The Charm of Road­side Ven­dors

Enterprise - - Issue -

As com­pared to those who are paid on a monthly ba­sis, the daily wage earner’s life is a lot more un­pre­dictable, chal­leng­ing and un­pro­duc­tive in terms of earn­ing a liv­ing. The lives of the 2.5 mil­lion daily wage earn­ers in Pak­istan are far more vul­ner­a­ble to the changes in the so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic struc­ture as com­pared to oth­ers. A huge num­ber of th­ese daily wage earn­ers con­sist of road­side ven­dors sell­ing items rang­ing from bun kababs to old shoes and bags.

A look across the coun­try re­veals that their con­di­tion has un­der­gone some sig­nif­i­cant changes in the past few years. Most of them claim that although their sales have in­creased, yet due to in­fla­tion, the cost of their goods as well as their other ex­penses has in­creased, thereby re­duc­ing their profit mar­gins.

Th­ese ven­dors are ex­tremely dis­traught due to the wors­en­ing sit­u­a­tion in cities like Karachi. The fre­quent strikes and ri­ots and the fear of hav­ing their stalls set on fire, is a ma­jor hin­drance in their in­come.

Sha­keel, who makes shawarma rolls in Ba­hadurabad com­plains that the strikes ruin the en­tire week. Of­ten the food he pre­pares be­comes stale dur­ing the days of long strikes when there are few or no cus­tomers. Although he re­fused to dis­close his daily in­come, he did say that he made a profit of 500 ru­pees. Out of this, he has to give a fixed sum of money to the com­mu­nity leader, fur­ther re­duc­ing his prof­its.

Many peo­ple say that road­side ven­dors should be aware of the ill ef­fects of the un­hy­gienic food they sell. How­ever, peo­ple who do buy food from th­ese stalls are not both­ered about hy­giene. The hy­giene-con­scious crowd gen­er­ally avoids th­ese road­side eater­ies.

In many ar­eas th­ese ven­dors con­tinue to sell their stuff de­spite the strict laws. They sim­ply en­croach side­walks and carry on their busi­ness, hav­ing grat­i­fied the po­lice­man on duty. No won­der, there is lit­tle success in re­mov­ing th­ese road­side ven­dors.

The lo­ca­tion of busi­ness is a cru­cial as­pect for ev­ery ven­dor. The best point is near a school or col­lege, a mall or com­mer­cial area. Apart from taste and af­ford­abil­ity, the lo­ca­tion helps in win­ning cus­tomers. Due to the pop­u­lar­ity of Saleem’s ’ Gola l ganda, the Dho­raji round­about has be­come known as the ‘Gola Ganda’ round­about. When Saleem’s and other stalls were re­moved from that area, they protested for a week and the au­thor­i­ties even­tu­ally gave up and ven­dors re­turned to their favourite lo­ca­tion.

When forced to move to a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion, while the ven­dors who protest, their cus­tomers also sup­port them. Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted by Gallup Pak­istan, 69 per­cent of the re­spon­dents said that the ven­dors should not be done away with as sell­ing food and other items on wheels is a very com­mon phe­nom­e­non. The sur­vey also re­vealed that street-side ven­dors were far more com­mon in ur­ban ar­eas as com­pared to the ru­ral ar­eas.

De­spite the strict rules im­posed by DHA against push­cart ven­dors, French Fries seller Al­lah Warsi Jan ex­plains the rea­sons be­hind his un­will­ing­ness to switch to other lo­ca­tions. The po­lice has of­ten con­fis­cated his stall and he has had to pay 5000 ru­pees to get it back. Warsi Jan earns a sur­pris­ingly higher amount than ven­dors in Ba­hadurabad or Naz­imabad - around 1500-2000 ru­pees daily.

Omar Waqar, a fruit ven­dor in Badar Com­mer­cial in DHA saysays the po­lice is in­volved in the col­lec­tion of ex­tor­tion money from th­ese poor ven­dors on a monthly ba­sis. Since the com­mer­cial lo­ca­tion is bet­ter for sales, mov­ing to a res­i­den­tial area would be sui­ci­dal for them. Omar says they have to be ex­tremely vig­i­lant to avoid be­ing spot­ted by the DHA au­thor­i­ties as they do not take ex­tor­tion money and just re­move the stalls from the area.

It is also im­por­tant for a ven­dor to stick to one lo­ca­tion to keep cus­tomers. Karachi­ites have a ten­dency to re­fer to a place by its well-known land­mark or by push­cart ven­dor, such as Ben­gali Baba’s pan shop in New Town, Sa­j­jad’s Tasty Burger on Khaya­bane-Shah­baz, Ma­jju’s Bun Kabab in Rizvia Mar­ket and Saleem’s Gola Ganda at Dho­raji round­about.

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