MALL ROAD: Every once in a while all activity slows down at the bustling Nilibar store on Mall Road as someone walks in asking if its name has anything to do with the Nilibar region, that lies between rivers Ravi and Beas in Pakistan. The store owners answer an eager yes and it typically leads to a long exchange of stories from the other side of the border and of times then and now. With its ambience, greeting style and tales, the store has become a microcosm of Pakistan nestled in the heart of Ludhiana.
The store's owners trace their roots to Nilibar area near Mandi Burewala town in Pakistan where they had a wholesale business of textiles. After Partition, they left behind everything except their love for the place and moved to Ludhiana. "When my father Mohkam Singh came here after Partition and started his business fresh, he wanted to retain his connection with his hometown and named his business Nilibar Silk Store," said Uttam Singh, 70. Uttam added that his father also hoped that it would be a way to find other people from the area who had been displaced. "He used to say that reading the name of our shop, our other brothers and sisters from Nilibar would certainly come to us to inquire about it," he said.
The trick worked well. People visiting from Pakistan would walk in surprised that a leading trading house in India named after a region in their country. Cricket fans visiting the country or Pakistani designers, tourists or students often stop at the store for a feel of home and the shop acts as a perfect host to all.
Store has patrons in Pakistan, England, US
Nilibar store on Mall Road, a personification of brotherhood between India and Pakistan, has loyal customers in Pakistan and also among those who migrated to countries like England, US, Canada and Australia after the Partition. They make it a point to visit the store to shop for their weddings and other family functions.
"It overwhelms us when someone visits our store and narrates a story about how he was first brought to our store by his father or grandfather in 1950s. There are so many people who migrated out of the country but still come to us and shop for their family functions," said Uttam Singh, who joined his father Mohkam Singh in the business in 1954. He added that some Pakistani families have also been shopping at their store for more than 50 years. "Now the second generation of our customers comes to us for our ethnic women wear," said Singh.
His son Sonu Nilibar said business is not their only motive. "We also want to provide a platform where the culture, customs and cuisines of India and Pakistan can merge. In May, we had organized an exhibition of Pakistani clothes and invited two leading designers from Pakistan who interacted with our customers and answered their queries. The city's response was great and we are planning more such events," he said.
'Scanned net for leads'
Owners of Nilibar store did not let go their roots in Pakistan. Uttam Singh's son Sonu Nilibar said, "My grandfather was curious about the village that he had left behind. So I scanned the net for leads and found a website on Burewala. It helped me find many people." Now, he stays in touch with them.