Many may choose to ignore it but the unpleasant truth remains that a substantial section of Karachi’s population makes do with barely enough food to keep their stomachs from growling despite a hard day’s labour.
Asif Mehmood lives this truth every day.
Confronted with the back-breaking responsibility of raising three children and supporting an aged mother within limited means, life has been a grind for Mehmood and he minces no words about it. “My day starts at the break of dawn and ends after midnight and even then I have to skip meals to keep my children well fed,” he said.
Hailing from Rahim Yar Khan, Mehmood set out to make it big in the city of lights in 1992. Though it did not work out as he planned, Mehmood managed to eke out a living until marriage prompted him to do something to supplement his income. “I bought a rickshaw in 2008 to earn some extra cash as I had to raise a family.”
Mehmood works as a driver at a house from seven in the morning till six in the evening where he is paid Rs7,500 a month. “They don’t offer me lunch at work so I usually skip it,” he said casually. After finishing up his day shift, Mehmood takes out his rickshaw and remains on the lookout for passengers till after midnight.
Making ends meet is a problem almost all rickshaw drivers face. “We are drowned in misery because of inflation. I have six children and cannot even afford their education,” said a rickshaw driver, Niaz Khan.
Law and order situation
Fraught with uncertainty, Karachi’s political situation is a nightmare for daily wage earners. “If I take a passenger to the dangerous areas in the city, I know my life will be at risk. If something happens to me, who will take care of my children?” he asked.
Although Mehmood is grateful for the stability that his morning job provides him, the frequent strikes and days of mourning make a huge dent in his monthly income. “With vandalism so common on such days, I prefer to remain indoors to avoid running the risk of losing my rickshaw,” he said. “It takes only a few seconds for the situation to escalate into full blown violence”
Being a hotbed of ethnic violence, Karachi is a tough place for non-residents. The increasing number of no-go areas has severely restricted his options and he often has to turn down passengers. “I was abused for being a Seraiki and beaten up recently and since then I avoid going on those routes.”
Hit hard by CNG strikes
“With the hike in petrol prices, we have to charge higher fares but then we lose out on customers,” said 30-year-old Attaur Rehman who also drives a rickshaw. “The availability of CNG is also a problem - the day it is available, we spend half our time in queue. The day it isn’t, we have to charge higher to compensate for the higher fuel prices.”
Mehmood also shared the same woes, asking, “What good is cheap CNG if it’s not available half of the week? We have to wait for hours in long queues to get our cylinders filled.”
Despite going through the ignominy of not being able to afford private schooling for his children, Mehmood was optimistic that his children would have a different future. “I couldn’t afford private education but I couldn’t leave them uneducated either so I go them enrolled in Iqra where they get to study both religion and everyday subjects. I have even got my 19-year-old wife admitted there,” he said with a smile on his face.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2013.
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