KARACHI NOTEBOOK: ‘The tunnel appears stretched too long’

May 06, 2019

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ASIF Iqbal with his family pictured in their Liaquatabad home.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
ASIF Iqbal with his family pictured in their Liaquatabad home.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: It was more than two decades ago (in 1996 or ’97) that I first saw Asif Iqbal as he walked into our office accompanied by a couple of other blind youngsters. Armed with white canes, they were clutching coupon books. Introducing themselves as volunteers of a nongovernmental organisation, they said they were selling tickets for a concert organised by the NGO to raise funds for a charity.

Most of us in the office were not too eager to buy the tickets, a response that could have disappointed the boys struggling for an exalted cause. H. A. Hameed, our senior-most reporter who covered the courts and civil aviation beats, was sitting close by. Perceiving our predicament, he asked the boys to hand him all the tickets. “Come tomorrow to get your money,” he said brusquely. The next day the boys came in again, collected the payment and went their way. Mr Hameed had sold the tickets to generous high court lawyers, “always earning much more than common journalists”, as he put it.

Asif remained in touch with me over the period and called me once or twice in a year — sometimes just to ask about my well-being; sometimes to share some good or not so good news about himself. For the last two years, he has called me to share his worries for money to buy the course books and stationery for his two sons studying in the Army Public School (APS).

For me his life has been an interesting tale of struggle, perseverance and finally on the right track to success.

Asif married a school fellow of his, a girl born sightless. She continued her studies and did her graduation, but could not get a government job on the quota for the handicapped as she had aspired. She has settled to raise children and take care of the household, a job she is doing quite well.

Asif has seen and remembers how the world looks like. He was around 10 when he lost his eyes one after the other in separate unfortunate incidents, which he no longer wants to be reminded of. “I distinctly remember the Radio Pakistan neighbourhood where I was born and brought up,” he says while talking to this writer over the phone. “I can recall which shop sat where in that area.” He was in Class VI then. Later he completed his matriculation.

During a visit to Dawn’s offices, he came across a gentleman who offered him a telephone operator’s job at his son’s sugar mills. He was delighted at the unexpected offer, and worked for around six years with the beneficent industrialist. Later he switched the job as he was hired on a better pay package by a tannery owner, where he still works contentedly. He has got the pick-and-drop facility from his employer, among other perks, which is a great relief for him.

He is all praise for both his former and current employers for their favours. But he praises the APS management much more. “They are educating my two sons for free.” Asif has got two more kids, a two-and-a-half-year-old boy and a one-year-old girl.

With the two brilliant children in the Army Public School, the blind couple can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But with their handicap and the responsibility to raise four children, “the tunnel appears stretched too long”.

“Though this is our wish that at least one of our boys gets commission in the army, or any of the forces, it seems too difficult to realise. We’ll be content even if they get a decent job and begin earning a modest living in our lifetime.”

Asif draws a salary of Rs22,000, which he says is a reasonable amount for that kind of a job. They live in a rented two-room apartment in Liaquatabad.

“There are so many expenses about the school-going children, one in class IV and the other in class V,” he says. They have to buy their books and have to pay the van fare, for instance, besides taking care of their uniforms, diet and pocket money.

“So far, they have been good at school. But now they need private tuition also to compete with their classmates which may cost too much for out means,” he says.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2019