It is around 7am in the morning. The streets of the city are deserted, owing to a complete lockdown. The ringtone of his mobile phone breaks the silence at the apartment of Khalil Nasir, who lives on Abul Hassan Isphani Road.
The call if from Mukhtiar Ahmed, a rickshaw driver who used to give pick-and-drop service to Nasir’s daughter before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ahmed is a father of three children and is in dire need of cash as he’s about to leave the metropolis. He isn’t alone, there’s a convoy of seven rickshaws and families of those rickshaw drivers – all ready to depart to their village, some 80-kilomtre from Rahim Yar Khan in search of livelihood on Thursday morning.
The members of the rickshaw convoy plan to work in a brick kiln, as the port-city has completely shut down the intercity transport and by no means can they meet their ends.
Ahmed pleads Nasir to give him this month’s salary as he’s going to his village along with his wife and three children. Baffled by knowing Ahmed’s means of transportation all the way to a village near Rahim Yar Khan, Nasir tries to convince him not to go and then asks him to get his money the other day in a bid to make him stay.
“We can’t wait. All my household goods, my wife and children are inside the rickshaw and we are about to leave the city,” Ahmed tells Nasir. When Nasir goes down to give him the amount, he is utterly shocked to see the rickshaw is crammed full of steel boxes, utensils and clothes.
“I tried to convince Ahmed that all roads and highways are blocked and he won’t be able to make it, but he was bent on going back to his village,” Nasir tells The News. He adds that Ahmed assured him that he’ll give him a call as soon as he reaches his village.
Sukkur by 7pm
When this correspondent called Ahmed at his mobile number at around 7pm, the convoy had already reached Sukkur. “In a time of crisis, it’s better to be with your own people, hence, I am going back to my village,” he said loudly as he was on highway. “I have three small kids and a wife, and had no means of earning.”
His eldest daughter is six-year old, the younger one is five-year-old and his son is two-year old. “All are sitting on the back seat with mother and are comfortable. The highway is deserted.”
Ahmed has only Rs2,500 in his pocket as he had already purchased petrol and other necessary stuff for travel. “We had cooked rice, which we plan run until we reach our village,” he said on phone.
The family has an extra five-litre bottle of petrol with them and plan to borrow money from other members of the convoy, if need be. “Jab mushkil ati hai, tab zindegi ka pata chalta hai [When you are in trouble, you get to know about the reality of life],” he said, and added that with three kids it was not easy to live in a city like Karachi with no income. “At least being in our village and near to our own people, we can live conveniently.”
When asked about how many people are in other rickshaws, he said: “One rickshaw has at least six to-seven people inside it.” The rickshaw convoy is expected to reach their village by 2:30pm today (Friday).
The Sindh government’s transport department issued a formal notification on March 18 to shut down the inter-city public transport service in the province for 15 days, as part of the precautionary steps to slow down the transmission of the coronavirus in the province. On the mid-night of March 24, the train operation had been suspended throughout the country.
The secretary provincial transport authority, Asad Khokhar, told The News that earlier only inter-city transport was ban to ply on highway, but now vehicles having more than two people are also barred from being plying on the road and exiting the city. “In case of any emergency, there could be exemption.”
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