Published in Jul-Aug 2021
My name is Abdul Wahid. I am 63 years old. I own a kiryana store in Kharadar – which, with its adjacent communities of Mithadar and Jodia Bazaar, is known as one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Karachi.
My father Saleh Muhammad came from Okhapur (India) to Kharadar in 1945 and initially set up a vegetable stall here. He ran it for two years. Once he had enough money, he bought a small ration shop (number 211) in 1948, next to where he sold vegetables. In those days, shops were granted licences to sell rations by the Government of Pakistan and families were given ration cards bearing their names and surnames. With each ration card, people could buy 2.5 kilos of sugar (some families had more than one card, hence they were given a kilo or two of sugar according to the number). We maintained a register where we entered the ration card number and the date on which we provided ration to each family. Initially, the only commodity given on ration cards was sugar; later, flour was added.
Sugar was bought daily from the Civil Supply Office, located in front of Boulton Market Police Station. They issued a voucher and the money was deposited at the State Bank of Pakistan and then we were given the sugar. The other essentials of any ration shop were staples such as lentils, rice, flour, spices and oil. We bought these products from Jodia Bazaar – we buy them there even today. There were no branded masalas or any concept of super or general stores back then.
Before packaged milk was introduced, people bought loose milk (either by going to milk shops or the milkman delivered it on a bicycle or motorbike in a steel milk can) and we sold oil and ghee the same way. People brought their own pots and we measured and poured the required quantity.
I started working at the shop in 1974, while studying in grade nine. Every morning, I went for my tuitions at six a.m. for an hour and a half, and then headed to Jodia Bazaar to buy whatever my father required for the shop that day. Because I have been going to the market since I was a child to purchase stock daily (the wholesalers noted my name on the bill as ‘Saleh Muhammad’s son’), everyone knows me and our shop which our family has been running for the past 70 years. I completed my Master’s in Economics from Karachi University while helping my father at the store.
Over the years, much has changed in Kharadar, especially in terms of the population which has drastically increased. Earlier, an average apartment building was ground plus one; now there are six to eight storeys in each building – and a building that just had six flats now has 60. The area has become very congested and commercialised. Yet, everyone is still earning what is destined for them. Although today you see my son and his cousin (my sister’s son) at the counter, I still supervise everything.
My day begins with Fajr prayers, followed by breakfast. I leave home at nine and head straight to the market in Jodia Bazaar. Not everyone opens this early, except a few tea and sugar sellers. Before I buy it, I check the quality of the product as not all teas or sugar are the same. Jodia Bazaar has all sorts of stuff; there are products coming from different mills and some of the rice that comes from Punjab is of excellent quality. I buy the best and to this day, I cook every sample myself and test.
I am at the shop by about 10 o’clock and remain there until about 10 in the evening. The day passes in dealing with customers, mainly housewives, professionals and even daily wagers. The only breaks are either for lunch and prayers. Since I live in a joint family system, once I get home, we all eat together. This is followed by watching television and I sleep by midnight. The next day is the same drill again. The shop is closed on Sunday and I spend the day either at home or doing voluntary work for different charities. I am a member of the Karachi Memon Cooperative Housing Society’s managing committee as well as a member of Red Cross and Khadim-e-Insaniyat Trust.
It has been a year and a half since we have expanded our shop and we have more space to stock our sacks. I have no plans to turn this into a superstore or supermarket to earn more. This small business of ours has given us a lot and we have never been greedy. This shop has supported my entire family so far and it was through this shop only that I was able to educate my sons in the UK, one of whom has now returned and is currently working with me. We are content with our customer base. They have been buying from us for years; they are loyal and trust our quality. As long as this shop has my father’s name on it I will continue to provide them with the same trust and quality.
As told to Anusha Zahid. Abdul Wahid owns a kiryana store called Muhammad Saleh General Store in Kharadar, Karachi.