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Kishore: living prudently

Kishore: 'Poor people only can imagine the issues of the poor.'

Kishore is 30, married with two children, and the owner of a small shop. His father was addicted to hashish and seems to have left them when the children were young; his mother brought them all up, her only income from begging.

He sees three main factors that keep people poor: lack of education; living in a slum environment; and their own “extravagance”. Indeed, he is fiercely critical of the way poor people “invite” further impoverishment, by imprudent borrowing and spending money they don’t have on big families, expensive clothes, elaborate weddings and funerals.

Kishore suffered years of pain and ill-health from a kidney stone due to his mother’s fear of x-rays and hospitals: he sees this as an example of the human cost of illiteracy and ignorance. This seems to have been a powerful motivating factor in his determination to break out of such poverty.

I have a retail shop in my own mohallah (neighbourhood). Whatever the income is, the household runs on it.

Prior to this, life was very hard. The institution of CARITAS (international relief, development and social service organisation) came to help. Its policy was very good. They [asked] those who are helpless, poor and in trouble as to what is the nature of their problems, how would they like to seek a remedy…

Actually, big people seldom understand the issues of the poor. Poor people only can imagine the issues of the poor. CARITAS believed that the poor should be consulted [about] how their poverty could be eliminated…

We Pakistanis and poor people in particular have the habit of expecting [help] from others… we want this, we want that… We always like that we should get a lot of money from others to open a business. Anyway, CARITAS helped people run a business, got schools open for education. Thus we got so much benefit from them…

“We spend more on everything”

The katchi abadies (squatter settlements) should be pulled down. If you have a ‘roadside house’ (in a planned development), you may need 8 to 10 feet of wire to install an electric meter [costing] 100 or 200 rupees. But, in katchi abadies, the houses are spread out; sometimes you are 400 metres away from the point of connection…a full cable will not even suffice. If you get a meter installed inside the house, you will need one more cable…

The electricity meter has already been sanctioned, with a lot of trouble… [but] see how far it is from the electricity pole? The pole cannot be fixed in narrow streets [because] children…can be electrocuted. We tried… But some knowledgeable people advised us not to get it done because the streets are too narrow.

If the roads and streets are wider, all facilities can come to the area. For example, the government has sanctioned pavements [for this area]…but the labourers say that “Your streets are so narrow that our hand-trolleys cannot enter… So we will have to lift earth on our head. We will have to employ two labourers instead of one. So you should also give us some extra money…”

So, in katchi abadies, we spend more on everything.

Being poor brings extra costs

If you go for a water connection, the same thing occurs. They say, the distance is long, so a long pipe will be needed. The houses are 300 to 400 feet away from the point of connection. The government-owned pipeline is far away… [and] cannot be brought inside narrow streets…

The pipe alone required for our streets costs 5000 rupees. You will have to seek permission for it. You will have to fix a motor [which] will also not work beyond one day, because the distance is so much that the motor develops faults. And then sometimes the water will come and sometimes not.

So, there is extra expenditure on everything here. One cannot progress… Suppose we want to have a rickshaw [to earn a living], we cannot bring it here in our house. The lanes are narrow. So we have to park the rickshaw at the petrol pump or at some shop, for which we will have to pay rent. [But] if we have a house on a roadside or if the lanes of our area were wider, we could bring our rickshaw right within our house. People talk about poverty, poverty: it is because our expenses are higher.

Living in an unplanned development

The katchi abadi is a settlement that is not registered. The Government says get it registered, and get the registration papers. Some people have got the papers; others haven’t. Actually katchi abadies have no planning [because they are] un-registered.

When there is planning…the roads are marked, maps are made [and] they have a housing society. There is a Marriage Hall, there is a school. Engineers come to do such work: from here the pipe will go; from here the road will be built; the place for school is this; there will be a hospital here.

In katchi abadies, the houses and shops and anything else is constructed wherever it is easy. So there is no planning: a shop will be there where a house is, a cabin will be in the middle of the road, and illegal occupations will ruin the whole area. There will be no roads for vehicles… [no space between houses]…

Previously we had no law or order. These days, the situation is better. The spread of education has helped us. But…people fight each other over demarcation of streets. Disputes take place because of the small houses, on the issue of electricity etc…

Living within your means

The poor also need education, which should teach them that if they are poor they should not wear expensive clothes. They should wear…cloth worth 25 rupees a metre. But they will wear cloth costing 50 or 60 rupees per metre. And if there is a wedding ceremony, they will purchase new clothes. If another marriage takes place a month later, they will again purchase new clothes…

Now there are some schools here…schools of CARITAS for example. There must be some lecture programme in which the poor should be taught to live according to their means…. Look, there is a hut nearby. You will find Sony TV there worth 13,000 rupees. They need not purchase such an expensive TV. They can purchase a Chinese TV that will cost 3000 rupees. It is better they have black and white TV…

“Extravagant” ways

So the acts of the poor are also responsible for their poverty. Also, they are living in katchi abadies and have no education, due to which they are poor.

