a place in her art gallery from ceramics to paintings or anything else that is beautiful.
She also realizes that running gallery is not a married women's cup of tea. "I plan to do more to educate people towards arts. It's a great responsibility and I'm doing it to the best of my ability"
Mumtaz Parekh, was just a housewife, couple of years ago. Today she exports spices and masalas to the United States. Mumtaz's husband, Safi was a printer. His entire earning was spent on maintaining the living standard. Living in One- room tenement at Bandra, Mumtaz dream was to have a two-bedroom flat. It was this desire of her, which made her to think. To supplement the family income and savings, Mumtaz started manufacturing masalas at her residence.
Gradually her spices and masalas became famous. With the help of her cousin brother, settled in Chicago, Mumtaz is today exporting her products to at least three cities in USA. "I always wanted to give my two daughters the best education and upbringing, so that they achieve something in life, which I had missed," said Mumtaz. "I started the venture at home, with a house hold wheat grinder or chakki to make my products. Slowly I got introduced to the machinery. Today I set up my own unit with 40 employees." Incidentally Safi sold off his printing press and invested the capital in the flourishing Mumtaz enterprise.
Rukshana Memon's world crashed when her husband deserted her. Burdened with the responsibilities of four children, she was totally shattered. Overcoming the shock she decided to take the reign in her own hands. She started with tiffin service. The quality and taste fetched her more customers.
When she approached local girls' schools to manage canteen, her proposal was immediately accepted. Today Rukhsana is not only self-sufficient but also able to give the best education to her children. "My father offered me financial support but I refused," says Rukhsana. "I didn't want to depend on any one. Not even my father.
Rukhsana believes that whatever the situation one should be systematic and rational in response rather than put forth an emotionally charged response. When asked what is the secret of her success she said,"she always believed in what I did."
Mrs Naseem Ahmed is a perfect example of women who had balanced business and family to perfection. Daughter of famous singer late Mohammed Rafi, Naseem always wanted to establish her own identity.
She started a boutique "B. R. Zari Arts" at Bandra. Today B R Zari Arts is Mumbai's leading fashion house. Mrs Ahmed credits her success to the equal devotion to both family and business. "I never neglect one for the sake of the other. For me both are of equal importance, " she said.
Muslim society is gradually recognising the contribution and importance of women in the growth, development and empowerment of the community. Indeed the first woman who accepted Prophet Mohammed's message was Khatija, a woman entrepreneur. It was she who financed the Islamic movement in the initial stages. The Muslim women should take inspiration from her life and should contribute in the empowerment and upliftment of the community.
In the article titled “Hijab is Back in Mumbai” published in February 2001 issue of Islamic Voice, a photograph pertaining to a Muslim women’s procession in Delhi was mistakenly published due to a print shop mess-up. The photograph has no connection with the contents of the report. The oversight is regretted.