Here I am polishing people’s shoes and there she goes gadding about with her friends!” Narain laughed and looked up from the shoe he was repairing in the main bazaar of Ghulamullah town in Thatta district. He said he also told his wife that her pilgrimage to Sri Mata Hinglaj was nothing but a gallivanting tour because she had gone with her friends, leaving her elderly parents at home.
Two years ago, having met young Kamini, Narain had successfully wooed and wedded her: she a native of Lea Market in Karachi; he of a village just outside Ghulamullah. The two had a great few weeks together in the ‘outback’ of the Thatta district. But then Kamini began to pester him to move to Karachi with her. Narain was adamant on staying for how could he leave his widowed mother and his elder brother in the village all by themselves?
Anyway, said the man, since he had got the 30,000 rupee loan from the NGO, he was prospering as a shoe shop owner. When I met him this past April, Narain had already repaid his debt and was thinking of getting a bigger loan to enlarge his business further.
The story of Narain is anything but ordinary
Now that could be the story of any ordinary person. Narain is anything but that. He is a special person. The left foot is deformed because of a fever he got at age two, he explained. It was a ‘cold’ fever and the doctor not realising, administered a ‘cold’ drip, he said. That destroyed his foot. I commiserated.
“Don’t worry. It could have been worse,” said Narain lightly as he used his left hand to lift his right arm aloft for me to see. Until then I had not noticed that it was shrivelled and lifeless. When he was four, he got polio. Had the disease crippled his other leg he would have been an invalid. Now at least he can run around on his own, albeit with a limp. And he has one good arm to take him through life.
He said all that cheerfully and in rapid succession as if to forestall further sympathy. Narain pointed out that the bad arm was good enough to steady the shoe he was working on. And that was all he needed. I could only admire the man’s exuberance and optimism.
Another child with such a deformity in rural Sindh would have stayed away from school. But Narain successfully completed his middle-level education before taking a sabbatical to apprentice himself to his cobbler brother. For four years he trained and worked and when he thought he could be an independent part-time cobbler, he went back to school to complete his matriculation. That was in 2015. Now, at 22, Narain is in his first year at the local college to complete his higher secondary education.
He attends classes in the morning and works in his cubbyhole of a shop through the rest of the day until after nightfall. As a cobbler his average net income was never above 200 rupees. That made for a hard life, but he had to be satisfied with what he had. He could not rob a bank, he said with a smile.
With the infusion of the loan in early 2016, Narain stocked his store with new shoes, additional tools and repairing materials. Within days his income from shoe sales averaged about 800 rupees a day. With a twinkle in his eye, he said that come harvest time and festivals he took in up to 1,500 rupees a day. In addition, the income from his cobbling work never stops.
When we met in April, he had put in a request for a second loan of 50,000 rupees. He explained that used inner pneumatic tubes of large size can be sewn together to craft feeding troughs for livestock. For some reason, these and not the usual wooden ones are the preferred choice of livestock owners in his district. Depending on usage, such a manger lasts six to eight weeks, creating a steady and unending demand. The new loan will enable our man to procure the heavy duty sewing machine, allied tools, and raw material to craft this item.
With the infusion of the loan in early 2016, Narain stocked his store with new shoes, additional tools and repairing materials. Within days his income from shoe sales averaged about 800 rupees a day.
Meanwhile, in December 2016, Narain was invited to a symposium in Islamabad. With a couple of hundred other special persons who had made something of their lives, he too received a cash award of 20,000 rupees. Returning home, the conscientious Narain, first of all, repaid his last four loan instalments. Seeing he had some cash left, his sister-in-law suggested they get a television.
For the far thinking Narain that was like wasting money. He purchased a goat instead. Two months later the animal delivered two male kids. In April, our man was looking ahead to sell the kids when Bakra Eid rolled around in September. He estimated they would fetch a total of 50,000 rupees.
What with his shoe store running, the rubber feeding trough business in the pipeline and his cobbling work rolling steady, he was a Patel, I remarked. I said I hoped he was not forgetting Kamini in all this.
“She does not let me forget her,” said the man. “I daily receive at least one phone call from her. Always we talk of the same thing. She says I move to Karachi; I tell her to come back to me.”
The man was so right when he said he had told his wife he was heading for great things in Ghulamullah. But if he moved to Karachi, he would be just another ordinary cobbler. And now that he planned to take his mother and brother to his wife’s home in Karachi to reconcile, he was certain they would come back with her.
Here is the man Kamini married when he was a cobbler. Now, with just a little nudge from an NGO, he is a storekeeper with great plans for his future. If she has good sense, she should return. She would miss out on a great life if she doesn’t.
The writer is a travel writer and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society
Published in Dawn, EOS, July 9th, 2017