Bilal Khan | Founder & Managing Director – KashPET | Part Two

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 In the 2nd segment of the conversation, Rajesh Prothi, Managing Partner of Absolute Factor and Founder of www.thecherrytree.in probes Bilal Khan, founder and managing director of the first PET Bottle manufacturer in the State of Jammu & Kashmir more on the nature of his work and Kashmir over the past few decades and how connected he is to his roots.

As the promoter of your company, how do you inspire and motivate your team to achieve their goals?

As a leader, I draw inspiration from the rich ethos of Kashmiri work culture, emphasizing the value of a close-knit, familial environment. In our workspace, incentives are tailored to align with individual and collective aspirations, fuelling our team’s motivation. We cultivate a family-like atmosphere, where mutual respect and support are foundations for success.

Leading by example is crucial, I’m hands-on and involved in tasks, showing that no job is too small or too big for any of us. This lack of hierarchy inspires a collaborative spirit and instils a sense of unity. In this environment, there’s no shyness in getting one’s hands dirty, as we all work together to achieve our objectives, fostering a resilient and determined team. Delegation is key, as I empower my team, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability. Everyone here is regarded as an owner, contributing to a collective vision and unified mission, encouraging a culture of shared responsibility and accomplishment.

 

In your opinion, what are the most significant challenges currently facing the bottling industry, particularly in the State of J&K, and what strategies do you have in place to address them?

The bottling industry in Jammu & Kashmir faces several challenges, including infrastructural limitations, supply chain disruptions, fluctuating market demands, and sometimes political uncertainties impacting the business environment, also the lean winter season.

To address these, our strategies involve investing in robust supply chain networks & partnering with leading suppliers of India, I have also leveraged technology for efficient operations, and adapting production schedules to align with seasonal market demands. Additionally, we collaborate closely with our customers and communities to navigate any regional challenges, ensuring our business remains adaptable and responsive to the unique dynamics in the region.

 

How do you envision the plastic bottle industry evolving in the next 5-10 years, keeping in view the efforts by many NGO’s towards a safer and greener planet?

The next 5-10 years will likely witness a transformative shift in the plastic bottle industry. With the increasing focus on sustainability and a more eco-friendly planet, various non-governmental organizations are steering efforts toward reducing plastic usage. As a response, the plastic bottle industry is expected to pivot towards more sustainable practices, incorporating biodegradable materials, exploring innovative recycling technologies, and adopting eco-friendly packaging solutions.

Also the evolution of the plastic bottle industry in the next 5-10 years will heavily rely on an increased emphasis on recycling, particularly in India.

Currently, there’s a significant lack of proper recycling infrastructure in the country. The future will demand a robust and efficient recycling system, encouraging investments in recycling facilities and promoting a circular economy. Collaborative efforts between industry, government, and NGOs will be crucial to developing and implement effective recycling initiatives, ensuring a more sustainable approach to managing plastic waste and promoting a greener planet.

 

What is your personal opinion on the green environment?

Promoting environmental sustainability is deeply personal to me, especially in the context of Kashmir. I believe it’s not merely a choice but a responsibility we all bear. The breathtaking beauty of Kashmir is unparalleled, but its ecology faces significant threats. Having trekked and developed a profound love for mountains, I strongly feel a responsibility to protect these natural treasures. As an industrialist, this responsibility intensifies; I believe we must intertwine industrial progress with eco-conscious practices.

We must adopt a holistic approach that includes reducing waste, embracing renewable energy sources, promoting eco-friendly practices, and supporting policies that prioritize environmental conservation. It’s about a collective effort – individuals, industries, and the government – working in harmony to preserve our planet for generations to come.

It’s about preserving our natural wonders, mitigating environmental impact, and ensuring a sustainable future for Kashmir, India, and the planet at large.

 

Could you share some of your childhood memories growing up in a more secular environment in Kashmir?

Moved to Kashmir from Delhi in 1990. That was the start of turmoil in kashmir, it was a tough time for us but being a Biscoe student was always fun & adventurous. The most fun part was we did not have much electricity those days & my brother, father & maternal uncle & the rest of family used to play chess, cards & carrom under candlelight, my father taught me all the games of cards and me and my brother became pros and used to show off when we played with our friends.

Also as there was no mobile & cable tv we would be mostly playing outside, either gully cricket or football in a ground just behind our home.

My father being a government employee would regularly get transferred to new cities and I have pleasant memories of tagging along with my father. Once in Gwalior, I would have been in class 3rd, he had an exhibition and I stayed in a tent for three days sleeping & completing my winter vacation also in the tent. I also used to act as a salesman during that exhibition.

Other memories which are still fresh as yesterdays?

I remember me and my brother were voracious readers, we used to finish a novel in a day or two depending on the number of pages it had.  Once I went to Mumbai – Bombay in those days, I was in WTC in Mumbai and there was this shop that used to give books on a rental basis, it used to be around eight rupees for seven days.

