Employed or unemployed, not many people work in Pakistan. Not even those whose job it is to compute the annual unemployment rate. Therefore, we know we have a large population that is out of work but no way of knowing how large it is, and whether this is an unemployment issue or unwillingness-to-work issue.
I suspect it’s the latter.
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. By the grace of God, Pakistan is one such place and we are lucky to inhabit it. 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 and comes with a big mahogany desk and a petit secretary. The Afghan likes to mix business with pleasure and will prefer a job that comes with an employer-provided rocket launcher and monthly bonus for every infidel killed. 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 office. He or she will remind you with tear-filled eyes of their crippling poverty and you’ll end up apologising for your offer and taking out your wallet even if you don’t believe in patronising street begging.
It’s the status of being ghareeb that 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 with a lot of self-assurance, and leans back in his seat while you figure out whether the police will be a help to your cause or his.
You must know young people who do nothing rather than doing small. Or go to work knowing they are not going to work. Doing anything requires responsibility and that is a swear word in youth parlance as it is in ghareeb’s vocabulary. They do nothing because it gives them a ‘ghareeb but struggling’ feel, not because there is no paid work. They believe in the adage: work is death for the youth, and they live this belief.
Then there’s the heat that keeps Pakistanis paralysed eight months of the year. It’s the sort of heat that 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, 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 winter — a time to fight cold and power-gas load-shedding with peanuts, rewari and hot soups. In the work place people have too cold hands to take them out of the jacket pockets in the first half of the day, and too full a stomach to work in the second. Evenings at home have to be spent wrapped in a duvet because of the aforementioned load-shedding, and therefore no chance of getting anything done.
Then there are holidays galore. People stop working several days before and don’t show up back at work till several days after…
It’s not like no one wants to work here, but the working types have already left, or will soon leave Pakistan, for work, or studies leading to work, in another country. They all have plans to make their money abroad and come back to live here without having to work for the rest of their lives.
So pyara Pakistan remains a work-free land, with or without a job.