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The poor blessed ones

August 03, 2012


-Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

Some places are not conducive for work – physical, mental, or any kind of work at all – at any time of the year and under any circumstances. Pakistan is a world leader in this phenomenon that has not yet been recognised as an industry. (This opening is meant to frustrate the Indian readers of the forum who take away the exclusivity of every subject I touch, by commenting: ‘it’s same to same in India, no?’. No, not this time neighbour.)

Muslims all over the world generally monopolise the no-work trade but being a Muslim and a Pakistani makes all the difference. The Gulf Arab will accept any job which has the word ‘mudeer’ in the title, comes with a big mahogany desk in a plush office, a secretary to remind him what needs done, and an assistant to do it. The Afghan likes to mix business with pleasure and will take up a job happily if it comes with an employer-provided rocket launcher and offers monthly bonus for killing infidels. But a Pakistani will only accept a job that ensures his ‘ghareeb’ status will remain unchanged so every time he or she is asked to do something they can excuse themselves by pleading: ‘but I am ghareeb’.

A declaration of poverty is advanced and accepted as a logical antidote to work, and a direct appeal for help in cash or kind. Try offering an able-bodied beggar a well paying cleaning job at home or work. He or she will remind you of their poverty and you’ll end up apologizing for your offer and taking out your wallet even if you don’t believe in patronising street begging.

It also absolves the declarer of all responsibility. Say a motorist hits you while driving opposite to the flow of traffic, and therefore clearly in the wrong. You walk up to him as he’s lighting a cigarette. ‘Bhai saab look what you have done, the right headlight is broken, you know how much …’ Visibly calm after taking a couple of quick drags, he looks up at you: ‘sorry’. That is hardly a consolation you deserve: ‘The damage, who is going to pay? Do you even have a license? My car …’ you helplessly keep pointing at the bashed side of the car. ‘No insurance or license. And I can’t pay because I am poor,’ he utters the last words triumphantly, and drives away.

Then there’s the heat that keeps Pakistanis paralysed eight months of the year. It’s not the fancy 33 C heat that Europe has to endure a few days every summer. It’s a wholesome 50 Celsius and above, we are talking about. It saps energy and cooks your brain on low flame. Avoiding the sun and rigour of any sort becomes second nature. Whatever one does to beat the heat – staying indoors, consuming gallons of lassi, improving air-conditioning and arranging back up power supply – ends up adding to the lethargy one feels in one’s bone marrow. No one in Pakistan works or expects any work done, during summer.

And just when you thought the poverty and the heat and dust had combined to define the lowest level of productivity possible in this country, along comes Ramazan. It is not called the month of blessings for nothing: you are blessed with a blanket immunity against work, whether you are at your work place or at home and whether or not you are fasting. That’s between you and your god. The government of Pakistan, on its part, ensures that all citizens enjoy equal access to no-work routine during Ramazan and till a week to ten days after Eid.

The only calories a citizen is allowed to burn between sunrise and sunset are meant for tasks like blinking, changing channels, answering doorbell or a call from boss, throwing things in irritation, and beating up a diabetic man caught sipping cola in the toilet of a roadside restaurant.

The post office is open but there’s no one inside or out of the building to stop or help you. The bank is open half day and the number of manned windows is slashed by half, so that if you are last in the queue at the opening time, you won’t make it to the window by the closing. In the market, shops open and close at will. If you find one open, chances are the shopkeeper is away for prayers, or generally not interested in doing business. The bootlegger won’t answer his phone because he is using Ramazan to wash himself of the sins of bootlegging accumulated in the previous 11 months. Electricians and plumbers will take up a job that requires an hour of work and they’ll do it at the pace of five minutes a day. Do your own math.

It’s not like no one wants to work here, Ramazan or no Ramazan. But the working types have already left the country. Each one of them left for work, or studies leading to work. What else will take them out of the heaven that is Pakistan! The world knows only too well that ‘Pakistani tourist’ is an oxymoron. They don’t tour, or visit. They go somewhere so they can live and work there.

For those who are left behind, a comfortable, highly nutritious, and work-less Ramazan Mubarik!


Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.