Corn on the go

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A simple idea that came outside a movie theater in Qatar helped two engineer friends introduce sweet corn carts in Kashmir. Umar Mukhtar tells their story

In 2014, when Rizwan Khan, 25, moved to Qatar to work in a construction company as an engineer, he was pinning his hopes on a new life full of opportunities. Once there he got fascinated by the work-culture, which was missing back home.

“I saw people earning a decent living contrary to the experience I had back home. Even a person who does a low profile job would earn handsomely,” said Rizwan.

Once he started working in Qatar, he actually had very less time to explore the new places. “But on my off days, I never miss an opportunity of moving out. After all, who would not want to venture out and explore a country like Qatar?”

It was on holidays that Rizwan would experience the busy and cheerful life, rush at malls, traffic, cuisines and what not. At first it seemed like a utopian world to Rizwan, which would bring smile to his face. But despite being in Qatar, Rizwan’s heart always remained in Kashmir.

“I was emotional and home-loving guy just like the other Kashmiris,” said Rizwan.

The busy and adventurous life in Qatar was a complete a contrast to what he has lived through in conflict torn Kashmir. “Since my childhood I was never able to experience a good life. I used to get flashbacks of curfews, shutdowns, restrictions, killings etc. I often used to wish Qatar kind of life in Kashmir.”

Fascinated by the life in Qatar, Rizwan felt an urge to do something for the people of Kashmir. “But I was not sure what to do,” said Rizwan.

Then one day, while enjoying an outing with his friends, Rizwan decided to watch a movie in a multiplex theatre. A man selling popcorn on a decorated cart outside the multiplex caught Rizwan’s attention. Rizwan had seen such popcorn carts before too at places like in hypermarkets, shopping malls and outside cinemas. But he had never thought about it as a possible business venture. “It was there I realized that I should start such a chain of popcorn carts in Kashmir,” said Rizwan. “I could also engage unemployed people.”

But given his job commitments in Qatar, the idea looked impossible to translate into reality. In order to work around the problem, Rizwan discussed the idea with his friend Tahleel.

For next one year they fine tuned the idea with Rizwan in Qatar and Tahleel in Kashmir. Then finally in October 2017, they inaugurated their first cart in Srinagar. This was the birth of ‘Corn on the Go’. As of now there are six carts in Srinagar at six different locations selling the sweet corn.

“We are looking at 25 carts by the end of this year,” said a confident Rizwan. “Our criteria was simple, we just identified six unemployed youth who were in dire need of employment.”

According to Rizwan there is only profit margin of three rupees per cup. To empower the youth, the business model is based on the international work ethics, like besides salary, food, accommodation and commission on the basis of sales is provided to the employees.

As people in Kashmir have started to like the taste of sweet corn, the venture is getting good response.

The next step is to make the corn carts eco-friendly. “We want to operate these carts on solar energy and make them smart carts (GPS enabled) in coming months so that the customers can track the exact locations of a cart,” said Rizwan.

There were a number of people who discouraged Rizwan and Tahleel telling them it is not going to change anything.

“But we did it for the love of our people and thought it as our social responsibility,” said Rizwan.

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