It’s been awhile since I’d active over here. A month, I assume. The reason was simple: I was waiting. There’s been enough of melancholy and blood in my blog, too much politics and tales which don’t have a quite convenient end, not in this world, anyways. So yes, I was waiting for something almost…magical (seems like the right choice) to happen. Oh yes, there’s a lot to be said about the Vegas Attack, and then all the nonsense going on in Pakistan itself. The city I’m living in, Karachi, has a mental patient going around stabbing women in the back with knives, and judging by the way the six victims looked on the TV, it’s a very horrid thing to be stabbed by a pocket knife on the back right in the middle of a shopping spree. Of course, you can’t shut yourself in the house, though. But let’s leave the worldly issues for a while. Lock them up in a shoe box and veil them in the layers of the soil. Because I’ve got a magical tale to tell. A success story of a women who didn’t give up. It won’t make you cry, for things as these turn up too tame in print. Somehow, they are robbed of much of their emotions and left a skeleton of words that just exist. No flesh, no tinge of emotions. Words don’t do justice to certain events- but that’s the wonder of it, right? Being left speechless. But I’ve seen it uncoil. My family has seen it uncoil. And trust me, it was more beautiful than words could describe.
Three years back, when we lived in Karsaz, we had a maid named Shamshad. She was the women for whom time had run too fast, her age was engraved in the lines of her forehead, even though she must be around forties. Her scarf would nearly always be at the far end of her hair, and she was as thin as a stick, no exaggerations here. But that energy! She’d be in the kitchen, banging the crockery and blaring up the washing machine before I even woke up. By the time my brothers and I were done with breakfast and the usual before-school hustle, she’d be done with the clean up and would be working on the rooms. Damn she was fast at that age. I observed her too much, she looked tired most of the times but she did her job almost religiously. And she didn’t talk, not to me, anyways. Mama and she had conversations, but for me, a mystery, Shamshad was.
But when someone is right in front of you the second you open your eyes, then they’d come a point when they’d let the mask slip just a little. A peak, just a small one. That happened with us. At weekends (she insisted on working Sundays if we paid extra- she insisted) she’d sometimes walk in on me studying (and I study like a damn freaked maniac being chased by a monster). Once, twice, she just went away silently. On the third encounter, she asked me how I did it. All the studying. And if I had any tricks. I have to say, I felt slightly shaken- Oh God, does she want to join school at this age?– but then she told me that she had children, seven of them. And the oldest son was on his second attempt at trying for a college.
There’s this big flaw in the education system of Pakistan, where you have to either pay for your education- the scholarships offered are laughable– or you have to compete with thousands other for a few hundred seats in the government colleges. Shamshad’s older son (name not mentioned, privacy)– four years older than I, he’d be twenty two by now- had tried out once for a government college, but he had been unable to get good marks. He came over and talked to baba about it, took Baba’s advise, and was repeating an year. And then, slowly Shamshad told me how he was on his third attempt, how she had forced him to stop working and focus just on his studies- despite having to feed such a large family. How she wanted him to get admission this year, she had even saved up for a private college. Her husband was a gardener at navy, and she worked as a helper, but supporting seven children, paying for their education and living in a single room is very, very hard.
Education– Shamshad was very keen on that. See, most of the poor here hardly bother with school and college, but Shamshad was different, she wanted her seven children to complete their education, her middle son, she told mama, had problems with it, and so he was the only one who didn’t go to school- even though she taught him how to sew, just so he could stand on his own feet. A tailor, not a begger. I saw her talk that day about her children, I swear I could see the love she had for her blood, and how desperate she was to get them out of the vicious circle of poverty. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help her- I had to explain how it is nearly impossible for a tenth grader to help someone preparing for his college entry test. She talked to father, Baba agreed to help out her son as much as he could. She took up more jobs, she had to shift ours to the evening to manage the large number.
Things went smooth for a month. But then, disaster struck.
First, it was the financial impact. Her daughter broke her leg, and had to be hospitalised (y’all American complaining re your health budget? We Pakistanis have been suffering from it since 1947). And then, her son got admission alright, but not exactly where she had planned. It was a university for arts, not an engineering college, for which he qualified. And the university was expensive. The classes cost too much, then there was the prospect of living in another city, the hostel budgets and the daily food. It would have worked out alright, she took loans, we gave her our Zakat, a lot of people helped her. Like I said, everything would have worked out had disaster not struck.
There’s a thing in navy that the maids can be turned out if they’re found guilty of some crime, say, stealing, by the person whose servant quarter they live in. It’s a pretty good rule, we can’t have crooks in the forces! But then, there are people who twist it for their own good. Stupid, insincere, selfish people who take advantage of the needy. The officer whose servant quarter Shamshad lived in (no names- privacy) was known to have a very cranky wife with no children. She was literally the kind of women who’d wake up at two in the evening to scream at neighbours for being too loud. I never liked that women, sure, all due respect for the elderly. But then, she wasn’t every likeable, either. She was the person whose picture you’d be desperate to draw a mustache on, because she was just that frustrating.
