"LK Advani sat in the same chair you are now sitting on," Mukhtar Ahmed, the bespectacled Kashmiri proprietor of Paradise Arts and Crafts, which sells semi-precious stones, jewellery and handicrafts, tells me in the course of our conversation.
Ahmed has been running the shop situated on the main road in Puttaparthi and a stone's throw away from the ashram of the late godman Sathya Sai Baba, for over 25 years.
But he is now waiting for the day when he can pack up and relocate.
Before April 24 2011, the day Sai Baba (seen here) died, pilgrims from all over the world used to throng Puttaparthi.
They came in the hope of getting darshanor at least a glimpse of the saffron-robed figure responsible for converting the dusty village in Andhra Pradesh into a town with a superspecialty hospital, airstrip, railway station, university and excellent roads.
The devotees fuelled the businesses of dozens of people like Ahmed, who used to run four shops in town, enjoy monthly sales of Rs 6 lakh from the jewellery and handicrafts shop alone and have personalities like Advani and Goldie Hawn dropping in (a photo of Ahmed with the Hollywood actor hangs above the counter).
Those days now seem a distant memory - Ahmed says his shops, two of which he has already closed, now receive only 10 per cent of the customers they used to, and sales are down to some thousands a month.
After the summer months, sales used to pick up in June but now it's already July and this is the state of affairs, he says, pointing to the nearly empty street outside.
The Kashmiri traders would be the first to leave if business was bad, I had been told on my previous visit to the town in arid Anantpur district a week after Sai Baba's death.
And sure enough, Ahmed confirms that of the 125 Kashmiri-run shops two years ago, only 77 remain.
Text: Indulekha Aravind, Business Standard
Associated Press Images