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Published in the 16-31 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Hawking as a way of life
Who says hawking is a waste of one's education? In fact, hawking is turning out to be a good source of livelihood for millions of Muslims in India says M H Lakdawala

Mumbai: Nazir Darvesh, 24, graduate in Hotel Management, specialised in Chinese and Thai food, and is today doing roaring business and his clientele includes the who’s who of Mumbai’s glitterati. 

Javed Shaikh 26, textile designer from SASMIRA Institute of Textile Designing is turning into a rage in the fashion world among the local Muslims of South Mumbai and his ready-made garments sell at a hefty premium.

In the Muslim community, talent is available in abundance. But city planners and politicians must recognise them and provide these youngsters the guidance to organise themselves. Just a bit of assistance and support will help them go a long way in serving society in the best possible way. 

Danish Khan 24, is a commerce graduate with a Diploma in Business Management, but sells vegetables. His customer list inflates every passing month. 

What is unique about these three youngsters? Consider this, Nazir, Javed and Danish do not have posh offices or shops-all the three operate from the street, the footpath or the road corner, all the three have invested the minimum and all the three are quite successful and making substantial profits. They are hawkers, but refined and sophisticated. But are they not embarrassed to hawk their goods despite being educated and could have easily got some jobs in multinational companies? Are they not wasting their education? Are they not encroaching the precious footpath depriving citizens of their rights? 

Islamic Voice spoke to them to get their views on these. Javid struggled to find a suitable place after he graduated as a textile designer in 1995. " I hunted for a decent job for three years and was forced by circumstances to pursue clerical work. Since most of the textile mills are locked or on the verge of closure, my future was bleak," says Javed. His wife, Sarah advised him to make use of his talent by manufacturing garments on a small scale. Sarah’s uncle had a roadside stall near Andheri station and on her request, Javid was granted space next to the stall to display his readymade shirts and trousers. "Since I was professionally trained, my ready-made shirts and trousers were appreciated and sales picked up from the second month onwards. Even if I had found a placement in a prestigious textile industry, I could have never earned what I am earning now," says Javed. 

Nazir could have easily found a job in any of the numerous hotels, but his dream was to set up his own restaurant and the only hitch was finance. His father, a manager with a nationalised bank could have arranged for the loans, but the investments were beyond their reach. Nazir conducted a survey of restaurants offering Thai food and arrived at the conclusion that most of them were beyond the reach of the middle class. He approached a couple of Chinese food stalls and offered them his expertise if they entered into a partnership. One of the Chinese food stall at Bandra agreed and Nazir’s Thai food became a hit soon. In a short span of a few months, Nazir’s Thai food began to attract clientele from all sections — the middle-class to the glitterati. "My USP is authentic Thai food, hygienic conditions, decent ambience all at affordable rates," says Nazir. "My dream of opening my own restaurant is now a reality," confesses Nazir confidently. 

Danish Khan, armed with a post-graduate diploma in Business Management was all set to take charge of the family travel agency business. But recession put an obstacle to their expansion plans and Danish suddenly found himself unemployed. Danish convinced his father to let him set up the vegetable business just outside their shop at Juhu. "Initially my dad was hesitant and was worried about what people would think about a post-graduate youngster selling vegetables on the street,’ says Danish. 

But his business plan made all the difference. Instead of selling vegetables, Danish sold a concept. His business strategy was to select the best quality vegetable at the source, pack them attractively and sell them at a price no one could complain about. Within six months, Danish was able to attract around 150 customers who became his regular customers. "With free home delivery service and good quality, business is growing. As I do not have adequate space, I am not marketing or advertising. Once I earn and save enough, I would implement my expansion plans," reveals Danish. Surveys and studies point out that in the 21st century, jobs will come mainly from services and that too mainly in self-employment. No doubt, hawking is not often regarded as a proper job, but in reality, it involves minimum investment with maximum returns. 

A few years ago, a survey was conducted by a popular magazine on the educated unemployed. It interviewed several graduates selling bananas on the streets of Delhi who complained that since jobs were simply not available, they discovered that selling bananas was a perfectly productive job. 

Labour surveys show that the percentage of jobs in the organised sector is shrinking, and of casual jobs is increasing. Madhu Kishwar who has spearheaded the movement for liberating hawkers and cycle rickshaws from the licence-permit raj of municipalities has shown that such jobs are the very core of the Indian city life. She estimates that Delhi alone has five to six lakh hawkers. Given that each breadwinner typically supports a family of five or six, Kishwar estimates that hawking alone sustains 2.5 million to 3 million people. 
So who says hawking is a waste of one’s education. In fact, hawking is turning out to be a good source of livelihood for millions of Muslims. 

Khan told this correspondent that within the first four days of Ramadan, he had recovered his investment. " Tell me which job will fetch me Rs. 1000 everyday. In a single month, I am able to earn enough to sustain me throughout the year," he says. 

Not only food items or consumer goods, even service and talent is quite visible at the street corner-you name it and Mumbai has it-plumber to computer repairs, civil engineer to advocate, artist to coolies all operate from the street corner with no office or infrastructure. A visit to Chor Bazar in South Mumbai is enlightening as one can spot Rais Ahmed, a hardware engineer fixing computer snags. His uncle who has a furniture shop has allotted a table space outside the shop to help him operate from there. " As I am the only hardware engineer available in the locality, many a time I had to refuse inquiries due to overload of work," says Rais. 

In the Muslim community, talent is available in abundance. But city planners and politicians must recognise them and provide these youngsters the guidance to organise themselves. Just a bit of assistance and support will help them go a long way in serving society in the best possible way. «

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