ISLAMABAD: Mohammad Maskeen has spent around 35 years of his life making and selling ‘gatta’, a traditional local candy.
He has been immensely enjoying the pure merriment of the children while engaging with them in the process of selling his merchandise in different areas of Rawalpindi.
He walks around purposefully, almost four kilometres every day in the city, while selling the candy. The localities situated from Kashmiri Bazaar (Raja Bazaar) to Sir Syed Chowk are the prime focus of his business. He starts his day from Kashmiri Bazaar and generally ends it at Dhok Ratta where he lives.
Prior to developing health issues, which are an outcome of age factor, Maskeen used to manufacture gatta himself at his residence. But since he now can’t do the required labour, he prefers to get it readymade from shopkeepers of Raja Bazaar who solely deal in candy business.
The art of gatta
He also knows the art of making peacock, parrot, hand fan and fan shapes out of the sweet stuff which is carried in a transparent bag along with a stick of bamboo and a pack of straws. A copper bell is always in his hands which he rings to attract children when he is moving around the mohallas.
Ringing of this bell is a signal for the children that now it’s time to get their cravings of the sweet stuff.
They cannot resist the craving for gatta and the parents have to fulfil their desire by purchasing this candy from Maskeen.
This exercise of him starting from eight in the morning till late evening generally makes him exhausted. Whenever he is tired, he puts his merchandise alongside him and takes a rest on some footpath.
Being the father of five children — three sons and two daughters — and an ailing wife, he remains busy throughout the year except the days when it is raining in the city. Exposure of his merchandise to the rain is disastrous for his business.
While speaking to Bol News, the elderly candy seller said that in 1977, he went to Rawalpindi to earn livelihood for his large family after the demise of his father. He had come to Rawalpindi from a remote village of Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
He said during his initial days in Rawalpindi he did a number of jobs to earn his living including selling fruits in the old fruit mandi of Rawalpindi which was situated in Pirwadhai.
Later on, Maskeen learnt the art of making gatta from a person who was in this business for the past many decades.
He added that gatta is traditional candy and generally kids between the age of two to three years and above like to have it.
He also said the dough required for making gatta needs items like sugar, tatri and glucose. He stated that glucose helps to keep this mixture soft which is mandatory for making a variety of items out of it as per the taste and liking of every child. The desired design is wrapped around a straw.
“Since I have become old and cannot afford much labour, I do not make gatta myself anymore and purchase it from some shopkeepers of Raja Bazaar. I generally earn Rs500 to Rs600 every day,” he said.
The candy seller revealed that when he had started selling this gatta, it had the price tag of 25 paisa. “Now this coin has been discarded which earlier used to be termed as ‘char aanay.’ Keeping in view the higher inflation level, the price of my candy seems stable. Nowadays I sell a piece of this candy for Rs10 or Rs20. I sell smaller pieces for Rs10 and larger pieces for Rs20.”
He added that there is nothing more enjoyable than the pure laughter of children when they get gatta in their hands in their desired design.
Responding to a question as to whether he witnessed good days in this business, he commented that in the early ’70s when his father was alive, it was overall an enjoyable thing for him. “However, after my father’s death, I became the elder one in the family; so I had to abandon my school to feed my family. Since then, it has been a period of endless weariness for me without having any comfort in life.”
However, the candy seller thinks that the innocence of children keeps him happy while selling them his sweet delights. He commented that sometimes, elderly persons also approach him to get gatta, which they have to remember their own childhood.
“My wife has been facing health-related issues for the past 15 years and it is a real point of concern for me keeping in view my limited financial resources. Otherwise, I am happy that I am still earning myself and not dependent on anyone for it.”