Being one of those people who are only interested in cars as far as driving them (extremely fast) is concerned, a flat tyre is a pain in the neck; getting one in the middle of Shahra-e-Faisal (the widest and the busiest road in Karachi) is even worse. It was like my worst automotive nightmare come to life! Fortunately for me, a tyre shop was close by so I just took my car there (don’t ask how).
A typical tyre shop here, unlike it’s western counterpart, is a picture of desolation and despair. Everywhere you look, there are oil spills/stains all over the place, even on the ceiling; you can’t help wondering what these guys must have done to get the stains up there. The only adornments are the tools hanging on the walls. The finishing touch is provided by the two bulky machines that seem to be straight out of a sci-fi movie. More often than not, these shops are very small with barely enough standing room for two people. So the remaining assortment of tools is placed outside on the foot-paths; poor pedestrians can do nothing but circumvent all this junk to cross the front of these shops.
Coming back to my problem at hand, as soon as I parked my car in front of the shop, this burly set man came to me and asked what I wanted. I showed him the tyre and told him to repair it for me. He went into the shop and sifting through his tools, came up with a spanner and a car-jack. Turns out, the spanner was the wrong size so he cried out, “Chotay! Doosra paana laa” (meaning: O! Little one, bring the other spanner). Chotay is a name generally bestowed upon assistants or trainees in the tyre trade (or any other vehicle-related trade for that matter). Although the word literally means “Little one”, it is used universally for people as old as thirty-five, but in this case, I was in for a surprise. A boy of no more than nine came out with the other spanner in his hand. The grey color of his shalwar qameez was barely visible as most of it was dyed black with grease (and so was part of his face). When I gave his clothes a closer inspection, he was wearing a school uniform. The irony of this fact hit me in the face like a punch. This boy who should be in school with children his age was wasting away his formative years at a run-down tyre shop. His face showed an expression that lingered between determination and desperation. With a spunk in his gait, he walked up to his Ustaad (or master/trainer) and handed him the spanner. While the man unscrewed all the nuts, this child sat close to him, studying his every move. His curious eyes absorbed everything, left nothing. If he wanted to be a successful apprentice, he would need to do all these things on his own someday.
While I waited for my tyre to be repaired, I noticed one of the other guys in the shop with an open fly. Upon seeing that, I immediately averted my eyes and chose to ignore it, instead of just walking up to the guy and saving him some embarrassment that was to follow shortly. After a minute or so, the little child in the dirty gray uniform happened to notice it too. He immediately burst into fits of uncontrollable laughter and pointing his finger at this guy said, “O Bhai, tumhari zip khuli howi hai” (meaning: O! Mister. Your zipper’s open). The child’s laughter made my heart soar. It was as if a thousand roses decided to bloom all at once, spreading their infectious scent all around. Others enthusiastically joined the child in his laughter while the embarrassed man struggled to zip his fly up, his face flushed red. I looked towards the child and our eyes met briefly; I flashed him a smile. What came back to me was a smile filled with hopes and dreams of someday making it into the big leagues. Children are generally optimists, always keeping their minds open to new ideas and infinite possibilities, and this child was no exception. For this little guy, it would be to one day owning a tyre shop, or being one of the senior mechanics at best.
As I sat back and reflected on this child, I could only assume what sensory pleasures this innocent soul was being deprived of. His little hands meant to hold books are holding tyre irons instead. His eyes that should be spinning dreams of a brighter future can only soak in the desperation lurking all around him. His ears that should be reveling in the laughter of his peers can only find solace in the constant bickering of his Ustaad. His tongue that should be enjoying the deliciousness of candy can only taste the bitterness of residual grease on his hands that he accidentally ingests. His nose, originally meant to inhale the sweetness of flowers, can only smell his own sweat while toiling in the hot Karachi sun.
This certainly isn’t the first instance I bump into a child like him (and it sure won’t be the last); we see plenty of them all around Karachi, some picking trash for a living while some begging their hearts out, wooing rich people into handing them a rupee or two. Such children are not only being deprived of their education, they are also being deprived of their childhood, growing up too fast too soon, while attempting to take the full burden of their domestic responsibilities.