Karachi serves as a home to the most diverse of populations across Pakistan. Muslims, non-Muslims, Shia, Sunni, Muhajir, Balochi, Sindhi, Pashtun, Kashmiri, and also countless other minority groups; many a people have found home here. Some of us hold onto deep-rooted positive emotions for Karachi, while others are seemingly indifferent. But Karachi has embraced them all as one – giving each of us the freedom to be ourselves no matter.
Some of us weave dreams during the day, while some of us have adopted a nocturnal lifestyle and work all night long. Some read Paul Coelho, while some unswervingly quote Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Some venerate and find consolation in its shrines. Yet, others ruin the very sanctity of those shrines. Some try to restore its glory, while others try to slaughter this goose to steal all its golden eggs. All of this happens in a jiffy, and this diversity is what makes Karachi raw; both beautifully and painfully.
Vibrant and lively, yet erratic and violent: Karachi is as much love as is its anticipations.
This aspect is most evident in the ancient, more “established” vicinities of the city – where walking talented craftsmen are seen in profusion. Each of these daily wagers boasts of the most exceptional set of skills, and in the process, exude pulsating vibes and positive energy from within themselves. It’s easy to overlook their presence amid the crowd, for their existence has been promptly internalized into the very fabric that sustains the city.
So, behind every ‘kachraywala’ (garbage-man), ‘rehriwala’ (peddler), ‘phalwala’ (fruit vendor), ‘makaiwala’ (corn seller) and ‘bandarwala’ (monkey charmer) is an untold story waiting to be narrated.
And this is exactly where Khan comes into action. Khan is the resident mochi (cobbler) in the older part of Clifton. He deals with an assortment of wares: from mending and polishing footwear, re-doing broken zippers and revamping a worn-out leather handbag, making it seem almost as good as new.
However, there are countless customers who visit him on a strictly need-be basis.
Once acquainted, people to get to learn a little about him every time. Referred to simply as Khan, the man is hesitant to talk about his craft, which is one of the oldest jobs in the city and usually provides opportunity to settlers coming from the northern areas of the country. 42-year-old Khan took over his father’s mochi business after the latter retired four years ago. As he converses with another customer and the adjoining bun kebab wala, it appears that he has a knack for mending souls, too.
Hailing from Peshawar, Khan’s family has been in this business forever and moved to Karachi around four decades ago, when they realized they would have better business here. Being the only mochis in the area for a very long time now gave his family a monopolistic edge in terms of experience, no competition, and a general awareness of the area they worked in.
Sporting a brooding look, Khan gave a puzzled expression when conversing with one of his customers. Upon being inquired as to how “business” was faring these days, he smiled at first, then shrugged his shoulders and shook his head with mere despair. Pointing to an upcoming shopping mall nearby, he solemnly remarked,
“barre barre dukaan khulgaye hain. Kaise muqabla hoga unse?”
(Big shopping malls have opened here. How can I compete with them?!)
He talked about an era when a cobbler’s business was a dignified one, so to speak. That was apparently when an entire network of mochis existed, each of whom specialized in a particular technique – polishing, mending, or repairing, and no mochi had any qualms about referring a customer to the needed specialist.
To quote him, business started declining in the 90s when ‘Bata’ and ‘Servis’ became household names. People were suddenly able to polish their own shoes, and shoe stores encouraged people to return to them to get miscellaneous repair work done.
If business and resource conditions are favorable, Khan stated he would want to set up his own shop soon. However, as the conversation progresses, a hint of cynicism was detected. Later during the conversation, it was discovered that his family has apparently been working in this area since quite some time when roti cost only 10 ana’s (1/6th of a rupee), and bus fares even less.
According to Khan, now even Rs600 is not nearly enough to survive!
Well, Khan has a very typical Pathan look; with a fair complexion and colored eyes. He then beamed a 100-watt smile and discloses that when he initially set up his stall, the area was barely populated and everything was sparse. He saw the entire area flourish right before his eyes.
Wheeling in the alleys of nostalgia, Khan busied himself in finishing up the sandal.
In those seven minutes spent conversing with Khan, there was a sudden ‘aha!’ moment, wherein it inculcated a sense of growing realization of the very irony of his existence. His “labor” indeed is an essential part of our daily lives; we refer to him by his profession yet are simultaneously and completely unmindful to his absolute anonymity.
Ever wondered what dreams he, and all those whose professions are stuck under the anonymity of being a ‘wala’, dream of? I believe this question cannot ever be answered by any of us.
This leaves the good thinking, pondering about Khan and many others: Khan appeared to have a strong sense of ownership of his business, coupled with pride and love for the same. Can we somehow vie with the same qualities within our own everyday affairs? And can we then have a domino effect to activate these same virtues across everyone we work with?
Khan suddenly seemed many, many miles away from the world. Yet all this time he devoted to this conversation sparked a sense of hard-work and passion on his face.
Sigh! It’s sad how nobody seems to care, or even know.
In the meantime, as Khan packed the sandals and happily accepted the meagre amount he devoted time to.