A veggie seller, converts adversities into opportunities


Kashmir Magazine

 

Attaul Munim Zahid

In summers at around 4 in the morning as people wake up for predawn prayers, Mohammad Ramzan Akhoon leaves his single-story house, trudging along the crackling wooden steps outside the front door. This is his everyday routine.

Adjacent to his house, he opens the door of a little shanty laboriously and reaches out to garb the gunny bags full of vegetables his wife picks from their kitchen garden. A few years ago, the shanty, which has now become a storeroom, served as the only shelter for the Akhoon family, one of the few last surviving families on a patch of land placed in the middle of Dal Lake in Srinagar. Most of the residents who lived there have left in search of better residencies and better facilities in city peripheries.

By the shanty, Akhoon loads the gunnysacks into his small, dilapidated boat, which remains fastened to a slender poplar tree, and starts paddling through the stream of water which passes through his home in Habak, Shanpora of Srinagar and leads him towards the Dal Lake.

After paddling through the murky water, he reaches his spot - a wooden skeleton fixed on the roadside where he sells the vegetables – on the boulevard, on the opposite side of Dal. He spreads a tarpaulin, which he takes off every evening, over the wooden structure and starts to stack up the veggies in front of him in this makeshift shop.

“I have sold vegetables on this spot for over 18 years. However five years ago, I set up this structure for my convenience. I don’t own this roadside but the authorities have never touched my spot”, said Ramzan.

Right next to this makeshift shop, between the roadside and mounds of dredged silt and mud from the lake, is a narrow patch of land where Ramzan has grown turnips.

“In summer, I will sow collard seeds in it. It is like this. For people it is just a usual roadside, for us, it is our livelihood. The situations we face compel us to make adversities into opportunities. Yi Gov Kanni Manz Rizq Kadun (It is like to earn livelihood out of rocks)”, Ramzan continued.

Ramzan has efficiently made sections of the strip and cultivated various varieties on seemingly barren and useless land. He grows turnips, radishes, carrots and collard, among other vegetables on this strip. He has been doing it for nearly eight years now.

“Our kitchen garden is not that big so I came up with this idea to use this muddy mound of lakeside to cultivate vegetables. It does no harm to anyone. The earning from it in desperate times has fed my family”, he said.

In 2014, their shanty was flooded with water. For 3 years the family lived in a single rented room in the neighborhood. Recent times have also been hard for the Akhoon family. With successive lockdowns in Kashmir, the family found it tough to survive.

“Although the produce was abundant, there were no buyers. But I could not have afforded to stay stagnant. I started selling vegetables on a cart in the adjacent areas. That didn’t fetch much but saved my family from starvation”, he said.

 

The younger son of Ramzan, Mashooq, (22) is handicapped by polio. He stays at home with his mother. The responsibility to manage his handicapped brother has always been on Mohammad Iqbal (25), Ramzan’s eldest son. With her mother toiling to grow sellable vegetables in the garden and his father braving the mercurial climate of Kashmir, Iqbal is the only one taking care of his brother at home.

“I love my brother. It is not a burden for me but at times, one gets annoyed at one’s own life. My studies took a hit after 8th. I could not go to school regularly. So I failed in my 10th exams”, Mohammad Iqbal says reclining against a poplar tree in their courtyard.

After some time her mother, Hafeeza, was diagnosed with a back problem and was advised by doctors to avoid her grueling garden work. Subsequently, Iqbal had to furnish his service for their vegetable business, leaving his studies.

“The decision still pains me but the circumstances made it inevitable for me to continue studying. I believe I could have done better in my studies had I continued. But I and my family would have suffered”, Iqbal held.

With a sliver of hope of normalcy, Iqbal decided to leave his family’s business and start working in a clothing shop at Nishat. Iqbal works there as a proprietor to date, and according to his father, contributes to the family income handsomely while Ramzan still runs his vegetable shop on the Boulevard.

“Shukur Khudayas Kun (Thanks to Almighty). It is hard to believe that some years ago we did not have a roof over our heads. Now we have a house to live in. I have an earning son ready to be married off, and I have a nice family. I am thankful after all”, Ramzan said in glee.

 


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