Lyari, one of the most volatile towns of the country, is filled with stories of poverty, crime, and neglect. In all these hardships, the resilience of this town’s residents has never wavered.
It may have got a reputation for gangs and football, but for many of its people that is not an option. They work hard to make ends meet, but not every time they succeed in doing so. Still, they prefer destitution over crime.
Nabeel Ahmad is one of these resilient individuals. Given his resolve, talent, and diligence, he has become an inspiration for many. He started off as a daily-wage laborer, becoming a Leva dancer alongside, and making it for the first time to Coke Studio’s Hawa Hawa, as an artist; beating dholki.
Born in Lyari, youngest of 10 children, he had opened his eyes in violence, volatility, and hardships. Throughout his life, the tide never seemed to favor him. However, he managed to have his own way with the tide.
Throughout his struggle of not giving up, he took solace in two things: music and football.
Starting off just as his father did, he became a daily-wage laborer in the wholesale market as soon as he hit the teens. Every day, he unloaded and loaded sacks of sugar and grain being sold in the market and he still does that in the daytime.
“I get paid Rs 4 per sack. This means, if I lift 100 bags on a good day, I make Rs400,” says Ahmed. This not much money, but at least it is coming, he says.
A Leva Dancer
The end of the daytime does mark the climax of Ahmad’s struggle though. His second job starts after the sunrays finally cave into the dark. He also works as a professional Leva dancer, being part of a troupe that performs at the wedding and other events.
The Leva dance is very much similar to African tribal dance with drumbeats and movements. However, it has been known in Lyari for as long as anybody can remember. Decked in colorful and vibrant silk dresses, the performers dance to the beat while performing stunts such as fire-breathing.
Ahmed’s troupe earns between Rs. 3000 and Rs. 5000 when invited to an event. Every member gets a share of Rs. 600 to Rs. 700 apart from the transportation cost.
“It isn’t much, but it is what we love doing,” says Ahmed. “I couldn’t get a permanent job because I have no formal education. But I have talent and can work hard so I have made my passion into a profession,” he adds.
The troupe has become so popular that it has even traveled to Oman and other Gulf states, where there is a large Balochi population, to perform, besides being commissioned by the government to perform alongside international artists in cultural ceremonies in Islamabad and Lahore.
Aside from these two jobs, Ahmed also coaches a children’s team. He saves whatever he can from his meager earnings to do that. He is training 25 children from Lyari at Gabol Park between 9 pm and 10 pm these days.
Ahmad is not just an ordinary coach for the children of Lyari, rather he is among the most popular ones. He trained over 40 children last year and some of them were selected for an under-10 tournament in Qatar.
The reason behind his popularity is that Ahmad doesn’t just train his students but also looks after their nutrition. From his savings, he purchases food and nutritional supplements for the children. He also covers the transport cost if the children get to play football somewhere.
However, Ahmad, despite having many people who look up to him, is not hopeful for the future.
“With no education, we will never be able to rise above our current state,” he says.
“There was a time when various government departments offered jobs to sportsmen. But those have been replaced by political appointments,” he continues. For the children he trains, he fears the most. “They too will grow up to be like me. Stuck doing physical labor and struggling to make ends meet.”