Stories about servants

The broken and tormented Kinzas and Tayyabas of Pakistan, waiting for a train that never comes

If you live in Pakistan, you must have frequently come across a very young child accompanying an elite family, looking like they don’t belong. What differentiates the child from the ‘elite’ family is the fact that while they dress modestly enough to not look poor and become a source of embarrassment for the family, they are also not dressed extravagantly, so there remains a marked difference highlighting who is the master and who is the servant.  This has become a trend in Pakistan, where you see children accompanying adult individuals and carrying either their bags or their babies for them. Apparently, this shows their ...

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The “Maasi” competition only celebrated the weaknesses of our domestic help by using them as props for a privilege-fest

We had a helper at home who we called maasi (maid). We never thought it was wrong or degrading. That was up until someone called me that word during a fight and I felt deeply wronged. I was 14, easily hurt, and crying about it to someone and they consoled me by saying, “Maa-si: Maa (mother) and si (like). Being a maasi means like a mother. What is there to cry about?” That stopped my tears momentarily and gave me something to think about. Mai. Maasi. Kaam waali. Bhangan. Choori – these aren’t just job titles designated for the lowest and the most disenfranchised women of our country; ...

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A crushed rose

She sat on the steps outside the kitchen door, stroking the stalk of a beautiful rose that she had plucked from the garden earlier that morning, with a faint smile playing across her lips. From here, Kola could gaze out over the gardens that fronted the houses with low walls separating them from one another. She sat there, mesmerised by the surrounding beauty and devouring the sights of the big houses in the neighbourhood, one of many luxuries which she had never had to herself. Kola had started working as a house cleaner at a very young age, following in ...

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The big Kamal confession: What happens next?

It takes exceptional courage to speak out against power abuse in Pakistan. To expose someone infamous for violent politics. To challenge the status quo. Regardless of the authenticity of claims, Mustafa Kamal exhibited extraordinary courage in an unprecedented tirade against the party’s chief Altaf Hussain. He accused him of working against the state and deceiving people of Pakistan. He exposed the internal workings of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and even made a revelation about the party’s alleged links with Indian spy agency RAW. Interestingly, there was nothing too shocking about the revelations. It all sounds like familiar stories. A recent BBC report had also raised ...

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Dear elites: Your servants have rights, treat them like humans

As a result of my ancestors having achieved affluence, my early childhood years were relatively privileged – spent in an expansive house in Peshawar with my siblings, pets, pomp and delusions of grandeur. We had many servants – someone to cook the meals, someone to bring the dishes to the table, someone to drive and maintain the cars, someone to wash the clothes, someone to sweep the floors, someone to feed the dogs, someone to trim the hedges and someone to guard the gate; all of whom collectively pandered to the nauseating imperial sensibilities that dominated the lifestyle of the rich. Having the ...

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Prince Faisal’s visit to Pakistan

“I have not come here for any sort of deal with regards to the former president, Pervez Musharraf,” Prince Faisal declared to the media. He was sick and tired of these countless questions about his supposed involvement to get Musharraf out. He simply did not care – he wasn’t even sure why he was in this godforsaken country. The king and some advisors had decided that he had to go, and so he was here, just a man who was going to shake some hands, smile to the cameras, have some whiskey and go back. Even the two days he had to ...

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Are your maid and driver ‘dirty’ because they work for you?

A woman snatched a fork from the hands of another woman just as she was about to eat at a dinner recently. The other woman did not flinch nor retaliate. In fact, she went on to accept an entire set of different dinnerware from the plate to the glass. That’s an extraordinarily polite guest, I noted. Except this woman was not a guest. The woman was a domestic servant. No one paused to notice what happened, no one found it strange. There is a difference we have with the people that work for us. We do not eat in the same plates as them and cannot ...

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Young Fatima’s resilience

She is very young. Her laughter flows like music through the windows of my room, as she plays with other children in the backyard of the house, where she works as a maid. When the ball lands at our place, she humbly requests to throw it back so they can continue with their game. Her voice so endearing; the sound of her giggles warms my heart, but her happiness is usually short lived. In the morning, when other children are busy getting ready for school, she washes dishes, even though her chin reaches just a few inches above the washbasin. She ...

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The day my husband was kidnapped

It was like any other Friday night. My husband and I were contemplating dinner plans. Before we went out, Hasan decided to run a few errands, while I took my time getting ready before our date. Half an hour went by and I decided to call him, “Where are you?” “I’m with my friends, I’ll talk to you later” and hung up. I called back instantly and screamed, “Excuse me if you forgot, but we had dinner plans 20 minutes ago”, to which he replied “Laila, call the doctor, mom is unwell.” He hung up, yet again. I kept asking myself why he would say that ...

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Civil servants with a conscience

Civil servants are considered to be the engine of any state machinery and their performance has a direct link with the building of a nation. It has been observed that the vested interests of the top hierarchy itself are a key hurdle in many cases to ensure good governance by victimising efficient, committed and honest public servants in one way or the other. The role of the civil servants of Pakistan has been time and again controversial in Pakistan, more or less due to being misused by the ruling elites. Victimisation of bureaucrats has been on the rise, and it ...

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