Next Story

Manifesting dreams on a pushcart

The success this gol-gappa seller’s children have gone on to secure is the stuff dreams are made of

facebook whatsup linkded
PUBLISHED November 27, 2022

With big dreams and a will to change the lives of his next generation, Liaqat Ali came to Karachi in 1988. At that time, he could not imagine that one day his children would be university graduates and working in good organizations. Today, thirty-two years later, one of Ali’s daughters is working in the Airport Security Force, one son has completed his master’s in computer science, and the youngest is in class ten.

Ali, now fifty, set up a gol-gappa cart near Teen Talwar in 1990. He worked on a roadside in scorching heat and blinding humidity. “I used to set up my cart right in front of the Gulf Shopping Center. When they renovated a few years ago, I was asked to shift so now I set up my cart here, daily from 1 pm to 10 pm, and sometimes even later than that,” Ali tells me while making a plate of gol-gappa for the guard of a nearby private bank.

Born and brought up in Chishtian, Punjab, Ali decided to come to Karachi to earn a living when the economic situation in his hometown started deteriorating. His family had barely enough to feed themselves. Unmarried at that time, Ali asked a few of his friends to help him to find work, and one of his cousins was already working in Karachi. “When I came to Karachi, I didn’t even have money to buy a bus ticket to get to my friend's house. It was the first time I had ever left Chishtian. I stayed with my friend in his one-room house, and he helped me find a job in a steel factory where they required labourers,” Ali narrates his story while cleaning bowl and plates in which he serves gol-gappa.

For two years, Ali worked in the factory, but the limited salary wasn’t enough to sort out the problems he had in his hometown. One of his friends who used to sell gol-gappa suggested that Ali started a gol-gappa cart too. “My friend involved me in his work; I helped him daily with his cart while learning how to make everything. After working with him for a year, I set up my own cart, and since that day, this has been my sole profession and source of income.”

Ali strongly believes that he could have never done this on his own if it was not for his friends who not just helped him to learn and work in Karachi but also provided him with a place to live when he came to a new city in 1988. “I live here alone in a one-room apartment in Bath Island Gizri, and the rest of my family is in different places.” One of his daughters is married; another one, after postgraduation, lives in Lahore and works for the Airports Security Force; and one of his sons, after completing his postgraduation, is teaching in Bahawalpur to make money for his monthly expenses while looking for a long-term job. Ali’s wife and his youngest son lives in his ancestral home in Chishtian. “I visit home every four months for fifteen days, but I can't wrap up my work here and return to Chishtian as this cart is the source of income that has enabled me to educate my children and be at the positions where they are in their lives,” Ali says.

For attainment of his dream to not let his children go through the hardships he had to suffer, Ali instructed his wife—who is uneducated and can only recite the Holy Quran—to not let their children's schooling be ever stopped even if they don’t have food for a day. Ali says, “As soon as I came to Karachi, I understood that education could shape the future and change lives, and that is why I sent home most of the money I made, keeping only a minimum amount for myself.” Initially, Ali thought that he would only earn enough to manage his bread and butter, but with time he realized that he didn’t want his children to end up like him or migrate to another city for work. “Today when I see my children getting degrees from universities and in good positions, I feel I have achieved everything in life. I don’t want them to do anything for me, but at least I would die peacefully knowing that their future is better than mine.” Ali has decided that for as long as he can manage to, he will continue to do the same business.

Living alone


Ali lives alone. He cooks everything and washes his utensils to set up his daily cart. “The only thing that I buy is the gol-gappa; chutneys, khatta pani, raita, and boiling chana, I make everything.” He wakes up early, starts preparing things and leaves home around 1 pm. He says, “It takes around an hour to reach Teen Talwar as I have to push the cart on the side of roads. I leave as soon as the items are finished, but usually during Eid and wedding season I stay late as markets close late at night.”

New varieties and new techniques in the market and increasing prices of almost every food item make life difficult for people like Ali who are struggling for a better future for their children. “Back in 1990 when I first started the business, chana used to be four rupee per kg; now it is Rs 320 per kg, and even then, the quality is not the same. That has impacted the prices; I used to sell a plate of eight gol-gappa for three rupees, and now the price is Rs 120 per plate,” he shares while packing gol-gappa in plastic bags.

When it comes to quality, Ali says he doesn’t compromise, and that is the reason he has been surviving with just a cart for the last thirty-two years. He says that in terms of prices there are several qualities available in market, but he always buys the top-quality stuff, which is of course expensive. Oil used in frying and semolina used in dough are of very good quality, which is why the taste of his gol-gappa is excellent. “With this quality, I hardly earn Rs 300 on every thousand rupees that I invest in here,” he says, showing me a gol-gappa and crushing it to ensure its crispiness.

Technology has made the process of sending money and communicating with his family so much easier for Ali. “Back in the ’90s, I used to send money through a regular post office, and sometimes, it would take fifteen-thirty days for the money to reach home. But now I usually money send through easypaisa and Mobicash, or a wire transfer,” he says.

In these trying times, to make ends meet, Ali also markets his stall and takes orders for weddings, parties, and school functions for which he charges a lump sum. “Such events are helpful as it takes less time to sell, it’s good money, and I don’t have to stand in heat the whole day,” he says.

To get the work going, carts have to be regularly maintained. Every four months, Ali changes the plates and bowls in which he serves gol-gappa and containers for raita, chutney, and tamarind water. Ali tells me, “I buy this stuff from the Bolton Market from the same seller I bought it thirty-two years ago; I trust him for a good price and quality. Without keeping a check on hygiene, you can’t survive a food-related business. Most of my customers are from Clifton so I can’t risk anything when it comes to cleanliness and taste.”