Blind man runs successful footpath business

Habibur Rahman with Andrew Eagle

It can hardly be morning in Pirojpur’s Brammonkathi village if Pankaj Kumar Bikram, 44, isn’t moving house to house buying eggs. He’s done it every day for the last fifteen years, as sure as the sun rises. By afternoon Bikram is by habit positioned on the footpath beside Pirojpur town’s Damodar Bridge reselling the eggs. It’s how he supports his five-member family. It could be the story of many a footpath businessman, it would be unremarkable were Bikram not blind.

“When I was seven my eyes were injured while playing,” Bikram says. “I was prescribed the wrong medicine. I lost my sight.”

Bikram however has three great blessings. One is the inner determination he found to live as normal a life as possible. The second is a supportive family. Thirdly, Bikram belongs to Pirojpur, which his life history proves is a strong community. His business success is a team effort.

Before marriage, it was Bikram’s mother who helped her son. “Nowadays,” he says, “My wife and children also help.” Each morning it’s either his eight-year-old daughter Nisha Bikram or his mother Renu Bala Bikram who accompany him to collect eggs.

Then Bikram relies on the village rickshaw drivers. “They help me reach the market,” he says. “They know I go to town at 2 pm and return at night, at 10 or 11 pm. I couldn’t do it without their help.”

As at home, Bikram has learnt to negotiate the market without assistance; but when it comes to selling the eggs, Bikram has found allies in neighbouring footpath businesspeople. “I have been running my own footpath business for the last three years,” says Profullo Kumar, 50, of Khumuria village in Pirojpur municipality. “Pankaj Bikram always sits beside me.”

Kumar, while selling gaja sweetmeats, helps Bikram. “Some people will cheat him,” Kumar says, “They don’t pay him properly. But when I am present they can’t.”

“The physically challenged people who beg on the roadside should follow Bikram’s lead,” Kumar says. “They can do business.”

Another footpath entrepreneur, Mili Akter is likewise impressed. “Bikram is different to other people with disabilities,” she says. “I can’t believe how a blind man can work as he does!”

Of course Bikram also needs determination. It’s something he’s always had.

“We weren’t well-off,” Bikram recalls. “After I lost my sight I used to climb people’s areca and coconut palms, harvesting nuts to earn a little money for my family.” But he found it difficult to earn enough with small jobs and besides, many villagers, thinking of his risk were reluctant to involve him.

He didn’t give up. “I don’t like to be a burden,” he says, “So I decided to run my own business.”

Ten years ago Bikram married Anita of Rajapur upazila in Jhalakathi. “My husband has no problem except his eyesight,” says Anita. “I thought that he is a man and why should he be deprived of a normal family life just because of his eyes. So I agreed to marry him.” Anita’s family also agreed.

It’s not a decision she regrets. “I love him deeply,” Anita Bikram says. “I never feel uneasy to be his wife. We are happy.”

These days Bikram’s main concern is his children’s education. “After expenses I can’t earn more than Tk 200 per day,” he says, “The price of necessities is increasing. To cover education costs for my daughter is difficult.”

Nisha Bikram studies in Class II. Her younger brother Prodip will commence study in coming years.

Ever the entrepreneur, Bikram wonders if he could open a grocery shop somehow, in order to better manage school costs. But with no land beyond household yard he’s not sure how to raise the capital.

For now, he has taken to diversification. According to the season Bikram sells other items besides eggs. To find him by the bridge this winter is to see him selling sweetened fried rice balls, a snack locally called moa, which family members prepare.

Bikram has never known if it is possible to restore his eyesight. He’s never had the money to have them properly examined, he says. What he has done is to create a life for himself and his family befitting his determination and industriousness.

The future may hold uncertainties. But of one thing any visitor to Pirojpur can be sure: if they do encounter physically challenged beggars such as can be found on many a Bangladeshi roadside, Bikram won’t be among them. As sure as the sun rises…

Source: The Daily Star. Date: January 11 2016

http://www.thedailystar.net/country/blind-man-runs-successful-footpath-business-202240