ISLAMABAD: The under-construction signal-free corridor on the Islamabad Expressway would solve problems of thousands of commuters of the twin cities but Muhammad Akram, a driver-turned-newspaper vendor for the last 25 years, is not looking forward to it.
The 55-year-old wakes up at dawn everyday, dons his white cap, and rushes to the H-8/I-9 signal on the expressway to make a living.
Holding newspapers in one hand and a specially designed wooden crutch in the other, Akram roams around the signal crossing till dusk selling as much newspapers as he can.
A father of four, he is worried he will have to find another place for selling newspapers once the traffic signal is no more.
Recently Akram cannot believe his luck as he had to vacate the Kulsoom Plaza Chowk in Blue Area when the Metro Bus Project started.
Revealing his life’s story, Akram recalled that an accident led to the amputation of one of his legs while he was driving a bus from Lahore to Sadiqabad in 1990.
He came to Islamabad the next year and faced the two most difficult days of his life when he was compelled to beg, he claims. For him, bearing harsh weather conditions at the signal during work is far easier than begging.
“A policeman saved my life. He literally saved me from dying,” Akram emphasised, adding that “he took me to the office of a newspaper and asked the owner to help me find some work. The owner gave him a pile of newspapers to sell and the rest is history, he stated.
Akram still remembers the policeman with high gratitude but for other men in blue, his feelings are different. “I spent eight days in Adiala Jail because of the police,” he said. In the ‘drives against beggars’, police often take people like Akram to a police station and later to an Edhi Home but sometimes they send them to jail.
Whatever comes out of beggars’ and vendors’ pockets belongs to the policemen, he said.
Being uneducated, Akram has no idea what a particular day’s headline is. “I differentiate newspapers through the colours and placement of their logos,” he said. Besides, Akram places the papers in a sequence to avoid trouble when he is on the go. He quipped that he was uneducated but not slow at picking up things.
Realising the potential of education, Akram wants his children to go to school. “I am investing in my children’s education so they could get a better job and have a better life. At least a life better than mine,” he shared.
Akram’s daughter has passed the matriculation exam while his son is in 9th grade. The other two are studying in grade one and three. Aiding his efforts at the signal, Akram’s wife works as a domestic servant and his son works part-time at a clinic.
On average, Akram said he earns around Rs400 to Rs500. “Once in a blue moon, the amount reaches four digits,” he said.
Even though the highway expansion project will take almost a year at the least, Akram is already on the lookout for his next location. “I have to work, at this signal or the next,” he says.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2015.
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