KARACHI: If you have seen her, you’ve probably passed her off as a customer standing by the roasted corn on the cob cart. But Manzoora Mai is, in fact, the vendor pushing her roasted-corn cart on Abdul Sattar Edhi Avenue, also known as Seaview, and doing good business.
Dressed in a light-coloured cotton shalwar and kameez with a chador to cover her head and protect it from the sun, Manzoora sells roasted corn on the cob from morning till evening. Then she returns home to her husband and children.
Why doesn’t the husband work? “He can’t,” she says. “His hands and feet don’t function very well — he’s crippled.” Further questioning reveals that he used to work as a driver with a family. Sixteen years ago, he was in an accident that left him injured. “What happened, stays happened,” says Manzoora. “I don’t like to bring up the past. May God give him a long life, even though he cannot earn or help himself,” she adds before turning to a young customer.
It is after 1pm, the peak time for selling her roasted corn to children coming out of schools. But Manzoora stands on the service road on the side of the avenue where there are townhouses. “I am not allowed to park my cart outside the schools here. The vigilance team doesn’t allow it,” she says. “So I stand here at this time. The DA Model School and City School are at equal distances in opposing directions from here. Besides, the children know where to find me,” she smiles.
That is true. Several cars come by. Manzoora listens carefully to each child’s order and preferences such as extra masala, no masala, more lemon, etc. She seems to be popular with the kids. “I’m a mother first, so understanding what the little ones want and satisfying their needs comes with the territory,” she says.
The conversation moves to her children. Doesn’t she have a son who can do all this work in her place? Manzoora shakes her head. “I am the mother of one son and five daughters. My son is only 14, and he’s in school. I won’t let him sell corn on the road. He will sit in an air-conditioned office when he grows up.”
About the five daughters, she says that three are married, one died and one is too young. “I can do the work very well,” she says with pride. “Maybe standing in the sun too much has given me a lot of wrinkles and a darker complexion, but I am not that old. I’m up for all kinds of challenges,” she adds, telling me about how she stands up to the police and the vigilance teams around the beach; they can view vendors like her as a nuisance. “They often confiscate my cart. But then, I am also Manzoora Mai,” she says, rolling up her sleeves. “I get it back from them!”
She talks about her daughter who passed away, who used to come with her to the beach. That was before she became too sick. “Her kidneys had failed but even then she used to accompany me as she would get anxious and worry about me working alone here,” says Manzoora. “One day she became very weak. I had to rush her to the hospital. I called for an ambulance and in my haste left my cart for another vendor to keep an eye on. On my way to the hospital I received a frantic call from him, saying that the vigilance team had dragged away my cart because it looked unmanned. They were confiscating it.”
“I looked at my daughter lying in the ambulance. She asked me not to worry about her and save the cart first,” she muses. “I was also weighing the situation. My cart is after all my bread and butter. I explained this to the ambulance driver and he turned the vehicle around. We found the men in uniform with my cart loaded on their white pickup truck. I was so angry, I gave them a piece of my mind. They were really embarrassed and apologised. The senior one amongst them asked me to forgive them and begged me to take my child to hospital. He asked me for my address so that they could drop off my cart at my place. And they actually did that,” she says.
“You have to stand up for yourself in this world or you will be crushed. My daughter died two and a half years ago,” says Manzoora Mai, showing me a picture of her that she has saved in her mobile phone. “She may be gone but the others are alive. I have to keep on going for them.” Then, she asks me how I like my roasted corn.
Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2017