Chances are there — that you might have seen a youthful face selling masala or traditional Kashmiri street food at the gates of Srinagar’s Lower Court while passing through the area. If yes, then you should know something: the sober looking youth, 27, you are seeing running that crowd-pulling makeshift stall, is no usual in his tribe.
While most in his ilk began their street-side trade without essentially attending school, Hilal A Shah stepped out in streets after shining throughout in his academics—that ended after graduating with a first division.
Once out of college, the life for this Soura born and brought up boy was no different. There were only two choices available for him, he remembers while making a lawas-e-chout for his customers. “The choice was either curse the luck for not getting employment despite applying in number of government-advertised posts,” he says, “or stand up, and fight for your survival.”
There are no prizes for guessing, what became an obvious choice for him.
But, had there been any other student in his place, he would have definitely paused and pondered: How could I? For Hilal, the feeling, however, was no different. Being a brilliant student who in his Class 10 had scored 86%, the decision was akin to kill the cherished aspirations. But he shortly sensed the need to rise above his dreams for the sake of his family.
By 2011 when Hilal walked out of Ganderbal College with a marksheet scoring 67%, he was staring at a fast dipping income graph of his home. His poor father, Abdul Ahad Shah, a labourer and a Matric pass, wasn’t keeping well. Under this distressing situation, the whispers had gone louder back home. Everyone in the family was counting on their eldest and the only son—Hilal.
And then one fine day, Hilal, brother of five sisters stepped out of home—not with books in his hands, but a wicker basket on his head. After dusting miles, he found a space at the ‘gates of justice’ and set his makeshift stall quietly there.
That outing was different for Hilal, who had his stints with masonry and other labour works during his school days. “Unlike other kids,” says Hilal, as crowd of customers encircle his makeshift stall, “I had no normal Sundays or holidays. I would go and work to support my family besides carrying out my studies.” But when his stints couldn’t create a much-needed change in his family, he called it quits. Then, he was a fresh college pass-out and dreaming to enter University.
Change shortly followed once his street sojourns started daily from 9am to 5pm. Soon he married off his two sisters. He also asked his un-well father to stay at home and managed to run his family of his own. This young father also spares a portion of his earning to educate his three unmarried sisters, besides nurturing a dream to provide the best education to his little daughter.
But before his street stints would begin, Hilal had also followed the popular footprints to queue up for government jobs—however, he didn’t get one despite trying hard. Dreaming of government jobs isn’t wrong, he believes—but getting stuck with that option only is indeed a problem.
“I was quick to realise that government can’t provide jobs to everyone and that everyone cannot become a government employee,” he says. With the result, he treaded an unpopular path in his peer group and emerged as a clear winner in what was dubbed as a ‘perceptible war’.
Today, Hilal is happy with his decision. “What else can make a man happy than a realisation that he supports his family with halal means,” he says. His monthly earnings, he shares, is no less than Rs 15,000.
“It is better to sell masala and get bread of respect for your family,” he asserts, “than to curse your fate or resort to ill means.”
If we can face our struggles with dedication, he believes, we shall overcome.
(Saima Bashir is internee with Kashmir Life.)