SAMUEL Beckett’s theatre play “Waiting for Godot” was one of the great plays one enjoyed, in one’s younger years — if one was growing up in Europe.
The play is quite lengthy and philosophical. It is about two elderly men who talk about life’s various calamities, joy, fun, difficulties, sadness, and so on, as they wait for Godot, the friend who never turns up, if he ever existed.
Perhaps there are similarities to the fate of day-labourers in Rana Market in Islamabad? Some are old men but most of them are young and in their best years.
They are usually clustered in small groups, sometimes two or three and sometimes more; the young ones stick together, and the old ones likewise.
They sit along the pavement, off the street from Gourmet Bakery to the new Hardy’s fast food place in Rana Market.
The men come from various locations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, from Nowshera and Peshawar, Charsada, Swabi, and Mardan, all the way up to Lower and Upper Dir.
Some speak quite good English while others stick to their mother tongue and Urdu. Some may have had better jobs before, while others are just hoping to find a good job, or just any job for a day or two or longer. Some have brothers and friends in the Middle-East but have not succeeded in finding a job themselves.
The days of waiting become long and boring and many resort to chewing a piece of snuff, known as “naswar”. It helps reduce the feeling of hunger. It is similar to cigarettes but it is cheaper.
Majid is from Swabi. He is 21 and dropped out of school after Matric (10th grade). First he worked on his family’s small farm at home and sometimes found day-labour jobs.
But then he wanted to see if he could earn a bit more in the capital, so he spoke with friends in Islamabad and off he went in the autumn.
“But to find work in Islamabad is not easy”, he said. “I have not had a job for three days. I have to eat and pay my friend something for the room where I stay, and I would like to take some money home to my parents. As it is now, I save nothing and I don’t even have enough for the bus ticket home,” said Majid.
“Life is the same for all of us here on the road. We wait under the sky for something to happen. We hope a rich Pakistani or foreigner will stop his car, asking for a labourer or two to carry out a job, maybe paint the house, plant some flowers, repair the servant quarter, or something else. We are people with many skills. We are masons, carpenters, gardeners, and so on, and we can do all-round jobs,” he said.
“My father managed to find a job in UAE two years ago”, Majid said. “But I have not succeeded in finding a job there. I keep hoping that my father will find something for me,” he hoped.
“My father tells me that it is not all that interesting in UAE. But it is better than this life I have now”, he said. “In UAE, the salary is equivalent to Rs30,000 Pakistani. In Islamabad I would only get Rs400, maybe Rs500 a day. And every rich Islamabadi wants discount. If we are two in a team, we usually give it,” said Majid.
“I can stay here for some years, save some money and get married. That is how life is supposed to be, isn’t it?” Majid said, as if asking himself.
I told him a bit about “Waiting for Godot” and he agreed that it was similar to his life. “Little happens. We are going nowhere. But at least we have friends, like the two men in the play,” he said.
“But that is not enough, at least not for me since I am still young. For the two old men in the play, and for you”, Majid mused, “it may suffice.”
He smiled and together with his friends we crack a few jokes and then leave.
No, life isn’t always fair, and certainly not for these men waiting for work under the sky in Rana Market in Islamabad.
Would it be better after the election, one wonders. Majid doubts it. He doesn’t know, but thinks not.