The charm, the tranquility and the serenity of the mountains, lit up with the titter-tatters, guffaws and squabbles of the women inhabitants describes the quintessence of Bhuira. Amidst the bewitching landscape lives long a history of womanhood and their romanticism with jam.
Meet Linnet Mushran, the woman who built Bhuira Jams a success story. She calls herself an accidental jam maker. Originally, she didn’t draw any blueprint to build a business or to empower her fellow village women. It started with a simple concept of saving the Fruit. 6 years ago, Rebecca Vaz Mushran embarked on the journey of managing and preserving Bhuira as Linnet’s successor. She quit and shut down her baking company in Mumbai as it was humanly not possible to run two different businesses in two different states.
I spoke to Rebecca and learnt that:
What is the story behind Bhuira Jams becoming a household brand?
Linnet Mushran set up Bhuira Jams 22 years ago, in 1999, in the village Bhuira. Linnet who is British by birth met her college sweetheart Viney in Scotland where they were pursuing their education. She came down to India to marry Viney and on her first trip to India, they got engaged. She was a charismatic figure void of any cultural shocks that came her way. She wholeheartedly embraced the culture and immersed herself in its beauty. Her first stay was in Bihar- it was where her husband was posted then. With her uncritical nature, she blended in well.
But she knew something was absent. Linnet grew in the quaint hills and thus, the nostalgia stayed on. When she discovered The Bhuira Family Home in Himachal Pradesh, without much ado, the Mushrans bought it from their relative so that it stayed in the family, forever. At first, the home was in a dilapidated state which needed fixation. Linnet undertook the responsibility and made it a home to feel alive in.
In her orchard, the apple trees were the apple of her eyes. The windfalls were often neglected so she would collect and restore them to make jellies just as her mother made them when she was young. Hence, the first ever preserve born was an apple jelly. The fondness and nostalgia were the reasons behind the first experimental product.
She found solace in the process and the next thing she knew was that she was unstoppable. The peaches and the plums became her next jam jaunts. She would ask one or two women from the village to come and offer her a helping hand and in return, she would reimburse them for their time and effort.
A few observations changed the course of her homely venture into a business of hope and ownership by these women. 22 years ago, she realized that these women had no separate identity of their own. They were solely dependent on either the sale of their crops or on the incomes of their husbands for even their basic survival. Even with the cash they earned in the jam making process, they spent the money on either their children’s school shoes, books, school fees, a new mattress for the home. Not a single penny was spent in their favour. This compassion was enough for Linnet to embark on a journey of jam making and making them a part of it.
In 1999, she set up her scone factory which was originally a ration shop. The shop’s popularity went for a toss when the villagers got access by the bus to buy a selection of goods from the city. Her first sale was made on a Friday at Kasol’s Gupta Stores and to her surprise, by Sunday all her jam bottles were sold out! This sudden likeness for her jams by the consumers built her confidence and so began the Bhuira Jams’ journey.
The nearby farmers distinguished the abnormal growth of the jam business and volunteered to sell their fruit to Linnet. Today, all the farmers supply their fruit to us. The transportation cost back then was a hazard for the farmers which is why selling fruits in their village seemed sane. So Bhuira Jams became the point of bridging the gap between these farmers and the marketplace.
This symbiotic relationship between the land, the fruits, the farmers and the women inaugurated the journey at Bhuira Jams. The continuous ripple effect has been behind the success of the business so far. The livelihoods of farmers, the transporters, the postmen, the welders, the electricians, the plumbers and most importantly, the women of Bhuira have been the most benefited from Bhuira Jams.
Bhuira has two factories: one just across the house and the other half an hour down the mountain in another village called Himarpur. Women of that village are employed in the factory there so this multiplies employment opportunities for them. Also, Bhuira has now become a tourist sight and has opened an arena of new opportunities. For instance, 5 kms down, there is a resort, a campsite and a center of cultural workshops called Rilung Foundation.
How do you recruit the women at Bhuira?
Our staff is now 20+ years old. Our women are extremely intelligent, capable, independent, self-sufficient and well-witted. We often recruit young girls, we train them and form a familial relationship with them. But sooner or later, they get married off and mostly are wedded to a groom in another village. Certainly, we are happy for them and we celebrate their new journey, but the replacements are hard to find. They are always so good at what they do, which explains our melancholy!
But a sense of achievement is felt when these young, married women return to Bhuira as they didn’t want to stop working here. As they have confessed frequently, jam factory gave them the emancipation that they always looked for. It gave them a sense of social standing in Bhuira and their earnings were a reward to them. They made a pact with themselves: either they get married in the villages close to Bhuira or the partner would move to settle in Bhuira! This may sound paradoxical to an Indian perspective but this actually happens here. Some even move between districts to intern with us.
