Workers’ Ordeal

Published in Dawn on August 22, 2017

Surrealism runs through the streets…
— Gabriel Garcia Marquez

GARCIA Marquez’s description of the reality of Latin America fits snugly into scenarios here. Or so it seems. How else would you convey the reality of several worldviews that are bizarre but that actually exist? What strange stories are hidden in the harsh realm of workers and the multilayered reality of, say, a public-sector enterprise that shut down its operations in June 2015 and still has on its payroll 12,000 employees?

When I rang up Mirza sahib, an employee at the Pakistan Steel Mills since the 1980s, and asked if we could meet, he said, “I am stationed in Dalbandin”. It was eerie to hear the melodious name of that faraway town in Balochistan. How come he ended up there? A punishment for activism, a case of enforced transfer, I am told. The PSM has a small iron ore project, now closed, in Chagai district. “The machines are lying on a hill and there is nothing to do.”

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Life in Liaquatabad and Elsewhere

Coming from Hasan Square, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, past Ghareebabad, you would find the left footpath of the main road leading to Al-Karam Square dotted with red-hooded stalls. I had noticed them for the first time a few years back. That evening they seemed to have sprung up all of a sudden, out of the pulsating, violence-ridden, notorious Liaquatabad/Ghareebabad cauldron. The bright red sheets tied up with balusters, reddish brown earthen jars, their mouths covered with white kerchiefs, and a bearded fellow–donning white kurta, pyjama and cap–on each stall: I had marvelled at this fleet of qulfi-wallahs, at their spirit, panache and determination to earn a living decently in these miserable times, in Central District, Karachi. A few odd customers, probably residents of the nearby lanes, were sitting on chairs, and a car or two were lined up on the kerb, ordering the Ghareebabad speciality. Indeed, it was delicious.

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