A general perception exists that a business operates with the sole intention of profit-making. While it holds valid to an extent, a restaurant food chain in Kashmir valley is transcending boundaries of profit-making to ensure that the community is uplifted socially and economically.
Javid Parsa (32) also began his journey with the aim of earning money through a restaurant chain. However, since its launch in 2017, the venture has evolved to become a social platform for people seeking financial aid, employment, medical help, launching their careers as artists, and even advertising their business.
His limited role in running a food business changed dramatically during the abrogation of Article 370, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Javid helped hundreds of Kashmiris connect with their relatives across the globe during the blackout. He provided financial support to over 200 students spread across India, who could not access funds due to the restrictions. With limited access to medical care, he raised funds worth lakhs of rupees to assist residents of Kashmir.
The journey began soon after he completed his MBA from Hyderabad in 2012. After working for two years at Amazon, he decided to return to Bandipora, a picturesque district in Kashmir. “I lived in Punjab during my graduation, and later in Hyderabad to pursue higher studies. I longed to return home, but needed to have means of income,” he tells The Better India.
‘McDonald’s of Kashmir’
Deciding to enter the food business, Javid took a franchisee of Kathi Roll Junction in 2014. “Living in different cities made me realise that there was an absence of places that the youth could meet in my hometown. We don’t have any cafes or places where people can socialise. You’ll always find the elderly sitting in public spaces. Hence, I planned to create a place that would encourage discussions and help the youth socialise. I wanted to become McDonald’s of Kashmir,” he adds.
After running his business successfully for three years, he shut it down to introduce a self-owned brand of Kathi rolls in 2017, by the name Parsa’s. The entrepreneur also introduced a free book library, intending to create a space for community building, and where knowledge could be exchanged. Publications like HarperCollins, Penguin and 15 others, launched their books at the outlet. Javid has opened 27 outlets in different parts of Kashmir, Ladakh, Noida and Bengaluru. Each outlet holds 1,000 donated books, and the combined readership is of 3,000 subscribers.
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“The outlets became popular among the young and old alike. So I started introducing other Indian dishes, such as the Hyderabadi biryani and korma. The outlets in Kashmir serve delicacies that are popular outside the area, and the ones outside Kashmir serve food that is authentic to the valley,” he adds.
Over the years, Parsa’s has become a place for local musicians to perform. “People often put posters to advertise or hang their products to sell at the outlet. There are no charges for such activities,” he adds.
Javid also became an active participant in campaigns to save the Chinar (maple) tree that is losing cover, organising blood donation camps, creating awareness about menstrual hygiene and helping the people in distress during the Kashmir floods and Pulwama attack.
In an example of breaking stereotypes, the restaurant hired Kashmiri women in the business. About eight women are working as cashiers, waitresses, or as cooks in the kitchen. The students are also offered support in their education through the ‘earn and learn’ initiative.
“It is not my intention to join politics to serve people, and this is my way to do good and show solidarity with people who face hardships every day,” he explains.
Only hope to connect with the outside world
However, his social responsibility grew multifold after the Central government abrogated Article 370 on 5 August 2019. The event followed a sudden blackout, cutting off all means of communication from the outside world.
Javid considers himself lucky to have booked a flight for 12 August 2019. “Fortunately, I had booked a flight ticket to make a business trip to Bengaluru. It allowed me to get out of Kashmir. I carried nine letters from parents and relatives, and sent them to their children and family members. Many residents had travelled to Haj and panicked when the blackout happened,” he says.
Considering his widespread social connect across sections of society, he realised the need to play a crucial role in helping Kashmiris connect with their closed ones. “I returned from Bengaluru and set up base in Delhi. I connected residents with their relatives who had gone for Haj through conference calls. There were very few accessible private landlines. The people organised together and decided on a specific time to call me to arrange the conversations,” he says.
Javid says he helped connect at least 1,500 people during the internet and telecommunications blockade. “Residents faced a shortage of medicines, and students fell short of cash. I tried to help them financially to survive,” he adds.
He assisted international agencies and NGOs who offered help and provided medical aid. “I coordinated with people going to Kashmir and helped supply medicines through them,” he says.
Recalling an incident in Aloochi Bagh in Srinagar, Javid says, “I read the news about a family having lost their home in a fire. They could not access help and had to get two daughters married in a few months. An appeal on social media seeking support helped Rs 5 lakh to pour in through donations.”
Javid insists that he is not the only person who offered help. “There are hundreds of Kashmiris living outside the valley, and everyone tried their best to support the community. But my social connections may have helped to reach out to a larger population,” he says. Javid has a following of about 33,000 people on Instagram.
Through trust and familiarity
During the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, Javid provided free meals to the needy, arranged blood and plasma to patients, and helped the unemployed by giving them opportunities. “I retained all of the 100 employees across the outlets. I tried to help the youth get a job in other parts of the country,” he adds.
Javid says he wishes to continue making a social impact, without entering politics. “I would like to start projects in healthcare, education and blood donations on a non-profit basis. Parsa means pious, and I would like to serve residents with pure intentions and principles of humanity,” he says, adding that helping the community taught him many aspects of life.
“The crisis Kashmir has faced over the past 18 months has brought us together and made us more resilient than ever. Out of the three years, my outlets have operated for only 13 months. People have donated lakhs of rupees to express solidarity and empathy towards each other. This is what my Kashmir is. It has lots to love about,” Javid says.
To donate to Parsa’s library, click here.
Edited by Divya Sethu