Traditional Muharram toy vendors
There was a time in Karachi when Muharram was not marred by terrorist attacks, sectarian violence and tight security with giant shipping containers pushed through the city’s narrowest alleys. In fact, it marked the beginning of mourning and grief to honor the sacrifices of the Prophet’s (PBUH) family over 1,400 years ago.
Each part of the city had its own way of observing the holy month.
While some spaces reflected a dark atmosphere for the first 10 days, others exuded the spirit of cultural traditions and rituals rooted in South Asian history around Muharram.
In Saddar, for example, the annual processions were enlivened by drumbeats and ta’ziyahs were decorated and placed in their designated places, right around the Maghreb prayers of 9 Muharram. Some flocked to have their wishes granted by tying threads on the railings of ta’ziyahswhile others soaked up the scent of holiness and peace amidst the crowded streets.
A Sabel could be spotted in most nooks and crannies doling out sharbat and water to passers-by. But what captivated the neighborhood kids were the bustling toy stalls.
In areas such as Saddar, Kharadar, Ranchor Line and Soldier Bazaar, among others, these toy carts – at least for children – were the highlight of Muharram. Children were spoiled for choice when purchasing wooden swords, bows and arrows, swings, horse-drawn carriages, mini dholsand much more – all intricately decorated with paintings, fur and chamak patti.
Set up on either side of the streets, the toy carts, mostly owned by gypsy families who have been associated with the business for generations, have been the joy of young children during a time of grief and bereavement.
But today, these stalls have dwindled in number, due to security concerns and rising inflation. Geo.tv talked to some of the toy vendors about the issues they are facing. Here are their stories:
A family business
“I haven’t slept well since we arrived in Karachi on 7 Muharram,” said Jhimri, a 63-year-old street vendor who sells toys and has been associated with the business since childhood. A business that has been passed down from generation to generation.
Every year, Jhimri’s journey is from Jamshoro to Karachi during Muharram. She speaks Gujarati, but her Urdu is good enough for her to deal with customers.
“I was born in Karachi, but moved to Jamshoro after my marriage,” she says Geo.tv“We come to Karachi every year for the last three days of mourning at Muharram.”
Jhimri complains of sleepless nights.
“I’m tired now,” the toy salesman confessed, “It’s hard to make the trip, to live on the streets while we’re here and not make enough money in the process.” At other times, when the 65-year-old closes her eyes, her toys are stolen by local drug addicts.
During Muharram, Jhimri settles by the side of the road, where her family also lives while she works. Her family includes her husband, three sons and their children. While they reside on the sidewalk, people in the neighborhood give them food and clothing to get by.
Today, sitting on her cart, with toys strewn around her, Jhimri shares how different Muharram was when she was younger. Back then, people were nicer and life was easier. But now they camp outside in the heat, surrounded by dirt and trash. Two of Jhimri’s grandchildren recently fell ill from the cheap food they were eating at the hotel.
However, she must continue to come every year because she has to repay the loans taken out by her family. Not only that, it is a family profession for Jhimri and someone has to carry on the family legacy.
Working in sickness or in health
“I don’t like doing this job, but I have to do it for my children,” Rani said. Geo.tv.
No one in her family had ever sold toys, but after marrying her husband, Kishan, and having four children, she was forced to come to Karachi every year during Muharram to make ends meet. It’s his fifth year as a street vendor.
Rani is Jhimri’s daughter-in-law. She and her husband have a separate stand.
The couple spend several months making the toys by hand. “It’s not easy to make toys,” said the mother of four. “We have to get the raw material with our own money or take out loans.” To make a single fur cap or a colorful parrot, they have to buy chicken feathers for Rs 1,000 per kilo and then paint them. While doing a little dhol (drum), requires the labor of six workers, says Kishan.
“The dhol is not easy to do. While one person prepares the main body, another sews it with a thread, and after completing all the steps, we paint it,” he explained, while breastfeeding his youngest daughter, who suffers from diarrhea. .
“Our children are sick,” Rani added, “but we have no choice but to sell all the goods and leave after 10 Muharram.”
hurt by inflation
Leaning against a metallic luxury car in Saddar’s Mansfield Street, Poonam runs her toy stall on the corner of an alley. She lives in Lyari area of Karachi but comes to this place everyday to sell her wares.
“In the evening, when we are done with our sales, we pack up and leave,” she said. Geo.tv“The only night we stay longer is 9 Muharram. During the day, we stay until about 4 am.”
The resident of Lyari belongs to the Hindu community. His family has been selling toys for several decades now. But things are getting tough for her and her family now. Previously, they returned home after selling everything on their cart. Now, few toys are sold.
“It has been difficult for us to make a decent living with commodity rates increasing day by day,” she said.
With inflation and rising prices, Poonam customers are watching their spending. “The most expensive item in my cart is the dhol and the parrot, and both cost around 200 rupees. Even though kids like it, their parents don’t buy these items. Instead, they buy their children a mini dhol for Rs40, because it is the cheapest,” she said.
The boy who sold toys
Teenager Saagar sells children’s toys in Saddar’s Mansfield Street. He comes here every day with his sister, Chanda, and his cousin, Ramesh. All three are residents of Dumba Goth, located near the Super Highway.
Most of the toys Saagar sells are paper, so bad weather means no sales for him.
Since July, Karachi has witnessed periods of heavy downpours and urban flooding. “Rain ruins toys,” he says. “Once they’re soaked in rain, they’re useless. We try to protect them by using a plastic sheet over our carts. But that rarely helps.
Bribes and corrupt cops
Weather and inflation aren’t the only issues facing street vendors in the city. Corrupt police officials are another.
Settled in the shade of a torn sheet, the sisters, Lalita and Samina, spread out toys on a piece of fabric, rather than a wooden cart. Every Muharram, they come to Daud Pota road to sell their toys.
“The police visit us several times a day and demand bribes,” Samina said, adding that the sisters are already earning less these days due to rising prices, and the little that they win is given as bribes.
Kammi, 40, who has a stall across the road, shared the same complaint. “We give more bribes than we earn selling toys,” she said. “We weren’t begging,” Kammi added, “We earn an honest living.”