One of the pioneers of the restaurant business in Pakistan, Nilofer Saeed is currently running N’eco’s cafe and natural food store in Karachi. “We started Copper Kettle 20 years ago. Soon after that fast food chains from abroad came and the food revolution began in Pakistan. Over a period of time people’s needs and requirements have been changing; from fast food to fine food to natural food and I have evolved with them.”
Nilofer expresses how times have changed for a working woman in Pakistan. “20 years ago being a woman and coming out in this field was really easy because at that time in Pakistan men of all classes respected a woman if she came out to work whether they were uneducated or educated. If I had a flat tyre, 10 people would stop and change the tyre. Pakistan was the best place for a woman to run a business because I had the best of both the east and west. Unfortunately, it’s no longer that. Men are very disrespectful towards women now. They think you are not good enough to be equal. We had such a beautiful culture to respect and protect our women and yet give them all the opportunities. This is where I feel, the young girls of today are really having it tough.”
Like all other working mothers, Nilofer recalls some of her moments of weakness. “A woman’s job never finishes. She is a mother, a sister, a daughter in law, a wife, and a grandmother. Men go to work, they come home, they hardly contribute to the house except financially. A woman has to go home and she has to make sure the food is cooked, clothes are ironed, and the children have gone for tuition. Actually there are many moments that you have lost out in doing these certain things. There are times you get overwhelmed. 4 months after copper kettle opened I locked myself in the office and wept and wept and wept and wondered what made me do this when I was living a peaceful life being a teacher!” However, with the support of her husband, she realised one cannot do justice to everybody unless the whole household contributes. If a woman has to manage all the responsibilities single-handedly, the children and the home do get neglected, but if the husband pitches in, everything does eventually fall into place.
“I do have a regret that when my children had their O Level results, I couldn’t go to get the results because my mother passed away, so the same day so I had to go to Lahore. That was a moment of weakness that still bothers me,” says Nilofer with a hint of guilt in her eyes. A woman is indeed, split into so many roles.
Despite having her share of difficulties when she started out, Nilofer firmly believes that all women must strive to be financially independent. “When you are a working woman, you have the liberation of being able to do it your way. Otherwise, you have to toe the line of the person you are dependent on, be it your husband, father or brother,” she stresses. “It is necessary for your own sanity and the happiness of the males of your family.” However, in doing so, a woman must make an effort to achieve her physical and mental wellbeing. Nourishing herself will allow her to produce a healthy home environment. “Even in a plane, they say first take the oxygen yourself and then help others.”
Nilofer has carved herself a niche in the restaurant industry in Pakistan with a lot a of dedication and hard work. Her work has always meant a lot to her but her family holds a special place in her heart. She identifies her Miracle Moment to be the time when she saw her first grandchild. Nilofer says with a laugh that “My mother used to call me her dumbest child. I want to tell her that your dumbest child hasn’t done too badly!” As a part of The Citizen’s Foundation, her advice to younger women is to be brave, be confident and go out there to help the people of Pakistan. Miracle Woman, Nilofer Shahid, is sheer inspiration and surely leads by example.