During his first rug-selling trip to New York as a young man in 1969, Mr. Ahuja ”wasn’t even allowed to cross the doorstep” of some major furnishing stores, which then had no regard for the quality of Indian goods.
Now he creates and supplies pastel dhurries and other home furnishings like silk cushions, pillows, table linens, yarns for upholstery and quilts to the Ralph Lauren Home Collection and others.
His customers include Sonia Gandhi.
”I have never compromised on quality or in creativity,” said Mr. Ahuja, who is 56 years old and has been in the fabric business for nearly 34 years. The Shyam Ahuja company, which he now runs with his two sons and his daughter-in-law, is 25 years old.
Few in the Indian furnishings industry have had the success of Mr. Ahuja, who travels extensively and exports about $12.5 million in goods every year.
The domestic market is also growing, with about $3 million in sales this year.
Last year, Mr. Ahuja opened a store at 201 East 56th Street in Manhattan, where his goods sell for about three or four times the prices in India. In his New York store, a six-by-nine-foot cotton dhurrie costs about $1,000; the same rug costs $250 in Bombay.
Mr. Ahuja said with pride that he used wool from New Zealand, linen from Ireland, silk from China and cotton from India.
Some 18,000 master weavers and crafts workers make his goods in towns and villages across northwest and northern India.
The dhurries are designed by Mr. Ahuja himself or the creative young staff in his Bombay office.
He uses only natural fibers that are diligently woven, washed, beaten, brushed and fashioned by hand into the final products on traditional looms and in dye vats.
The Shyam Ahuja story began in 1969 when a meeting in New York with Irwin Corey, of the Rosecore Carpet Company in New York, led to Mr. Ahuja’s first export order: one cotton dhurrie.
But, Mr. Ahuja recalled, ”I couldn’t find one person who could weave a cotton dhurrie.”
Finally, he decided to make a wool dhurrie and persuaded a reluctant weaver in the town of Mirzapur to produce it.
Mr. Ahuja disliked the final product intensely, but sent it off anyway to Mr. Corey, dreading a rebuke. The response was dramatic: ”Sensational! Send six more.”
Shyam Ahuja was launched; in the process, he revived the dying art of dhurrie-making.
”My competitors are in the bulk-buying business, and I just don’t do that,” Mr. Ahuja said in a recent interview. ”Each design is different and exclusive.”
Ramesh Shah, a Bombay interior designer, said:
”I bring my visitors to this basement because nowhere else in India do you see the range, the colors, the elegance and the quality. I mean, the man is just brilliant with colors.”