Most people here are shoe-makers earning 100 to 200 rupees. They invest in shoe polish, leather and iron tools… Some business earns a profit of 10% or 5%… They purchase a pack of polish at 10 or 15 rupees. If they polish 20 pairs of shoes, they earn 100 rupees. If they bring second-hand shoes, repair and sell them, they can earn up to 300 rupees. But if they spend with extravagance, they will land in trouble [and if] they take money on interest…this is another mistake…

Meanwhile, some other problems will arise…some disease [or] some wedding ceremony at which they will wear rich clothes… I don’t attend marriages away from here. I am a poor man. I have not attended marriages of my relatives. But if there is a marriage in the mohallah, I spend on it as fits my capacity…Sometimes, I simply offer [guests] water with love. I sit down to have a gossip with them… To show courtesy is also a form of service. It doesn’t mean that I have not attended to a guest.

But do you know what [others] will do? They will cook chicken for breakfast. They will eat meat with chicken at lunch; and at night they have mutton. The next day again the same menu will continue…

Secondly, marriages here take place for three long days; and guests come to stay for one whole week. The guests must also realise that we are poor people [and] if they stay here for one week, their own job would be disturbed, and the expenditure of the hosts will also increase… This is what the people of CARITAS had been lecturing about. I think many people have learnt a lot from it. Such education should be made common in every mohallah…

“Their misdeeds make them poor”

My younger brother…polishes shoes. Recently, I have got him married. I told my mother not to get him married because he is not an earning man. But she said I am an old woman, I may die anytime, and people will say that she didn’t get any of her offspring married…Now, he is married, but he doesn’t give money to his wife [or] for household expenses. If he earns 5 rupees, he spends it on snooker.

Recently, he earned some more money, so he purchased a pair of shoes at 700 rupees. Then he wanted a TV [so] he started saving money. But, before he could get the money (10,000 rupees) from the savings committee, he purchased a TV with a loan. Naturally, the one who has given a TV on loan…might charge double price.

Now, after having TV, his expenditure has been increased by 200 rupees more per month. He has sought a cable for the TV. Now he cannot pay the 20 rupees per day for the savings committee. So, if he pays for the cable, he cannot pay the committee. Now he is stuck with a dilemma. So he decided to sell his shoes. He had purchased them at 700 rupees; but he sold them at 150 rupees out of need. [Some people] invite poverty. Their misdeeds make them poor. The poor man should behave as a poor man…

Breaking away from caste occupation

My work is going well… The house is also running well…My sales range between 1500 to 2000 rupees; thus I earn a profit ranging between 300, 350 or 400 rupees…I was unoccupied prior to [the shop]. Shoe-making had been our caste occupation; we used to have shoe-making tools in our house so I used them sometimes, but not with interest…

It was a job of roaming about, in hot and cold weather…and asking people, “Should I polish your shoes?” Some people used to chide us, some called for the polish, and others refused. I disliked the chiding, and moving about in [all] weather…

When the people of CARITAS met me, they gave me money to run a business; they also opened an adult literacy school [where I worked]. Thus I had two jobs…Then I started working for a newspaper; now I had three jobs… when my shop started going well, I bought a refrigerator [so] when the shop was established, I gave up the newspaper work. Meanwhile, the adult literacy centre was closed…

Family responsibilities

[Before marriage] I used to polish shoes by roaming the streets; after marriage, I settled down in one place… Before marriage, I was addicted to naswaar (snuff) and paan (nut, spices, lime and other ingredients wrapped in betel leaf and chewed; mild stimulant). After marriage, I gave it up. I realised that I not only live for myself, but for my wife, for my ensuing offspring as well.

By then, I used to earn 10 or 15 rupees; and used to hand over all the money to my wife. [Now] I have a shop with a fridge containing cold drinks, a cold corner with Kulfa (local ice cream). We have Kulfa worth 1 and 5 rupees. There is no sale of expensive things here. I also put water in the fridge; the next day, I sell the ice that is made.

