Disabled but not defeated

More often than not we find ourselves searching for inspiration in those who have money or success. We forget about the everyday heroes who continue to tread forward in defiance of all odds.


By Parisey Tariq

Suleman was only four years old when he started roaming the streets of Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He would watch his sister roll paan for customers while passers-by gave him food and, sometimes, spare change. Fascinated by the lively bazaars and the heart-warmingly friendly people, he soon began accompanying his sister every day after school to sell paan with her.

A brother to seven sisters and five brothers, what makes Suleman’s story stand out is the fact that he was born with no arms or legs. Yet, against all odds, today he is a happily married, proud man who, instead of begging on the streets, makes an honest living by working in the hot sun making paan.

Muhammad Suleman, commonly referred to as Suleman Bhai, now runs a paan kiosk in the busy markets of Chaklala Scheme 3, Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Born and raised in the small town of Rehmatabad, Suleman, 23, currently lives with his family. “I never let my disability allow me to think I can’t do something,” says Suleman, with a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face. “I told myself if it seems difficult, it’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

The two and a half square foot paan stall that he runs at a street corner in the busy market of Chaklala Scheme 3 is Suleman’s only source of income. Every day from 3pm to 10pm, Suleman sits at his stall and sells paan that he makes himself using his elbows, taking breaks only to offer prayers at the nearby masjid (mosque). However, even running this humble business hasn’t exactly been a steady ride when a few months ago Chaklala Cantonment Board (CCB) officials shut the kiosk down, claiming that the paan kiosk was blocking the street.

CCB rules allow authorities to remove roadside stalls if they cover any portion of the road whatsoever. Suleman took up the issue with the concerned authorities of the cantonment board. A few days later, he was successful in having his business up and running again.

A lively and friendly person, Suleman talks about all the people who greet him every day while passing by his kiosk. “I often lose count of how many friends I have made. Often, people come to meet me and I don’t even remember where I know them from,” he says.

His face lights up when he talks about his wife, whom he describes as the incredibly kind woman he shares his life with: a healthy young lady who goes out of her way to take care of him. The couple, both coming from underprivileged households, had always dreamed of seeing the inside of a plane. With some help from Suleman’s friends, they only recently managed to fly to Saudi Arab for Umrah (religious pilgrimage).

However, despite his positivity, Suleman has seen his fair share of struggles, losing his mother to cancer when he was only 17 being one of the most traumatizing. “Even today, after all these years, it feels like it just happened yesterday,” he says.

While making pan for a customer, he talks about wanting to be a parent himself someday. In his world, begging is a profession for many, but Suleman hopes to build a house for his wife and his some-day-child with hard work and endurance.

To say Suleman’s life has been smooth sailing would be extremely far from the truth, but as he sits with his head held high and a smile on his face, there is nothing but strength in the young man.  More often than not we find ourselves searching for inspiration in those who have money or success. We forget about the everyday heroes who continue to tread forward in defiance of all odds.

One of those heroes is Suleman bhai who, driven by dignity and a love for his family, sits at his paan kiosk every day with simple hopes and dreams, but immense courage and resilience. Today, a 23-year-old married man, Suleman hopes not for money or fame. But simply to run his paan business, support his family and someday have children.