In other rooms, other wonders: The life of a worker in Meena Bazaar

Khursheed earns enough in the Eid season to sustain her household for five to six months.

Madiha Asif September 03, 2011


Asma Khursheed has spent 27 years of her life in the lanes of Meena Bazaar, running a salon that once belonged to her mother. Khursheed’s story is one of perseverance. Thirteen years ago, she lost the use of her left eye when her mother-in-law poured drops of acid in her eye. Her crime? Not being able to provide a grandson.

Khursheed now lives in a rented one-room apartment near the market with her 12-year-old daughter, Ayesha.

A student of grade six, Ayesha helps her mother out with her work once she is home from school. Khursheed says she has taught Ayesha the art of threading and how to apply mehndi.

“I am happy that my in-laws did not take Ayesha from me. I would have been left with no reason to live,” Asma said.

Asma Khursheed was also brought up in a single-parent household. Her father died in a bus accident while en route to Karachi from Hyderabad.

Meena Bazaar is one of the oldest markets in the Karachi, intended to solely serve women.

“I see a herd of customers belonging to different income groups every day. The main reason that attracts people to this bazaar is not the cheap shopping but the mehndi,” she said.

The bazaar is synonymous with quality mehndi designs, and its fame brings large groups of women into the small salons.

During the days of Eid, the herd grows into larger groups that at times are hard to manage due to the small size of parlours. For this purpose, tents are set on the road to accommodate and facilitate people who come in to get their hands painted.

For Khursheed, the income earned from mehndi application services is what sustains her salon. “I hire extra girls, especially for Chand Raat, who can share the burden and help me earn money,” she says.

Asma and Ayesha work together to run the house, pay all the bills and school fees. They are satisfied and happy with whatever little money they earn. “We make enough money during the Eid season to sustain our household for five to six months. We charge Rs30 per hand for mehndi and with the help of the other girls, we manage to apply mehndi to an average of 1,200 hands every year,” she said. The rates for mehndi application increase before Eid, but Khursheed keeps the prices low to garner more customers.

Other salons in the market usually charge Rs50 for festivals and Rs30 throughout the year.

“We have no objection against the rates Asma charges as she applies mehndi beautifully and deserves more so that she can easily run the house,” said Fauzia, another salon owner.

Fauzia owns two salons in Meena Bazaar and North Karachi. A 14-year veteran of the business, Fauzia says she has not seen the likes of Asma, whom she praises as a diligent worker and responsible mother.

“I honestly look up to her as my inspiration,” Fauzia said.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2011.