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Watchmakers of Kashmir’s Frozen Time Square

Watchmakers of Kashmir’s Frozen Time Square

Arif Nazir

The time started when a regime man’s rogues were crushing a popular movement in Kashmir. It continues when the dummy’s fiddling heralded the time feared most during the red square’s regular rendezvous.


Ghulam Nabi Gadisaaz had sensed the fast-changing pulse of the time when he began his journey as a watchmaker in Srinagar’s historic Lal Chowk in the early sixties.

Soon his ‘Roberta Watch House’ became a popular time-seeking window — witnessing waxing and waning events of the red square quite closely.

As a street-smart, the watchmaker from downtown Srinagar had his brushes with different characters thrown on Kashmir’s post-1947 troubled timeline.

My grandfather started this shop in 1962 when he was in his mid-20s,” says Wasim Bashir, a third-generation watchmaker. “He never looked back despite facing some bad time.”

Roberta Watch House / MI Photo by Arif Nazir

Taking care of the sales counter since 2004, Wasim was spotted as ‘an eloquent orator’ by his late grandfather.

“He groomed me what I was good at and he always knew that the business needs marketing strategy as well as technical expertise.”

While Wasim remains busy with the customers displaying a variety of brands and explaining specifications, the corner-seat hosts its caretaker with a salt-and-pepper beard and the fixing hand of the watches.

As a second-generation watchmaker, Bashir Ahmad Gadisaaz has been part of his father’s profession since 1979.

Then in his mid-20s, he was rubbing shoulders with ace footballers of the valley, like Farooq Ahmed, Qadir Shaala, and others.

“My father sensed my abilities to work on details and my still hands when I was young,” says now 67-year-old Bashir.

“Soon he wanted me to join him when my routines remained roaming in our Ambassador car numbered JKA-702.”

Bashir’s eye for detail earned him his father’s confidence. / MI Photo by Arif Nazir

Bashir still remembers that first sitting when his father tasked him to assemble a Big Ben timepiece at the shop.

“I was nervous,” he recalls, “but I fixed it and since then I am doing the same thing.”

Having seen the transitions and changing trends in the business from mechanical to scientific timepieces and then to the automatic wristwatches, Bashir has found Kashmiri society canny with the choice.

“On special occasions like gifting a wristwatch to the groom, the decision-making has always been a serious call to make,” says the watchmaker to whom vintage collection did the justice to the call.

Third generation watchmaker, Wasim Bashi. / MI Photo by Arif Nazir

Despite carrying its own brand popularity, ‘Roberta Watch House’ is also being identified with its proximity with the clock tower or Ghanta Ghar of Lal Chowk, constructed in 1980.

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The square has gained a political significance over the years, either for flag-raising stunts, or for hypervigilance in the form of concertina wires and cop patrol.

A glimpse away, the Gadisaaz’s watch haven has displayed brands like Revex, Citizen, Recco, Seiko, Titan, Roberta and Favre Leuba.

To Wasim, Favre Leuba has a special mention to the favourites of his grandfather. The Swiss brand marked the symbol of quality to the time journey in the watches they produced.

“After making a watch, they fix it inside the horse-hoof and only after it takes 40 steps they check it out for any damages,” recalls Wasim, stressing on his grandpa’s belief that only unblemished watches from the horse-hoof would surface in the market.

With gradual fading of vintage brands and the rise of new ones in the market, Wasim believes in the relevant business model, while his father doesn’t hesitate to reflect disappointment while assembling parts on new brands.

Before breaking of an argument between the two, a customer enters the watch-house and resumes Wasim’s counter routine, while his father silently moves his still hands on parts of a dismantled watch.


(This Feature appeared in the January 2021 print issue of the Mountain Ink.)

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