A Corner Of Creativity

  • Sanyogita Singh
  • Publish Date: Apr 9 2018 1:42AM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 9 2018 1:42AM
A Corner Of Creativity

Parsa’s restaurant in Srinagar offers an experience to savour

 

The ones who have suffered the most, somehow find the greatest capacity to love. Ironic, isn’t it? But that’s what Kashmir is, a land of many ironies. Stepping foot on this strife-torn land for the first time, what strikes one the most is the peace, the warmth and the grit. This beautiful valley continues to hurt and heal at the same time and while there are many stories worth telling, I was particularly fascinated by an unassuming little place in the heart of Srinagar.

Entering Parsa’s is like walking into the warm embrace of an old friend. This small restaurant is a world in itself. On a regular day, you will find college kids chatting away about everything under the sun, you will see mothers visiting with kids after a long day out, there’ll be artists huddled together working on some project, or a lone student drowned in a book. There are many reasons why Parsa’s, in just three years of its existence,  has carved out a niche of its own in the valley. It’s the first restaurant in Kashmir that houses a library, which is stocked with over a thousand books and has more than three hundred regular borrowers. The library, called the Parsa Book Bank, is made solely of donated books. Apart from helping spread the literary word, Parsa’s has also brought about a renaissance of sorts to Kashmir’s cultural life. The restaurant holds regular poetry and music events where the stage is mostly adorned by upcoming, local artists. But just like a Kashmiri heart, there are no barriers to entry and anybody can perform. With its growing recognition as the hub of creativity, as many as eight to ten budding writers have launched their maiden titles at Parsa’s, amidst enriching sessions of book reading, storytelling and, above all, bonding with people of varied interests and persuasions.

It would, in fact, be a disservice to call Parsa’s a restaurant. For it’s more of a community, shaped by its founder Javid Parsa. The first thing one notices about Javid, apart from his disarming smile of course, is his energy. His upbeat demeanour and ever-welcoming personality is what keeps people coming back. But success doesn’t come easy and it certainly did not for Javid. In 2014, as Parsa’s was preparing to throw its doors open, Kashmir was hit by one of the worst floods in its history. The deluge claimed many lives, livelihoods and hopes. Yet, despite the possibility of an imminent closure, Parsa’s opened for customers on October 31, 2014. The rest, as they say, is history. Within a year, Javid was named Kashmir’s Youth Icon in Entrepreneurship, an award conferred jointly by Kashmir University and the J&K Innovators Forum.

An example in itself of successful enterprise, Parsa’s, through initiatives such as “Starting up as a Student” training programme, has encouraged a number of young Kashmiris to take to entrepreneurship. From KartFood, the valley’s first online food delivery service to the precocious 16-year-old baker Hanshika Kohli, Javid has helped infuse life into the city’s spirit of business, economy and risk-taking. As Javid points out, “If you have a dream, take the chance.” 

It is this love for taking chances that Javid international recognition when he was named a Nelson Mandela Leadership Fellow in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2016.

On my visits to Parsa’s, I witnessed strangers sharing tables and enjoying their meals in peace, which is characteristic of bustling places in metropolises where you never have enough space but surprising in a small city like Srinagar where people remain quite private. Javid says many of Parsa’s regular customers have warmed up to the practice of sharing tables with strangers, turning the simple act of sharing a meal with unknown people into a solemn and satisfactory experience. Javid says he was inspired to make meals mean more than just sharing of food when, as a child, he would accompany his grandfather to buy bread from the local baker. He loved how the place would be brimming with activity early in the morning with people discussing politics, important events of the day and their lives in general. It was these visits, he says, that sowed in his mind the idea of creating a new age ‘Kandur Waan’, where youngsters could sit together and share much more than a meal.

While his restaurant keeps tummies full and spirits up, Javid goes about doing his bit for the people. Having lost a dear friend in a road accident, he decided to sensitise people to the importance of safe road practices through the Basit Memorial Road Safety Campaign. Awareness drives were held in schools, colleges and universities, and on social media. In 2017, he campaigned against the chopping down of centuries-old Chinar trees in the heart of Srinagar. He has also helped establish libraries and computer labs in rural schools. As Parsa’s now prepares to open a franchise at Srinagar’s SSM College, one can only wishe that the good times continue to “roll”.

 

Sanyogita Singh is a journalist based in Delhi who frequently visits Kashmir.