That day, as Shamshad told my mother the next evening, Shamshad had came home later than usual. It was work, she explained, but the women was adamant that it wasn’t. She was cranky enough at Shamshad, for she had lost her necklace, a very precious gift from her darling father. She and Shamshad searched over the house for it, and just guess where it turned up from- the smallest of the seven children had it in his mouth, suckling on it as on a feeder.
That did it. The women tried to hit the child- absence of own kids do make one rather heartless. Shamshad, with her natural instincts, deflected her hand, how could she watch a women strike her kid! At that, the women took Shamshad by the arm, forced her out of the house, and told her to leave, and that if she didn’t, then the women would report her guilty of theft. The women called her a “ghareeb choor”, a poor thief, a beggar. It wasn’t the first time that she’d admonished Shamshad for something silly- she did that quite often. It was just the first time she’d raised her hand on her child and locked her outside.
Imagine- having the door slammed on you with your children still inside, being blackmailed to leave the only place you have to call home. This is no story from a book, this is what actually occurred two years back, on the streets of where I lived. Later, the same day, when Shamshad went back, the women told her that she had arranged for another maid, and Shamshad would have to clear out within a week. I would have broken down, right there. But she is one strong soul. She came over at our place and asked if she could use the phone. And then, after a long call and seemingly peaceful negotiations, she put it back, explained everything to mama (and the ears dropping me), and said that her son was returning.
He was happy to leave university, she said. He had calmed her down, had told her that they’d refund the money if you leave within one week. He’d come back, they’d use the money to get some home on rent in Lyari (and I’d advise you not to google this depressing place) and that he’d take up other work, for her sake. I could tell from the way her voice quivered that she felt awful having to make her son come back, but then, there were six others to think of. Mama tried to talk her out of it, but she was firm on moving away. There was her honour- she was very, very protective of her self respect-, and then the prospect of going back to live like that. I think she almost cried.
“Hamara bhi kisi din ghar hoye ga.” she said, we, too, will have a home one day.
The words struck me so much. The things we take for granted are what others carve to attain. She had said them with hope, not self pity. And I knew that she’d have it, one day, a place for her children. She was just that determined. Shamshad moved away from Navy a week later, and even though she had our number, yet she never called.
It has been two years since I’ve heard from her. And once you stop seeing a person, you’d wonder about them, but only for a month. After that, you return to your own life, only to be jolted back by a phone call.
She called mama a day back, a thank you call of a sort. She was happy, for times have indeed changed for all. She told that her son got them a room in lyari. It was awful, for Shamshad said that that month was the worst, she hardly had money for the monthly needs, her children were out of school, and both she and his husband were out of jobs. They lived, just a month, on their son’s hands. He had to return to work. He did minor stuff, a small job in some local market. It hurt her to see him work, she said that it was like “seeing me steal from my own son.”
It was a month later that she decided she couldn’t stand it. And then, she took up jobs again- this time, a part time house helper, and sewing. It was hard, it must have been hard, but she persisted.
Shamshad did that. At mornings, she’d work, at nights, she’d stitch up clothes. And no, she did not end up a hollywood fashion designer, but over the course of an year, they got better. She earned enough money to send her children back to school. They saved, little by little, till her husband could buy his own equipments for gardening. They worked harder, the husband and the wife, easing the pressure on the son, till he could stay at home and just prepare.She made sure that her children never begged on the roads, at the evenings, her son would tutor them, and a small number of those willing to study. And today, when she called, she told us that the result for the government colleges had come, and their son had been on the merit for software engineering.
If you’d pause and just think back to the month where the son left his college, you’d realise how lucky he was. Had he argued, had he not returned, he’d be still there, his money being sucked up in a profession that had no worth. But he came back. He helped his parents, he sacrificed for his family, and now, he’s going to join classes this December, in a government school, where the prices are affordable.
You don’t know happiness unless you have heard the words of praise from a proud mother. She has it all now, a house on rent, a son in college, a sound job. Her life is still more tough than many of ours, she still lives in the poorly cobbled streets of lyari, but at least, she has one thing ticked off the big list. A great list, I can tell, but she deserves a full week of happiness just for this. I have never been more proud of a human. She’s getting herself out of this trap, she’s securing for her children what she never had.
There are millions of maid out here in Navy, most of them have a line of kids, mostly girls. I swear most of the kids run around bare feet from six in the morning till the sun disappears, the clever ones having studied only as far as fifth grade. You’ll see a boy or two who’s in tenth, but the girls- the most, most depressing sight- will never be past fifth grade. The second they get long enough to reach the counter, they’re probed into the life of labour. And this is the forces, where a charity school is offered to them. On the local roads where they have the sky as their roof, these kids don’t even get as far as primary. The only education they have is how to do a signature- and I’m not joking. They’re forced to beg by their parents- and yes, it sounds ridiculous, but a pair would have an army of children, just so they’d earn more and more.
But not Shamshad. She knew this wasn’t the way to get out of all of this. She’s sacrificing her everything to save her family, and I know this for sure: it might take an year, even a couple of them, but she’ll get herself a home. A real one, not a rented room. Inshallah she will.
See, miracles do happen in everyday life in the most subtle form, but only for those who deserve them.
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