• Publish Date: Jun 24 2018 10:23PM
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  • Updated Date: Jun 24 2018 10:46PM

In a city like ours, which is so desperately egging for places to unwind, we find ‘Me n U’ Café, set up from the entrepreneurial dreams of the town’s very own Mehvish Mehraj Zargar. At the age of 25, not only does she inspire Kashmiri youth to realise their passion, but also yearns to give back to the place she calls home, by creating jobs for others. Located in the Bemina area, Mehvish says she wishes to run this joint for all age groups, and the café accommodates up to 50 people at a time.

Given the volatile condition of our conflict-ridden state, it is not easy to start a business here. In its early days, there was a delay in opening the café due to the unfavourable situation.

Mehvish, a law graduate from the Central University of Kashmir, always wanted to be an independent woman and her interest in business compelled her to set up her own venture.

A resident of Lal Bazar area, she has been a fighter of sorts since her childhood. She lost her father at 6. Her family had to face a lot of trouble financially and emotionally.

“I lost my father at an early age, he was suffering from cancer. My mother had to face a lot of problems, my relatives started grabbing our property and even my father’s job,” she says sitting inside the café overlooking the busy Batamaloo-Bemina route outside Government run Degree College.

“There was a time when we faced financial issues; in times of bad health conditions of my mother, she would prefer not to go to any doctor so that the money spent on her medicines would be spent on her children but Alhamdulillah things started going well soon. My brother started working and I also decided to start doing something to support my family,” she informs.

The café is equipped with all modern facilities and a retro ambience for all age groups. The cafe offers a perfect atmosphere to hang out and get-together.

The cafe has become an ideal place for teens and young adults to “unwind and be themselves”. Not that the adults and middle-aged persons don’t frequent this outlet but that in no way diminishes its appeal among the youth. Not only is the freewheeling atmosphere and a happy-go-lucky culture of the cafe that attracts the youth towards it but the wide variety of food and beverages it offers at affordable rates for the younger generation, adds to the café’s appeal.

“I love this cafe for many reasons,” says Bushra, a student of Government Degree College, Bemina. “I love to visit this place because I can be myself. It has such a decent atmosphere, nobody bothers you and since I’m a student, the cafe offers me a host of palatable beverages, cakes, pizza, pasta cookies and other products within my budget.”

Mehvish says her target is the students since the cafe is located opposite Degree College, the prices are “pretty much in their range”.

“You can order just a cup of coffee,” Mehvish tells the students “(and) sit here for hours… read and write, and gossip. Nobody is going to disturb you.”

The layout of the cafe is quite trendy and appealing. The outlet is fancily designed and the colour combination and furniture are soothing for a potential customer. 

The café serves pizza, rice dishes, pasta, soups, chicken, coffee, hot and cold beverages, kababs, rolls and much more.

Mehvish believes that in today’s world a lady should be financially and emotionally independent.

“An independent woman is someone who knows her identity and has figured it out completely. Being an independent woman, and a happy one at that, is most important,” she says.

She says, “An independent woman takes care of herself and her family as well. She is capable of so much. We just need to realise this. By being this independent woman, you set an example for your children to follow, just like my mother did.”

“And then if you ask me about the society, one may face a number of critics which I don’t think even matter,” she asserts. “All the ladies must follow their aim, their passion, and make a way. Everything else will just follow.”

“I faced a lot of opposition in the beginning but I paid no attention to them and kept my mind goal-oriented,” says Mehvish.

Mehvish says her business partner YasirAltaf too played an important role in setting up the business.

She says that they are always ready to face any adversity together. “In Kashmir, shutdowns and strikes are common, it is a part of our daily life, and I have kept myself ready for that,” she affirmed.

The business model Mehvish has implemented targets many things at the same time. “I hired local chefs meaning this small business is providing employment to own people and, given the situation in Kashmir, they are available all the time even during strikes,” she says.

However, everything wasn’t smooth sailing for Mehvish. “It was a bit difficult. In the beginning, my family was reluctant. They were not sure whether I will be able to do it because there are so many things other than doing business in Kashmir. But then, they supported me and it has encouraged me to do better.”

Mehvish agrees that it is not easy for a female to run a public business like a café where the footfall of customers is high, unlike other shops.

“People used to stare at me and I used to get strange looks from them... (laughing), but now everything is fine as I have stopped taking these things seriously,” she says.

Mehvish believes that a woman doing business will bring change in the society. “Though this practice is not common in Kashmir but it is not illegal either,” she maintains.

“But being a business lady is difficult in a society which is male-dominated. However, the thinking of being an independent woman helps me to coup up with them. I know I am not wrong, so I don’t need to worry. You have to fight back,” she says.

“I just want to be independent and business was my dream, I am doing it but I have to be strong,” says Mehvish.

“I would suggest female folk to follow their dreams, passion and take their own decisions. Girls should try to convince their parents regarding their dreams if they want to achieve anything; they shouldn’t worry and at least give a try.”