On October 25, 2020, Manzoor Ahamd Allie (44) was driving towards a fuel station in his placid Oukhoo village, some 9 Kms from south Kashmir’s Pulwama town, when he received a phone call from an old friend, informing him that his success story was shared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his monthly radio broadcast Maan Ki Baat.
An elated Allie pulled off the road and breathed a sigh of contentment.
“I was dead chuffed," says Allie.
His success story has all the ingredients of a "rags to riches story". Allie, who supplies pencil slats to top-notch pencil manufacturers in India began as a manual labourer.
In 2009, he set up a band-saw mill just a short walk away from his home and started making wooden apple boxes. He also started supplying poplar wood logs to a pencil-manufacturing factory in Jammu, which marked the beginning of his career as a young successful entrepreneur.
The pencils are made of poplar wood and the poplars grown in the Valley are considered as the best quality wood for manufacturing the pencils.
During one of his visits to the factory, Allie began thinking of doing something beyond supplying the poplar logs.
"…And manufacturing pencil blocks sprang to my mind", he says.
Allie's plans soon came to fruition and he started manufacturing such blocks. He hired nearly a dozen workers to help him in the production process.
"I shifted all my focus to manufacturing the pencil blocks and I sent the first shipment of blocks to the company in 2011", he said.
A couple of years later, Allie learned to manufacture pencil slates, from which pencils are sliced out, and delivered copious supplies to Hindustan Pencils, a leading pencil company manufacturing popular pencil brands –Natraj and Apsara brands.
Allie produces around 300 bags of slats a day with an annual turnover of nearly Rs 10 crore. He also gives employment to 130 to 150 people in the area.
Comprising around 500 households, most of the youth in Allie’s village were jobless and the setting up of the unit generated an employment avenue for them.
“Around 70 percent of my workers are locals and today there are four such units in the village ”, Allie said.
Allie's business, however, went through a rough patch after the world was stuck in a morass of COVID-19 in early 2020. As the pandemic spurred the closure of schools across the world, the demand for pencils was significantly driven down.
"Initially, we closed down the unit and then started with 20-25 percent of the total workers", Allie said.
There are around 17 such units across the district and each unit suffered heavy losses during the pandemic. The district supplies around 90 percent of the raw material to the country’s top manufacturing units.
"This year the sales picked up as the children are back to school", said Allie.
He, however, said that the unannounced and protracted power cuts affect the business.
“The long and frequent power outages are taking a toll on our business. We are unable to run our units smoothly due to an erratic power supply," Allie said.