Do you care about the life of an average Pakistani?
It’s hot outside your AC car and it doesn’t smell as good as your imported cigar, but my story is worth your time.
It’s about time. Your chauffeur will be here soon to take you home. And on your way, you will certainly stop at at least one signal. At this point if you put your time away, take the Cuban cigar out of your mouth and roll down your window, you will see me: a sweat-covered, ashen-faced and gray-haired young man riding his second-hand motorcycle in pursuit of a better future. And if, miraculously, you are feeling sympathetic towards those belonging to a lesser station, you might wonder what my story is.
I was born as the eldest son, rather, the only son of a bank accountant and a school teacher. My parents could not quite afford a private school, yet somehow I was educated till matriculation. It was a boys-only school (yes, I see you rolling your eyes at this), and even there, I wasn’t very social.
Maybe because I knew if I made any friends, I would have to eventually invite them over and they might not like our two-story, five marla house where I shared a room with my youngest sister.
So the first 16 years of my life were uneventful.
Our teachers taught us the secret recipe to pass our exams: cramming. So no matter how hard the topic was, our memory was our saviour. And the examiners were kind enough not to modify the books’ questions.
The same thing happened during my intermediate. I became even more of an introvert, for even a mere acquaintance with my fellows meant exposing my sister to these perverts. So yeah, I stuck to my books.
The fact that my parents could not afford to send me to an academy for additional help served as motivation for me to work harder.
Our parents had to lie during all our admission interviews. For mine, they had to claim that they could easily afford my education (a statement often accompanied by covert glances and pained smiles in each other’s direction) and in case of my sister's, they had to claim to be poorer than we actually were, to secure scholarships.
When we were kids, we often eavesdropped on our parents when they thought we were asleep, catching snippets of their financial discussion like,
“Is dafa paanch hazaar motorcycle ki repair pe lag gya. Ab Guriya ki fees ke paisay kahan se ayain gay…”
(This time we spent five thousand on the motorcycle’s repair. How will we pay for Guriya’s fees?)
“Aap pareshaan na hon. Mai apni choorian baich deti hoon.”
(You don’t worry, I will sell my bangles)
“Iss mahinay overtime nahi lagaa saka bank mei. Sakhti ho gyi hai na. Bachhat karni paray gi.”
(This month I couldn’t work overtime at the bank. It’s become strict. We must save.)
“Haan tou koi baat nahi. Ab ki baar gosht na laiyay ga na. Sabzi hi kaafi hai”.
(Don’t worry, this time just don’t bring meat from outside. Vegetables are enough)
I could go on and on, but I see that frown on your forehead deepening, so I’ll continue with my story.
I suspect my abba must have had a hard time at work that day, when on his way back, he crashed into a car coming the wrong way. I heard he tried to reason with the driver, but the man was rich and influential, maybe not as much as you, but still enough to have traffic wardens on his beck and call, which arrived immediately and fined my abba for violation of rules.
I don’t know you probably know better.
No one took the least notice of my abba’s injuries, and by the time we took him to the hospital, we were informed that he won’t be able to use his left leg anymore. Rumours reached my father’s office as well, resulting in his supervisors demanding a fitness certificate before he could rejoin and if it wasn’t for uncle Saeed and his doctor brother-in-law who furnished abba with a fake certificate, we would have starved.
Yeah, you’re right.
It wasn’t the right thing to do. But as always, the truth catches up with only the weak.
One day, abba couldn’t retain his balance in the office and fell, and when a sympathetic manager took him to the hospital and the X-rays revealed to him that abba’s left leg wasn’t recovering at all. We were informed that it was useless forever. After that, it took them only a day to issue a dismissal notice.
Tell me, was that the right thing to do?
Oh, we have had our moments of joy too.
Like when my youngest sister got admission in school, amma made some custard for us; a rare treat. Or when I passed my matriculation, we went to a roadside restaurant and had a meal (I’m sure amma used the money she had saved for her eye operation).
Or like when ... oh look!
The signal is green again, you have finished your cigar, and I’m running late for my interview as a clerk. I hope I get the job, for I want our future to be better than the past.
Follow Hassan on Twitter @MianHassanTariq