A calligrapher paints his way to success

Pandemic, unemployment did not break Imran, who turned a hobby into a livelihood

Kashif Hussain May 03, 2021


The coronavirus disrupted the lives of many. Low-income families were the worst-hit with the economic devastation of the pandemic shaking any semblance of stability they had built.

Many industries seized production during Covid-mandated closures and the well-being of hundreds of families was wrecked when the storm of layoffs hit. Skilled and experienced workers were also thrown into uncertainty in these circumstances and future prospects appeared bleak. Many who were unemployed during the crisis scrambled to cut expenses and struggled to make ends meet.

Such was the family of Muhammad Imran, who had managed to build himself a stable life with his wife and two children before the pandemic upended it all.

Hailing from a middle class family, Imran worked at one of the largest garments manufacturing factory in Karachi. After 16 years of gainful employment he had not expected to be deprived of a livelihood in the blink of an eye.

He had shared the responsibility of being the bread winner for the family with his father, who was a government employee, since his student life. He made small earnings by giving home tuitions while being a student himself. Alongside this, he worked as a delivery boy at a water filter plant.

After completing his education, in 2003 Imran found a job at the garments factory as a helper. Over the years, he received promotions and certificates for his hard work.

Abrupt dismissal

When the first Covid-mandated lockdown was imposed, Imran lost his job. The garments factory where he worked was part of a big group of companies. But it shut down an entire unit of theirs and terminated over 700 workers during the downsizing.

“The first couple of months of being jobless I was confident of getting another job soon. But employment opportunities only became fewer as time went by,” says Imran. Hardships increased for Imran and his family when the lockdown was lifted and life inched back to normalcy. Schools started demanding fees and electricity was cut off due to non-payment of bills.

Unwavering faith

Imran believes that the remembrance of the Almighty is the best way one can seek solace in hardship. No matter the medium.

READ ‘Takhlique’ of women calligraphers put on display

For Imran the act of remembrance was in Arabic calligraphy. It was through letters and colours that he chose to express his love for the Almighty and find peace. The meticulous work helped Imran keep despair at bay.

Speaking to The Express Tribune he says that doing calligraphy had always been his hobby and a masters education in textile designing had polished his colour palette. He expressed his emotions through his paint brush and found healing in his work.

Imran never thought his hobby could earn him a living. When he began sharing his work among friends on Facebook and WhatsApp groups it was merely to in search of appreciation and encouragement. But life can take pleasant turns as swiftly as despairing ones, he found out.

Passion pays

Several days passed before Imran received a call from a company out of the blue. His work had drawn their attention and they wanted the calligrapher to paint pieces of raw leather, made of cowhide.

This type of work was new for Imran but he dove right into it. Impressed with his skills, the company paid a generous amount of money for his work leaving Imran amazed.

Soon a family reached out to Imran seeking his services to pain a wall at their newly constructed house.

A new journey

These successes motivated Imran to commercialise his skills instead of waiting further for employment. The money he earned through these gigs paid for the expenses of setting up his own platform - Sajawat.

Using social media to his advantage, Imran promoted Sajawat and overtime he managed to obtain orders for 12 pieces of calligraphy and three live wall paintings.

“The earning I make through painting may be lesser than my salary [at the garments factory], but still there is hope that my work will expand and I will be able to earn enough money at some point,” says Imran.

With regards to his skills he says he never received an education in fine arts but has a natural inclination towards the arts. He can work on any medium and is hopeful that his skills may lead to a stable source of income for his family.

Imran is determined to provide Sajawat as a platform for others to earn money through their artistic skills. He says that he aspires for Sajawat to become a community of painters and artists, where art lovers can easily access their services and pay them for their work.

According to Imran, the idea behind Sajawat was to support people who have the potential but haven’t been able to refine it through a proper education due to financial limitations. It is meant to connect people through the power of art, he says.

Currently, Sajawat offers Arabic and Islamic calligraphy, live wall paintings as well as customised pieces of art.

His art permitted him to dream and now Imran also hopes to launch a clothing brand under the banner of Sajawat.


This story is part of a weekly series that seeks to bring to light the unsung heroes of Karachi - the hawkers, traders, doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers and daily-wage labourers. It is they who make Karachi the city of lights.


Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2021.


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