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Singleton at standalone stall
- 24 Pak traders denied visas to travel to Calcutta trade fair

He is the lone Pakistani representative in this year’s Industrial India Trade Fair (IITF) in Calcutta. But 24 co-traders from Karachi have been denied a passage to India.

And so, it’s a one-man show for Md Iqbal — a fan of Rahul “Mr Dependable” Dravid — on the Maidan, where the annual exhibition, organised by the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has been on since December 20. Besides looking after his own stall, R.Q. Traders, he is also overseeing operations at four adjoining stalls where his friends have failed to show up. Not for any fault of theirs and not for any lack of effort — 24 traders have been beating on unyielding diplomatic doors in Islamabad, pleading in vain for a visa to Calcutta, India.

“We have very few exhibitions in our country and that’s why a fair in India is very important for us,” says Iqbal, “fortunate” to have planned the Calcutta leg of his Indian fair tour after attending a couple in Delhi and Hyderabad. He managed to extend his visa till January 15 and make it to IITF, which had hosted around a dozen Pakistani traders last winter.

Iqbal and his mates were supposed to set up 10 stalls in the Calcutta fair, but five wear a deserted look, without bounty or buyer. “Since the others have failed to make it, whatever stalls have been set up are my responsibility,” says Iqbal, in white Pathan suit, busy shuttling between Safiq Marbles and R.Q. Traders on Thursday evening.

Iqbal, with some local help and some distant relatives roped in from Agra, is doing brisk business in onyx products, ladies’ dress materials, designer cushion-covers and wall-hangings. For Iqbal, setting up shop in Calcutta for a few days is not just about business. “We come here for 10 days, but get 14 dinner invitations. People not only like our products, they love us. Calcuttans keep queuing up in front of our stalls even after the fair is over,” smiles Iqbal. Calcuttans like Sweety Arora. “I love the embroidery stuff these people bring from Pakistan. The price is reasonable and I wait for them to turn up every year,” she says, after spending close to an hour at R. Q. Traders.

Ask Iqbal what he thinks of the Indo-Pak stand-off that has denied his fellow-traders a place in the Calcutta fair and he gravely says: “Insha Allah, haalaath sudhar jaye.”

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