Umar Khurshid reports a family in which a blind man runs a provision store to feed his ailing, aged mother and blind sister
Mukhti Begum, 70, a widow, lives in an old mud house in Islamabad’s Sandoo village. Happily married to Lassi Hajam, she said, they were enjoying life till Hajira was born, some 46 years ago.
Their fourth child, the daughter after three sons, was a God’s grace. Soon, their happiness evaporated as they traced Hajira being one-eyed, born with a serious defect in her left eye. They reconciled with their fate.
Soon, Mukhti was expecting another kid. This time, the couple prayed they get a healthy child. They were relieved when Mohammad Shaban, now 36, was born, apparently normal. Tensions took over the moment, Shaban started crawling. They found him to be completely blind with serious handicaps in his legs. He was unable to walk properly.
Tragedy revisited the Hajams’ soon. Hajira was sweeping her kitchen when her foot slipped and she fell down. Her right eye burst through the hookah pipe that was lying around. Her resource deficit parents took three days to take her to the district hospital and later to Srinagar. The poor man could not manage a proper treatment that results in Hajira’s permanent blindness.
Lassi, termed courageous by Mukhti, died a broken man. Frustrated over the crisis of his two kids, he was suffering from high blood pressure. “He suddenly fell down, we took him to the hospital but he died after remaining admitted to Islamabad hospital for six days,” recalls Mukhti.
Mukhti said she had to really struggle a lot to raise her family after Lassi’s death. No support came from anywhere as she found all the doors locked for her, relatives included. But they survived. As the kids grew up, they started their families. One by one, all the elder three started living separately.
The aged Mukhti was left with her two kids, the daughter, and the son. Both are blind and only one walks. But that never means, they are paupers and live on alms.
The fact is that Mohammad Shabaan 36, the youngest of her sons, despite blind, is the only source for the family.
Shabaan runs a provisional store on the main Sandoo road. “If I stop working who will take care of us,” Shabaan said. His daily routine and his style of business is just a class apart.
Shabaan leaves his home early morning and foots almost half a kilometre distance to reach his shop. “I never take any assistance from anyone, I myself do everything,” Shabaan boasts of his capacity.
The first job, Shabaan does is to sweep the place where he sits. Then his ears take over. He makes sure that the naughty kids do not steal his merchandise. His sense of hearing is so strong that he feels slight movements.
Good in accounts, he also used to recharge prepaid phones earlier but has stopped now. ”I recognize currency by measuring it through my hands, but new currency confuses me sometimes, as it looks the same,” he giggles. Over the years, he had remembered the note sizes but demonetization has really created a mess for him.
Earlier, Mukhti, his mother, helped Shabaan to arrange things in his shop. But the son found it too hectic for her and, later, for him to find the stuff. “When I myself arrange things that help me to find everything so easily,” says Shabaan.
Shabaan has some friends whom he trusts blindly, literally. They assist him in counting the cash.
But Shabaan is not running provision store only. Adjoining his shop is another store, full of domestic gas cylinders, Kashmiri fire-pots, and many other things.
What makes Shaban work is not the capacity he has but the options he lacks. The responsibility on his shoulders is that of his old aged mother, who is not keeping a good health, and a blind sister Hajira. His mother is a serious kidney patient and requires a lot of care.
When Shabaan’s three brothers started living separately he had no choice but to run a store, “I know it sounds bad but poverty has taught me to fight with every odd thing,” sighs Shabaan.
It used to be very hectic for Shabaan to keep a memory of everything, including counting cash and paying back to customers. But as days passed those activities became very normal for him.
Though living such a hectic but dark life, Shaban is optimistic. “It is true that I face a lot of difficulties but I can’t sit around all day blaming my destiny,” Shabaan said. “I love my mother and my sister. I can’t watch them suffer while waiting around for someone to help us. We can’t keep waiting for the help that may never come.”
“Though my brothers weren’t supposed to leave three of us like this, this was our fate which no one can change,” he adds, almost emphasizing on every single word.
In contrast to Shabaan, Mukhti is in pain. “I die in bits and pieces while thinking, what will happen to my children after I die,” says Mukhti.
Mukhti owns three kanals of land but there is no one to take care of. “When I was young I used to go, but now I cannot,” she said. Her daughter spends the whole day sitting on the veranda.
Javid Ahmed Ganie 36, Shaban’s neighbour and a close friend helps the family whichever way it is possible. But the family still needs support.