The other day, my sister asked me (read: forced me) to drive her to an ice-cream parlor. Feeling absolutely exhausted after a tiring day, I was silent during the entire journey and kept nodding at whatever my sister was talking about, and mind you, she was talking about a lot.
So, I dropped her off at the parlor and waited for her in the car. Being a Karachiite, I am now used to the numerous people who sell absolutely everything and keep banging on the windows until you angrily gesture them to leave. This was no different. A little boy of around 10 years of age approached the car door.
The first impression of hawkers you have is that they are a part of an enormous mafia, who exist only to make your life miserable. I mean, who would want to buy an inflated tennis racquet in a car full of adults? Or rather, who would buy a flower in the middle of the road? They are trained annoyers, and mind you, excel in that respect too, because they always give me this feeling of irritation.
Therefore, when this little boy approached the car door, my instant reflex was to gesture him to take a hike, but then one glance at the boy made me change my mind. The boy had short hair, trimmed in a perfect mushroom cut, giving the impression that he recently had his hair done. Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, this boy did not give me the look of a beggar, and was selling flowers. I don’t know why, but this temptation inside me took over and I started a conversation with him. I wanted to know him.
His name was Zakir and he lived in Shree Jinnah Colony where all the Pathans lived. His brothers and sisters were all up North and he and his mother worked in Karachi. I asked him where his father was. He replied, “Woh gaon mai hai” (He is in village). I wondered what a macho man his father must be to have left his wife and little child alone to survive in this intense city.
Zakir goes to school in the morning and sells flowers during the night. He travels late at night from 26th Street to Shree Jinnah Colony alone. My mother never lets me step on to a bus alone, and here, this 10 year old boy was hopping on to buses day in and day out. The boy then started talking about some shootout he had just heard about; a person dying by three bullets: two in the leg and one in gut. I wondered, “Shouldn’t he be talking about Scooby Doo, Tom and Jerry and Popeye?”
Memories of my childhood are about school, cartoons and games. Shouldn’t Zakir have such memories too? Or is something as beautiful as childhood be dictated by circumstances? Should the fact that he was born in a less fortunate family dictate that he has to sell flowers for a living at the stage when he should have been holding books in his hands?
The ugly truth is that there are a million kids like Zakir in our city, leave alone the country. Is it my duty or the State’s duty to give him a respectable life and a happy childhood? The answer is that the responsibility has to be shared. All of us have to come together and lend a helping hand to kids like Zakir to succeed in life.