GARMENT factory worker Mohammad Sohail, 32, heads of household of four, and he does so with a salary of Rs12,000 per month. Both his children are school-going. Despite paring his expenses to the bone, he ends up spending around Rs15-16,000 each month. The break-up goes like this: Rs5,000 on house rent and utilities, Rs7,000 for putting food on the table, Rs1,000 on education, Rs1,500 on transport, and another Rs1,500-2,000 in miscellaneous expenses.

Clearly, he has to supplement his salary one way or other to make ends meet. So the tailor in the morning is a compounder in the evening. This extra work helps him raise his income by around Rs4,000, without which “I just can’t imagine what life would be like”. Of course, he would need more as his children grow up. And what if the family has additions?

Sohail’s is not an unusual story. In fact, it’s the story of an overwhelming majority belonging to the lower and lower-middle classes. However, not all people rely on a steady income.

Sajid, 41, for instance, has come to realise that “there are different professions for different seasons”. A soup wallah in winter, ‘gola ganda’ wallah in summer, and samosa wallah in Ramazan, he tries to capitalise on seasonal trends. This helps him earn a handsome Rs25-30,000 per month on average, which, he says, is enough to make a decent living.

However, doing such diverse jobs isn’t exactly a walk in the park, he insists, adding that he has toiled tirelessly for several years to become a kind of jack of all trades.

Jamshed, 50, works as a car painter at a workshop which pays him Rs11,000 per month. His eldest son, 22, is a salesman at a readymade garment shop and earns Rs8,000. But there is one big problem – they are a family of eight. Therefore, even their collective income is peanuts, given their minimum monthly expenditure of around Rs30,000.

This significant shortfall between income and expenditure is largely made up by Jamshed’s wife and daughters who stitch clothes at home to add an impressive Rs6-7,000 to the family kitty. How does he manage on such a tight budget? “I don’t know. I really don’t know. I just give Rs300 to my wife daily. She knows better.”

The way these families are pulling along indicates there is a serious mismatch between what our national budget-makers think and how the poor live. They are worlds apart. Literally. The latter’s world is clearly more real … and miserable.

Published in Dawn March 22nd , 2015


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