I took a Hardy Boys novel in the morning and by evening I had finished it and went back to return it.  The shopkeeper uncle was surprised and asked me “Did you really read it”.  He did not believe me. He opened the book in the middle and asked me to narrate what happened in a particular chapter. I answered him correctly. He was pleasantly surprised and happy at the same time. Thereafter I got a discount of Three rupees on the rentals. This was huge for me.

Also during the same time in Bombay, I was travelling with my father from Mahim to Fort area. On the way I saw Eros Cinema showing Dennis the Menace, as my father was busy & wouldn’t get time to watch it with me for a few days so I memorised the path & one day went alone bought the ticket & watched the movie alone & I was in class 5 at that time & the ticket seller looked at me in amusement when I bought the ticket.

 

How do you actively preserve and promote your Kashmiri culture in your daily life?

In my daily life, the preservation and promotion of Kashmiri culture are seamlessly woven into both my professional and personal spheres. At my office, the decor reflects our heritage with chain-stitch wall hangings adorning the walls, showcasing the intricate artistry of our local craftsmen.

At home, our living room & bedroom boasts of beautiful Kashmiri namdahs, a testament to our rich weaving traditions. At home we continue the tradition of using copper utensils for partaking of meals, honouring our cultural practices and the health benefits associated with them.

In winter, I take pride in wearing our traditional attire, the Pheran, not just for its warmth but also as a cherished representation of our cultural identity. Embracing hospitality, whenever guests from outside Jammu & Kashmir visit, I ensure to extend a warm invitation and serve them our traditional Wazwan, a feast that embodies our rich culinary heritage.

As a gesture of appreciation and respect, I always offer my guests gifts representing our culture, such as Kashmiri almonds or walnuts, shawls, or exquisite handcrafted paper mache items, symbolizing the generosity and richness of our Kashmiri heritage.

These conscious choices in both professional and personal spaces are a homage to our vibrant Kashmiri culture, aiming to preserve and showcase its beauty and significance in our daily lives.

 

Now let us talk about the place you from, and some of your cherished memories associated with it?

I originally hail from Old Fateh Kadal in Srinagar. The first memory etched in my mind isn’t a cherished one; it’s the vivid recollection of flying in from Delhi to witness the remains of our house in Fateh Kadal – an indelible image. However, among the cherished memories, riding my cycle from Buchpora to my school in Lal Chowk stands out. The joy of cycling through relatively empty streets in those days was truly a pleasure.

After completing my 10th grade, my father gifted my brother and me a Yamaha bike. This bike became a focal point of our teenage adventures, and racing from our coaching center to school became a thrilling routine. That Yamaha bike held a special place in my heart.

One funny anecdote from that time was when we returned from Delhi and settled in Srinagar, my brother and I would unconsciously mix typical Delhi lingo Hindi with our Kashmiri friends, using phrases like “aayio,” “laayio,” and “jaayio.” Our Kashmiri friends would amusingly wonder where these ‘Angrez’ suddenly emerged from!

 

Stepping away from school to a higher standard has its own meaning, its own level of adventurism. How was it with you?

College and university was all about friendship & loitering around Lal Chowk. Spontaneous bike trips to Pahalgam, Harwan, and Gulmarg was a norm. One particular adventure was a trek from Pahalgam to Sheeshnag. On our return, we found ourselves short on money and incredibly hungry upon reaching Pahalgam. We were staying at a friend’s hotel which was hosting a group of employees from the PDD department the same day, when they heard that we were children of the owners of the hotel they graciously invited us to join their Wazawan lunch which we accepted without hesitation. Famished, we devoured the meal with a voracious appetite. We finished the Traami in a few minutes and kept asking for additional servings of rice about 4-5 times unapologetically. It’s a hilarious memory for us and a tale that brings laughter every time we reminisce about that day with our friends.

There are so many childhood cherished memories that if I start talking about it I would have to write a book.

 

What are your thoughts on the true culture of Kashmir, where diverse communities coexisted before the ‘90s?

I personally haven’t experienced that era but what I have heard from my father and grandfather is heart-warming. The historical culture of Kashmir before the 1990s was an extraordinary example of communal harmony and unity. People of various faiths, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and others, lived together as one community. Sharing traditions, customs, and even daily life activities.

There was a beautiful display of solidarity where communities not only coexisted peacefully but also actively supported each other in times of joy and sorrow. Hindus & Muslims used to share kitchens which symbolized the unity and brotherhood among different religious groups. The intermingling during weddings and the mutual respect shown during times of mourning truly exemplified the deep-rooted communal bonds.

The Astaans of Muslims used to be frequented more by Hindus & Sikhs.

Do note that the Kashmir Pandit teachers played a big part in educating the region.

The mutual understanding and respect for each other’s beliefs were evident in gestures like the Hindu-Muslim interaction during natural calamities. I have heard from my Grandfather that if there used to be an earthquake Hindus used to cry out to their Muslim Brothers “Hata Ashadu Wayintaw”.

The thoughtful act of Muslim butchers closing shops on Tuesdays in consideration of Hindu sentiments about abstaining from non-vegetarian food on that day is a poignant illustration of mutual respect and accommodation within the community.