Eighteen years and counting

Published: April 1, 2011

It’s been just 18 years. He may as well wait for another 18. Godot is bound to arrive and put an end to the waiting – for him and for us all.

A watchman at a rural health centre in Chiniot has not been paid his salary for 18 years. All this time he has been arriving at the office at 7 o’clock in the morning and leaving at 11 in the night. The worker and the management have both kept to their ways. (Who’s watching out for the watchman? The Express Tribune, April 17, 2011)

The official, identified as Munir Ahmed, has been regularly visiting the accounts department first day of the month, every month, to demand his wages. The cashier has been telling him his cheque is not ready. Every month, Munir Ahmed has peaceably gone away to return a month later. This has gone on for 18 years. Where else is such loyalty to be found in this time and age? Chiniot and its rural health centre are fortunate to have the kind of staff. They must treasure them.

Of late, however, the faithful-to-a-fault watchman has shown signs of some restlessness. He has apparently started taking an hour or two off work to peddle fruit in the neighbourhood. Conduct unbecoming such a loyal servant, if you ask me. What is his hurry? It’s only been 18 years. He has a career ahead of him. As for his cheque, he will surely get it some day.

Ours are the times of the impatient. Few of us appreciate the bliss that is waiting. Look at our literary classics and you will find the true, uncomplaining lovers aplenty. Meer’s ghazals mention one who has had only a glimpse of the beloved, he is not even sure when. There is no telling when, if ever, he will catch a second glimpse.

Even in modern times the subject has not been abandoned. Just look at Samuel Becket’s famous play Waiting for Godot. The wait has gone on and on and there is no sign of the mysterious Godot. Tired, one of the characters finally proposes that they abandon the wait, the other agrees. But then, while they had been standing up to this point, they sit down and do not move until the curtain finally drops.

This Munir Ahmed of the rural health centre appears to be a character right out of the play who has strayed away from Paris and somehow landed in Chiniot. Notice how longingly he says he does not even remember the last time he was paid a wage. To his credit, he has not given up hope – or the job.

This far, it has been about an individual. But have we not seen whole nations waiting for a great deliverer? Only yesterday, a friend was telling me about The Man who will come and end all Pakistan’s ills. I wanted to know when. But he told me to have patience and dwelled for a while on its virtues. Once Godot arrives, I concluded, so will our deliverer.

Of course, I must admit to being an impatient person. But our beloved rural health centre at Chiniot has Munir Ahmed, the epitome of patience and gratitude. It’s been just 18 years. He may as well wait for another 18. Godot is bound to arrive and put an end to the waiting – for him and for us all.

*Translated from Urdu

Published in The Express Tribune.

Intezar Hussain

Intezaar Hussain

An eminent Urdu fiction writer who writes short stories and novels, and also columns for newspapers in English.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

Comments are closed.