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Law of diminishing work

Today, a team of two half-wits is enough to run a successful puncture-mending business in which one goes round puncturing, the other mending

Law of diminishing work

People do all sorts of things to earn a living. One of them is inventing phrases that sound stupid and sublime in equal measure. Like: ‘smaller is bigger’, ‘pious acts result in riots’, ‘life is a pirated copy of Bollywood’s B grade films’ etc.

There’s this smart dude who says whatever kind of work you can think of, falls in one of the three categories: humans working with machines; humans working with ideas; and humans working with other humans and animals. It is my intention to prove that the above-mentioned dude is not half as smart as he claims credit for. That it is possible for someone to earn a living without working with machines, ideas or people.

For this purpose I’ll use the example of Pakistan — a country created as a laboratory in modern times, in which failed experiments from the entire history of mankind are repeated. In the process, we may not have reinvented wheel, but guess who reinvented puncture-mending? Thank you. We were able to excel in this art by observing the hitherto unfulfilled needs of the wheel owner. We found that if you insert a sharp object into the wheel, the owner then needs to have the puncture mended. Today, a team of two half-wits is enough to run a successful puncture-mending business in which one goes round puncturing, the other mending.

Pakistanis have successfully applied this model to all entrepreneurial pursuits. Take for instance the practice of law.

No one goes to a lawyer unless they have a problem or complaint. From their spouses and friends to neighbours and strangers, everyone comes to pour scorn, fear, hatred, or helplessness into his or her ears. Having absorbed all this negativity year after year, the lawyer becomes cynic, suspicious and senile. The only times you’ll find them hospitable is during the visits before you sign the letter of engagement. You could tell them any problem in the world and they’ll tell you, after the briefest reflection, the exact amount you will have to fork out for the solution, and the minimum amount you’ll pay before the lawyer lifts a finger to point towards the possible solution or the absence of any.

Having signed on the dotted line and having received the advance fee however, the lawyer becomes your new best friend, often for life, because the litigation that binds you together will likely go on till the end of your or the lawyer’s life, whichever comes first. This does not happen by default though. The lawyer works hard to ensure every relationship they build is for life.

He exercises control by attending to a case only once a year. The rest of the times his clerk informs the court the lawyer could not present himself because he is travelling abroad/attending High Court/at the death bed of a parent/organising an election rally/busy with bar activities etc. All of these are accepted by the judge as valid reasons for absence.

Forget the unauthorised absence and tardiness of school going kids coming from dysfunctional families, forget the doctors who leave their patients to die while they march in the streets chanting slogans for their own rights, forget the ministers who hardly ever show up in the parliament… the lawyer rules the roost when it comes to skipping work. Every day, every court room in every city is unable to proceed with more than half the cases on its cause list because one or both lawyers fail to show up. A good number of those who do, show up only to request for more time. And no such request is ever contested by the opposing lawyer, or turned down by the judge.

Ever since the lawyers’ movement of 2007, they have found another, more viable tool to show their contempt for courts, their proceedings, the clients, their problems, and the law itself: it’s called ‘boycott of courts’. So a judge censures a lawyer for picking his nose and wiping the boogie on the desk of the judge, and the lawyers strike. A lawyer attempts murder and is caught in the act by police, the lawyers strike. A lawyer is caught selling pornography at his own shop, the lawyers strike… And every strike automatically means boycotting courts. So eager are they to skip work that the news of a fellow lawyer gunned down or roughed up is greeted like Ziaul Haq’s plane crash — one less undesirable person in the world, and one more welcome holiday from work.

When they can’t find a reason to strike, they boycott courts to show solidarity with Kashmiris or Palestinians, or to celebrate the Mumtaz Qadri Day (for those with mushy memories that said Mr. Qadri is a self-confessed, widely witnessed, and convicted murderer who was garlanded by lawyers).

The smart dude is wrong. There is a fourth category of gainful employment — putting in long hours to do absolutely nothing.

Masud Alam

The author is an Islamabad-based bilingual writer. His book of Urdu travel stories, Chalo, was published in 2009. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


  • I have read many columns of Masood Alam and i my opinion is that he must not write at all. He is a bib zero.

    • What are you talking about najaf? Masud Alam is witty and many times hilarious. I enjoy reading his pieces. Maybe you need to get some sense of humour.

      • Farheen, you’re either his wife or Masud himself.

  • So what exactly is the law of diminishing work? I mean the point.

  • One of the most pathetic articles I’ve ever read. Thank you for wasting my 5 minutes.

  • Looks like Masud Alam got screwed badly by some lawyer…he has some serious axe to grind. Lol!

  • What rubbish. Why is TNS publishing such nonsense?

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