Inspiration Pakistan: Pakistani Entrepreneurship

Posted on April 12, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, People, Society, Women
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Adil Najam

Reader Akif Nizam sent me this story last week. His email said that he found it “quite amusing and just plain feel-gooding.” I agree. I also think that sometimes it is good to talk about the feel-good.

Having said that, I also think that what follows is more than just ‘feel-good’ material. This is about the Pakistanis and the Pakistaniat that we so routinely fail to celebrate and honor.

The heroine of this story is special; not because she is unique, but because she is just one of so many whose struggles and triumphs we forget to honor. But read carefully – on the one hand this is the tale of an encroachment; on the other it is a tale of struggle for existence with dignity, with hard work, with a ready smile… and, of course, with good food.

For those who despair about Pakistan: look at our heroine here and be proud of Pakistanis like her. To those who wonder what, if anything, can be done to make things better: think about what an entrepreneur like her would be able to do if she had real opportunities… An investment in social capital more than in venture capital. What if she could get a real shop-front rather than be forced to encroach on government land. Maybe investing in a few entrepreneurs like her would have greater payoffs than building tall towers and seven star hotels!

So, here in full, is the story from The News.

Woman of Substance

By Aroosa Masroor

If one craves homemade lunch at a workplace, then “Amma’s thela” is perhaps the best possible choice. Parked under one of the pedestrian bridges on Shahrah-e-Faisal, ‘Amma,ââ ‚¬â„¢ as it is popularly known, is owned by 46-year-old Tarammisa, a roadside vendor who has been selling homemade food in the commercial areas near Jason Trade Centre for more than 10 years. Not only has she earned a reputation among employees of different companies due to her friendly nature, but the food is also famous for its quality.

“I don’t see them as clients, they are like my sons,” she says of her customers. A mother of seven daughters, Tarammisa was compelled to come out on streets after her eldest daughter was burnt to death by her in-laws, leaving behind two children. Due to limited literacy skills, Tarammisa had few alternatives to earn and raise her grandchildren. “My husband was unemployed because he was sick. Street vending seemed to be the only option available,’ she revealed.

Her business, she says, kicked off on the very first day, perhaps because the office workers needed a change from the food they were used to. “I think the location counts a lot. I realised this kind of food was the need of the hour and so I chose to set up a food stall.” Today, regardless of their official status, a majority of the office workers are her regular customers.

But this 10-year-long journey has not been easy for her. When Tarammisa first set up the stall, the pedestrian bridge was not built to provide her with a shade. “The summers were especially difficult. The heat of the sun affected the ready-made food but I managed somehow. Today, by the grace of God, the city government has chosen this spot for the construction of a bridge. My clients and I feel much more comfortable now,” she smiles.

Moreover, she is one of the lucky few whose stall has not been removed from the area. “My set-up is an encroachment of public space,” she admits, but adds that she has no option. “I don’t have enough money to pay the rent of a shop.” However, she discloses that, “there was a time when the police used to harass me and even confiscated my stall for a few days. I had to recover it from the police station nearby. After that incident, a lot of people in the area who had become fond of my food came forward to support me. I have not been harassed ever since,” she says adding that she is grateful for the respect the office workers have given her.

She also pointed out that she sells food during busy hours of the day from 2.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. and workers enjoy eating the variety of dishes she brings everyday. “After a whole day of struggle when I’m at home, I take only 30 to 40 minutes to relax and have my tea, and then start preparing food for the next day. I buy my weekly ration on Sundays,” she adds.

The small-scale entrepreneur added that earlier she used to make some money through stitching, but she was not able to save enough for her daughter’s wedding. “Now I earn about 200 to 300 rupees which is quite sufficient.” With this kind of earning in the last 10 years she has been able to marry-off all her daughters and educate her grandchildren.

Her husband and grandsons help her transport the cooking utensils from home to her stall and back. A victim of several old-age diseases, the proud, Amma, however, refuses to give up. “I cannot think of spending a single day without feeding these workers. I consider this bridge a second home since I spend most of time here,” concluded Tarammisa.

17 responses to “Inspiration Pakistan: Pakistani Entrepreneurship”

  1. Adil Najam says:

    Pervaiz, thanks for asking about the picture. I should have mentioned. This is a famous paintin by Sadequain… I think in pencil. I have been meaning to do a post on Sadequain but since I have not gotten around to it, I thought I should at least put this piece of art up.

  2. Jabir Khan says:

    Hats off to the lady, who is successfully struggling, in face of a cruel system,’loot khsoot’ of the elite and their ‘intellectual’ enablers.

  3. Faraz says:

    This to me is not a feel-good story. On the contrary, it makes me feel bad for being blessed with such a comfortable life. From time to time, we need to be reminded of people like Tarammisa. Kudos to her and countless other hard-working people struggling to survive in this country.

  4. sidhas says:

    I liked the story of a struggling women worker but to be honest with you her story is story of many millions of people. Except for small rich and middle class, every pakistani is struggling to earn a decent living. It is a pity but that is a cruel reality of our beloved nation. We must pay tribute to men and women of Pakistan who struggle daily to earn a living.

    One way to pay tribute to our hard working men and women is to pay respect to our own hired help. The women folks who come to for cleaning/washing in almost every middle class house. We pay them less and but do not forget to heap work while harrassing them the sametime.

    Jeeway Pakistan

  5. Babar says:

    Great story. Ah I miss the food trucks of Cambridge.

    Incidentally I recently also wrote on a similar topic … about the Grameen phone in Bangladesh and how it helped rural women. ell-phone-is-like-a-cow/

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