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The man on the Mall

Hamid Ali Khan has been selling and repairing pens on the Mall Road for the past 44 years now. He can neither leave his profession nor the place

The man  on the Mall
A self-trained worker. — Photo by Rahat Dar

If you a regular commuter on the Mall Road, you must have noticed an old man perched in a corner, next to the main gate of Zarai Taraqqiati Bank near GPO. This is his little stall where he sells ball point pens to the few odd customers. But more than that, he waits for clients who want their pens repaired.

Meet Hamid Ali Khan, 61, who has been a permanent feature of the area since 1973.

Initially, he would sit near the Lahore High Court building, where he prepared name plates for office uses. In those times, he had friends who would repair Parker, Schaeffer and other expensive pens. Most of them would sit next-door, which is how he started taking interest in the craft.

Khan fondly remembers Iqbal Sahib who encouraged him to start helping with repair work in his spare time. Back then, it was a lucrative job as ink pens were in vogue. Today, Khan believes very few people visit him. Though, he hasn’t left the spot.

“I sometimes feel I am just killing time, but I don’t mind,” he tells TNS. “I like this work. Even if I have very few clients, I come here every day. This is my livelihood.”

He says he doesn’t want to become dependent on his sons. “Till my death, I hope to be able to hold this place and attend my clients.”

Khan has three sons and two daughters but none of them is interested in this profession.

Once in a while, a client comes along with a damaged pen and Khan gets down to work. There were very few people who repaired damaged pens, not only in Lahore but in Pakistan. People from all over the country would come to the Mall Rd where three of them sat. Now all of them are dead except Hamid Ali Khan who is determined to continue in this job till his last breath.

He knows that times have changed and his clientele has shrunk over the years, as people have lost interest in fountain pens.

He claims to have repaired not only Parker and Schaeffer but many other costly, vintage pens to the satisfaction of his clients. He doesn’t remember anyone dealing with damaged pens these days as very few people use ink pens now.

The arrival of ball point pens proved to be a deathblow to his work. He does not reveal how much he earns now because of the dwindling number of clients. Yet he appears content.

Altaf 2

A self-taught man, Khan is not loath to give credit to Iqbal Sahib who “recognised my talent and honed my skills.”

He says he has been a silent spectator as he has witnessed many upheavals while sitting on the Mall, “Idher hum ne bohat dramay hotay dekhay!” (I have witnessed many a dramatic incidents here). For instance, he recounts the cataclysmic day Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged, and how the atmosphere was sombre. But he went on working that day despite the disturbances.

He knows that times have changed and his clientele has shrunk over the years, as people have lost interest in fountain pens. One naturally questions: is he in love with his profession or the bustling thoroughfare that is the Mall Road? “It’s a difficult question to answer,” he says. Perhaps, he can’t leave both.

Altaf Hussain Asad

altaf asad
The author is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.

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