The documentary ‘Out Of A Jam’ is a heart-warming ode to the recognition of the confidence, the self-sufficiency and the self-dependence of extraordinary women who found their solace in the fruit of their village. This award winning documentary won awards and accolades at the Indonesia Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film Festival.
What are the challenges that women face at Bhuira?
The remoteness of the place poses the first few major pitfalls. It takes an entire day to reach the factory. Not to forget, the threat of landslides and roadblocks during monsoons add to the complications of these mountainous terrains.
A major challenge for me was to garner the confidence of these women. Linnet’s mystique was unmatchable and I had no intention to replicate it. I wanted to build an altogether new relationship with the women of Bhuira.
The menacing nature of the investors, bankers and potential partners undermined the spirit of womanhood in Bhuira and rendered it as any other business. The fictitious nature of the investors to modernise the place with swanky new equipment which was something Linnet would never favour. Her desire to blend with the architecture of the place contradicted these inconsiderate proposals.
But this blunt comment from one such investor gave me sleepless nights and the next morning, the first thing I decided was to install chairs and tables for my women. The criticism was destructive but i knew i couldn’t let this affect my Bhuira family. However, I didn’t want to refashion their age-old practice of sitting on the floor or on haunches so I left them with their choice. One has to understand where they come from which the investors and bankers couldn’t. In conclusion, we decided that we will never outsource or tie up with investors.
Another challenge was to make the women believe that they are worthy of authority and managerial skills. The installation of empowerment was a big challenge. Back in 2011, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I went to Bhuira for my recovery. I discovered the metaphorical similarities between the women at Bhuira and me: it was our mutual love for the hills and our solace found in the jam process. The sway of fresh air and the connection I developed with the women in Bhuira was crazy because they were not very open to metropolitan mingling. Yet they let me inside their periphery and accepted me at Bhuira. At first, I had no intention to get involved with their operations as I am today, but the small, friendly gestures from their side pulled me in the family.
How do you do your bit towards the empowerment of these women?
Our women are incomparable and invaluable. Bhuira is officially incomplete and dead without their involvement. All one needs is a consolation from someone that someone believes in them, which Linnet assured them 22 years ago. And this explains that despite me residing in Mumbai and Linnet residing in Delhi, Bhuira is well managed and equipped by the women there. I learnt that delegation is an indelible part of the business. It requires you to put your trust in people and give them responsibilities that they are answerable to.
The spark and the enthusiasm in the women to make themselves stand out, the fierce yet friendly competition with one another and the participation in huge numbers is enough to commemorate the empowering force within them.
Are tourists allowed to visit Bhuira Jam Factory?
We don’t have a huge space for workshops yet, and we also don’t have enough personnel. However, 5 kms down the line there is a beautiful resort named ‘Mist N Meadows’ for a peaceful stay. The glass windows of our factory and the close proximity allows easy viewing of jam making processes. One can see the view from the resort while sipping their tea. Under the aegis of FSSAI, the entry of visitors within the periphery of the factory has been forbidden.
However, you can have a second-hand, closer look at the packing process and also buy jams, preserves, jellies, marmalades and chutneys on display at a factory discounted price. The visitors take a mindful stroll in the garden of fruits and flowers, through the snowy and incredibly tall mountains and come back to rest at the resort.
Another reason why visitations have been limited are because of the tourists’ apathy and aloofness to the beautiful surroundings. The act of plucking raw fruits and flowers, extracting plants from the roots and the unsettling behaviour with the women of Bhuira passing unsolicited comments have made us have dogs as our additional family members. Now we are unafraid and more solid than ever! (Chuckles)
What is in store for us in the future?
We are working on a No-Added Sugar Range which will be soon out in September. We will be launching the same through Amazon (pan India). It is a well known fact that the fruit has its own sugar fructose so the sugar element cannot be eliminated completely. Hence, to break the ice, it will not be a non-diabetic range but no additional white sugar will be added. It will be full of fruit, its juice and the pulp with interesting options for you to choose from.
Linnet and I will forever be indebted to Bhuira for our workforce without whom Bhuira is empty and dead. We would want this companionship to last forever and our romanticism with the jams to bear fruit. We wish to be the powerhouse of empowerment for our women and we also want this movement to expand to every nook and corner of this country. These women’s position from a bread maker to a bread earner have made them realise that they hold a paramount position in their family and in the village.
You can order a variety of products like jams, jellies, preserves chutney and marmalades from the following links.