If you ever believed that traditional men are uncreative beings, think again. Away from the chaos and cacophony of main M. A. Jinnah Road, in a little nook off a narrow by-lane, a number of men all stand in front of a wall. “The golden cup looks nice,” says a bearded man as he points to a prize cup.
“No, the black base isn’t a good contrast,” retorts another middle-aged man.
“What if we get the one with the red star?”
“Do you want to get embarrassed?”
The wall that they are standing in front of is adjacent to two shops that constitute Aftab Sports, an establishment that has been in existence since 1954. The proprietor of the shop, Khalid Aftab, joined the family business in 1978 as a 17-year-old young man. Their family hails from Sialkot and today, Aftab’s sports goods business has enabled him to marry off two daughters while his son is now studying at a private university.
Trophy cups travel long distances before arriving in Karachi for sale
“Sports goods sales have taken a dip if you were to compare them to three decades ago,” says Aftab. “Sport is now considered a luxury and not a necessity. People’s preferences have changed because even outdoor activities seem to have gone indoors.”
The reference to yesteryear is crucial for Aftab as the nature of the business has changed because of how people have come to view sports. Earlier on, most cups were purchased for prize distribution in sports competitions but now most purchases are made for end-of-the-year prize distribution in schools.
“The size of these cups is also very instructive. The academic prizes are much smaller in comparison to the trophies for cricket competitions,” says Aftab.
He then gestures his assistant Mohammad Ali to retrieve a cricket trophy from one of the boxes it is packed in. Ali retrieves a golden cricket trophy measuring about two feet in height. From a separate box, he retrieves a golden cricketer figurine. This is affixed to the top of the trophy before handing it out for inspection.
“This trophy comes from Gujranwala,” explains Aftab. “A company called Viva Sports is manufacturing all these trophies. It is manufactured with plastic as you can see. They don’t do any handcrafted trophies, it is all mechanised. This is why they have driven out smaller competition.”
On one corner of the wall adjacent to his shops lies a set of five silver trophy cups. “These come from Sialkot, but they are out of fashion now. Nobody buys these in bulk anymore, only a few customers.” The inference is that the simple yet stylish trophies are still sought by sports competitions but not by schools.
Is Sialkot also manufacturing trophies?
“Yes, of course! Sialkot had infrastructure to manufacture sports goods even before Partition. In 1947, the Sikhs who owned these shops migrated to India and their Muslim workers eventually took over these workshops and became owners themselves.”
“The Karachi worker is more expensive than his counterpart in Sialkot or Gujranwala. What is produced in Karachi, however, are plastic and metal shields and awards, sometimes engraved with a congratulatory message.
But the crucial difference is that the old silver cups are made of steel while the newer cups are manufactured with plastic.
“Plastic is easier to handle, it won’t break,” says a bearded client at the shop, who has arrived to buy trophy cups for his school. “We divide out end-of-term parent teacher meetings over three days. The awards are usually handed out at these meetings.”
Another client chimes in: “But often you’d find a child crying over why they didn’t receive a cup. So we always take extra, in case we need to hand them out.”
Two factors define why prize cups are largely produced in Punjab: “Mornings in Karachi start around noon,” says Aftab, “but in Punjab, the factories open at 7am and are done by 3pm.” This impacts the second factor — cost of labour — as the Karachi worker is more expensive than his counterpart in Sialkot or Gujranwala. What is produced in Karachi, however, are plastic and metal shields and awards, sometimes engraved with a congratulatory message.
Most of these prize cups are priced between 150 rupees and 350 rupees — since trophy cups are usually bought in bulk, it makes sense to drive the business by volume. “I have over 4,000 schools as clients these days. One of them has over 10 branches in the city. They purchased 2,700 cups for their prize distribution ceremony this year.”
As the nature of the business has changed, so have the trophy designs. Nowadays, trophies come with book figurines or a star affixed to the column of the trophy. “These stars replicate the stars awarded in classrooms,” explains Aftab. School trophies are usually bought as a three-piece set: first, second and third.
In another shop, salesman Mohammad Naeem explains that smaller cups exist for individuals but larger trophies exist for team sports. “Sales for these will start late April as the [cricket] season will start then and will continue till late December. Of course there will be night match tournaments and there is great demand for these around that time.”
Cricket competition trophy cups are sold as six-piece sets: winners, runners up, man of the match, man of the series, best batsman and best bowler. Clients can replace any piece in the set as per their needs; many opt for larger sized trophies for winners. “Think of the number of hands that will be put on each trophy. The bigger the trophy, the easier it is to handle.”
The writer is a member of staff
He tweets @ASYusuf
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 26th, 2017