[Today] my retail shop opens at 6 am and closes at 11 am. I am busy with that work. My nephew also works there… My two brothers used to work with me; but I assigned one of them to work as a master tailor…I also made him literate. Our father left us in infancy; and my mother said we cannot afford to give education to the children. So I tried to educate my younger brother…

Usually when a brother gets married, he only spends on his wife and children… But I did not follow this common pattern. I spent money on my brothers and sisters, and got them educated. I got my younger sister educated up to Middle Standard… [My] brother has learnt the work of tailoring [and has been] working in a tailoring shop for four months… I brought another man to work in my shop.

“Our father did nothing for us”

We used to live among….people addicted to charas (hashish) or hemp or liquor. Drunkards were many…[but] my father was addicted to charas. So he did not earn much. Our house used to run on the earnings of my mother, through begging. Whatever our upbringing was, it was all the doing of our mother; our father did nothing for us. Our [home] was a single room built on a plot of 400 square feet. It was awarded…to my mother by our paternal grandmother. So we had a lot of difficulties.

My elder brother had a hole in the heart…It was said that there was no remedy…Even if there was a treatment, we were poor, and thus my brother passed away. After that I developed a stone in my kidney. I was 8 to 12 years old. But I did not have an X-ray because my mother was frightened…

She was illiterate; she used to say I don’t know how the X-ray will be taken. And secondly, it was because of an X-ray that the hole in the heart of my elder brother came to light, [so] she was frightened by it.

Fear and ignorance prolong suffering

So I endured the pain of a kidney stone for a period of 10 or 15 years… [Then] when I worked at a showroom…the seth (owner)…asked me about my trouble.. So he took me…to the civil hospital, where he got my X-rays done…they said your kidney has been worn out because you did not go for an X-ray for years…

Then my [boss]…quarreled with my family [and] said you must take him for an operation. But our people…thought I might die…After all they were illiterate. So for two more years I suffered…my mother used to say….We’ll do it [later]…We are saving money…but actually they had no such intention. Meanwhile they brought a powder from a hakeem (local healer) …But there was no relief.

So one day my boss came to our house. He threatened my family [and] assured us that he would pay for my operation [and] would give us wages for the days I was in the hospital…only after that they took me for the operation.

So this way I underwent a lot of distress [and] developed some mental problems…perhaps because of the severe pain…our illiteracy and my tender age…. you know, one feels shock at the situation. Can’t we get education? Can’t we have a better environment? Can’t we build a good society? Why can’t we have business opportunities?

Family planning and prudence

I was married in 1997. I have two children. I also controlled the birth of children. There are many people who married a long time after [us]; but they have as many as four children… Look how much expenditure is there on a delivery [and] if anyone has four children, all four will fall sick at the same time. The doctor will charge a separate fee for each child.

If you purchase clothes, you will have to spend [money on] all four children; four pairs of shoes will have to be bought. So, the expenses will increase, isn’t it? And then they will have no money but more children. As a result, they will land in trouble. They will have to educate them. They will have to get them married…

[My marriage?] Nobody was ready to give me their daughter. Some said he is a mad man…He is a shoe-polisher. He has no money. How will he run the house? In our clan, many people got married at the age of 12. But I married when I was 22 or 23. It was because of my paternal grandmother that I married…[she] borrowed money from others. We had no money; my mother was a beggar.

Opportunities for girls

In the past, the older women used to beg; the younger ones used to do nothing. But when people of CARITAS came and opened handicraft centres here, they started learning embroidery… sewing and many crafts.

We still have no work for the boys. But our girls make rillies (patchwork quilts made by women in Sindh) for household use; and then they also work for others… Mostly the women here work at home… Many girls from our mohallah study in schools and learn in handicraft centres. One of them has opened a handicraft centre of her own…

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.


Kishore: living prudently is produced as part of the Living with poverty: Pakistan oral testimony project.


Allah Bux: older generation

Basran: desperate times

Chhutta: migrant’s tale

Fatima: vulnerable lives

Hodat: diversifying business

Karim Bux: lacking support

Khamiso: looking back

Kishore: living prudently

Mircho: losing dignity

Nasreen: just surviving

Nazeer: high standards

Salma: independent spirit

Key themes

Introduction to the project

Loans and debt

Survival strategies

The cost of poverty

Environmental decline


Political representation


Insecurity and conflict


Food security and health