Labor Day – a tribute to laborers in Pakistan.

Laborers I got to know…..

In 2010 when my husband and I moved into this locality, it was a relatively new colony. -Lots of construction going on all round. There was dust in the air and more laborers seen around here, than the residents. Watching these laborers working and walking around, holding their fearful looking equipment or just like that, made one a bit afraid of them. If my husband had to go out of town, I’d refuse to spend even a night in our home. I’d pack our stuff in our car, and drive off to my parents’ home in Bahria Town. No, I wasn’t going to stay in our home, with all those terrifying laborers living around us! There was crime too. Burglaries, and what not, and one invariably felt that it could have been the laborers, living in most houses under construction.

In this scenario, several times,  our Persian cat got lost, and very often it would be one of the laborers, carrying the cat to our home. Most of them recognized our cat. (Didn’t they realize, this cat could fetch a hefty price?) Then, construction of our own house began, and my husband had a contractor to deal with the laborers. A close relative of my husband who had recently built a house, was furious that my husband speaks so nicely to them. “These laborers are dogs. One has to treat them like dogs.” (He didn’t know, that in my home, we treat dogs with great love and respect their loyalty.) “I’m so glad and proud of my husband who treats laborers well. “ I told him. So, that was the end of that.

I sometimes went to watch the construction with my husband, and realized what a dangerous job it is. I’d see them working on planks at precarious heights. I knew there is no insurance for them. They work on daily wages. No security, and tough days of hard labor. I would get goodies for them sometimes, and wanted to give them myself, instead of handing to the overseer to distribute among them. Once, when I took some snacks for them, I expected all of them to just pounce at the stuff, knowing they must be hungry. But all of them stood silently, and one of them said , “Let us all pray for Baji “ (they were referring to me as their elder sister). I was deeply touched. I had to tell them, that I really appreciate that they are literally risking their lives to put a roof over our heads. I thanked them, and walked away, feeling tears in my eyes.

How was I to know, where life would be taking me? My husband would often sit out-side watching the process. He had provided proper facilities for the laborers to have a washroom constructed on the site and a wash basin to wash their hands in. People were surprised, they said, this is rarely done. Anyhow,  many times the work would carry on till late at night.  Lights were provided for them to work in the dark. As the building got larger, my husband started losing interest in the project. His enthusiasm depleted. One day, as I came back from my evening walk, I saw some lady and her kids, inside our under construction house. It was as if she was interested in buying it. I walked up to her, and told her to forget it, this house is not for sale! Furious, I walked into our home, and asked my husband. He said I did mention to a dealer, and was wondering….. I said “Fine, do it. I’ll shoot whoever buys it and I’ll shoot myself too. -Because my coffin will go out from this house, because its mine!” He told me that he was getting fed up of the project now, I said.   I’ll take it over.  He knew, how much I had wanted to avoid this whole venture. After all, one could buy a ready-made house, and start one’s life within a month. Anyhow, I said “I’m ready to do anything. But we can’t let this project go now. I’ll do all the running around. You can relax for a change, and we cannot drop this precious home project now”. He agreed, and let me take over the project. He also let me get my favorite architect Mubeena Nasir to take over the house also, as I preferred working with a lady I knew. She also, accepted the project for my sake. Soon the house construction was in full swing. Earlier, this project had stopped for over four months, and now my husband and I were determined to keep it going till it is fully completed. Unknown to both of us, he was developing brain cancer. He would be more sleepy, and enjoyed eating food. How could I know these were symtoms?

My husband was diagnosed with GBM IV and admitted in hospital. Our banks were closed and there wasn’t any cash with me.  I found myself tending to my husband in hospital across town, and living with my parents to be near my husband. Yet, I was determined not to get the project stalled again. So, I spoke to my architect about my situation. She assured me that she will not let the project get stopped, even if she has to pay from her pocket. Luckily, my husband had already paid her enough to carry on for now. The laborers kept working, with full force, and the work carried on. My wish was to bring my husband home to our own house, it would make him feel better to see it completed. It was just three weeks for us to move in, when he died. Suddenly, the whole world seemed to stop still, and hold no meaning.

I had no money to pay the rent for the house where we were living. The owner Mr. Ameer, was very kind, and said, I can stay without paying rent. Yet, I was also worried, that our house, may get taken over, I was in the worst dilemma. I made the decision to move into my house. “No one has ever moved into a house under construction, when it was in this state.” Said Mubeena. “No one has ever been more desperate either!” I told her. So, within three weeks of my world falling apart, we moved in.

My laborers knew my whole story. They also knew that my life and my children’s life is in danger. They took care of me, and my security. My carpenter Haji Ismael sahib told me “I’m here, you have nothing to worry.” They scrutinized the laborers who came into the house, and made sure no stranger walked in. They also knew I had no money. Still they carried on. My own staff was ready to work without pay for me, and these laborers worked knowing it was dicey business.   Yet, they trusted the architect and me.

As I couldn’t pay the extra percentage to my architect, I decided to take over the finishing of the house. By now I’d got quite a hang of the work.

One day, I was watching Nazir working on the slope outside, which we had got made next to the entrance for my mother or anyone, who has a problem with stairs. I was watching him use the electrical gadget which was very dangerous. “Is it done?”  Nazir said “just twenty more minutes…” the man next to him mumbled something, I asked him “what are you saying?” “He is injured, and is working, look at the blood on his foot!” I was shocked. I told Nazir to stop. He said its okay , these things keep happening. I insisted on him stopping the work, and took him to a dispensary nearby. The lady doctor there, immediately put quite a few stiches on his foot. He was quite nonchalant about it. He said, this keeps happening, I could have finished my work first!

Today, my home is complete, thanks to these laborers. I’ll always be indebted to them. I’ve found out what great people they are. How hardworking. I’ve seen them working at night during Ramzan, and in the blazing heat of summers in Kuwait. I’ve seen them working beside my house daily in the house getting constructed across the road.

When I went to Dubai and stayed in Abu Dhabi, I looked around and felt so proud. I’m sure many of these buildings have been constructed by Pakistani laborers. I know, four of them have their names on Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, where names of laborers are written, specially who lost their lives during the construction.

I look forward to a time when each one of them will be insured. When after working so many years, he will get pension. A time when his children will be assured of good education. When he and his wife and parents will get free health benefits. I look forward to a better life for them. Without them our ideas are nothing. Meanwhile each one of us must do whatever we can to improve their lives. We can arrange clean drinking water for them, food, and pay for their accidents. I’ve heard of one fine lady, who went out of her way, to bring food to laborers in her community. That’s an incentive for all of us.

They are treasures whom we still have to learn to treasure.

Stay blessed, my dear reader.

 

 

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