A day in the life of 78-year-old Riaz

Published: May 30, 2013
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Riaz can not afford better cigarettes any more. He buys the rejected 20-rupee packet. It harms his heart, but like he cares. PHOTO: AFP

It’s Monday morning. The alarm has started wailing in its almost cynical tone as per the daily routine. It is time for Riaz to drag himself out of bed and face another listless and robotic day at work. The tea is cold as usual and the bread two days stale.

Living in a locality bearing the brunt of both the electric and gas loadshedding means the water never really reaches a point of warmth, let alone the boiling point. Baked bread is too expensive a luxury so this stale piece must do.

Upon reaching work, the young supervisor starts barking orders at all the company drivers. He must be at least a third of Riaz’s age. Riaz turned 78 last month. Not that it mattered – his birthday or anybody’s birthday, except the Sahib Jis. They could afford to celebrate it by cutting a cake and distributing it amongst their colleagues. Luckily enough, there would also be a slice for Riaz because he was the one who was usually assigned the task of going and buying it.

Riaz, 78, and heavy set, with a voice box almost towards its end thanks to the 30-40 cigarettes a day – and not a good brand like Gold Leaf like he used to have in the old days. It was unaffordable now – it was time for a brand for the lesser Sahib Jis perhaps. He must make do with the cheap Rs20 packets which are probably imported here as rejected quality from the rest of the world.

“Kya karein aur, Sahib Ji, iss may kamaz kam kuch tou sukoon milta hay. Iss say dil ko dard pohanchay tou kiya hua… Uss kay liye tou roz hee line lagi hoti hay.”

(What can I do, Sahib Ji? This comforts me at least a little bit. So what if it harms my heart? As if that doesn’t happen anyway.)

He remembers saying this to one of the younger Sahib Ji’s from out of town once.

Riaz has seen better days, when the sun didn’t feel as hot. Loadshedding wasn’t really an everyday word. Even if someone younger then you was your boss or supervisor, the respect was guaranteed. Daily expenses were well within his reach– well enough to afford him a good weekend at Capri cinema or halwa puri breakfast on Sundays – sometimes both, depending on the mood and not the money. But those days are gone. They are in the past.

He has seen life outside of Pakistan – India, Emirates and even Saudi Arabia, the holy land. He had even met the great Amitabh Bachchan, whose movies had been a prime source of entertainment many years ago.

“Mera dost thaa wahan bombay may. Uss nay baat cheet karkay 15 minute kee meeting set karwai thee Bachan sb say. Chai phee thee unn kay saath” 

(I had a friend in Bombay. I talked him into helping me meet Amitabh for 15 minutes. I had tea with him.)

The moment for instant fame in the mohalla. For those who didn’t believe him, Riaz proudly showed his autographed post card. A wry smile forming on his face as he remembers this.

Oh how he wishes for the old days to return. He misses the respect, the better life and the pride of being a company driver in a large multinational firm. He misses being the talk of the mohallah.

But instead he is brought back to reality by the young disrespectful supervisor who continues to bark orders into Riaz’s face.

“Riaz, company tujhay agar hamdardi may retirement age say bhee agay chala rahi hay iska yay matlab nahi kay may tujhay araam say baith kar totay urranay dunga. Yahan araam karnay nahi ata! Kaam kar!” 

(Riaz, if the company sympathises with you and lets you work past your retirement age, that does not mean I will let you sit here and have a jolly old time. You don’t come to relax! Get to work!)

Riaz trudges himself towards the company car. He starts the engine thinking of the day’s assigned duty. He also thinks that maybe death will come to his rescue, but he thinks about it every day.

He wonders if he will have to invite death.

There is a thunderous noise and it a crowd gathers immediately.

Riaz has driven the car in to the office wall, in the process running over the supervisor’s table and chair and what seem to be his Sahib ji’s legs underneath the car.

Life just won’t stop dealing him blows, will it?

Read more by Shiraz here, or follow him on Twitter @sammywiseguy85   

Shiraz Abdullah Mahmood

Shiraz Abdullah Mahmood

The author is a marketeer by day and a blogger by most nights. He loves writing, football (Arsenal! Gunner since '99) and is a delusional romantic of the Pakistan cricket teams. Avid book reader, viewer of sitcoms and general fun lover! He tweets @sammywiseguy85

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