On a cold crisp morning in December, a young man stood in the centre of the road opposite the Karachi Press Club. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, lit a matchstick and set it on fire. Before a crowd gathered, I got a clear view that it was a Bachelor of Commerce degree, with a stunning 88 per cent marks.
The man left hurriedly. A friend told me his name and gave me his address as I decided to see him. The taxi weaved its ways through small dark lanes in a slum area of the city. It was a dilapidated house almost hidden behind a heap of rubbish. I knocked and the door opened with the same stern face before me. He let me in a dimly lit room. A chair, table, some utensils and a rickety bed in the corner, on which an old lady lay coughing, was all that was in the house.
It was difficult to make Arshad talk, but finally he gave in. He told me that having lost his father in infancy he studied hard as he knew from early childhood that the future of the family depended on him. After completing his graduation, he took articleship in a chartered accountants’ firm, where he learnt the ropes of accounting. “The real ordeal began when I started to look for a job,” he said.
Every day he would post his CV to several companies, scan newspapers for vacancies and go on any lead provided by a friend or sympathiser to look for a job. At every place, he saw swelling ranks of the unemployed. But Arshad was confident he would land a job in the accounting department of one or the other big firms; that hope, however, soon turned to dust. The first class degree was scarcely enough. He saw government jobs go to less educated but well-connected individuals and ‘strongly recommended’ applicants. Merit did not matter.
Several jobs in state-owned enterprises had price tags attached to them, to be paid under-the-table to the interviewers’ clerk outside the room. In the weeks and months that followed, Arshad was interviewed by scores of companies but no one would hire him. His failure was not on account of his lack of knowledge and competence. Corporate firms had a list of weird reasons to decline: “You don’t have a proper domicile” … “Sorry, you are over-qualified” … “unpresentable”, etc.
Arshad was engaged to his cousin, Farah. His uncle returned the ring the other day with an apology. He states he had dreamt of a nice house, comfort and care for his mother; to marry off his younger sister and raise a happy family. And then there was a long silence. Finally Arshad held up his head. “Yes, I have burnt the professional degree which could not even get me a lowly job,” he said. In almost a whisper, he added that he has decided to start a new life the next day — as a self-employed rickshaw driver.