Scratching your life away.
My father is a professor. He’s a highly accomplish man who has marked his career with awards and medals. No one did it for him, he did it all himself. His parents were both dead before he was five and he practically raised himself out of poverty. When he got a job in Jeddah in the university there, I was born a year later. Prior to that, both my parents lived a very difficult live.
When I was about 12, my father took us back to the village he was born. It’s in a Godforsaken desert in the north of the country, where little grows out from the ground and most people are hopelessly poor. That was the first time I saw my uncle – my father’s brother. He is a shy sort, very unobtrusive and gentle. He looks vaguely like my father, but unlike my father, he is not overburdened with intelligence, if you know what I mean.
My uncle doesn’t have job. He’s illiterate and has a bad case of osteoarthritis. Most of his income comes from growing crops in the little land that he has, and that isn’t much. My father helps him out regularly with money.
My uncle has 11 kids. All from one wife. And there are more on the way. When my father, occasionally raises the issue of the number of kids he has, the response is not very positive. The consensus amongst the people in the village is that if God wants to give them more children, then He will take responsibility for feeding them too. So you see, it’s all God’s blessings, not their own stupidity, that results in such families. The kids don’t have much of an education, are often undernourished and are bound to be trapped in the same life of poverty their parents are in now.
During the off-season, when the crops have been planted and there is nothing to do but wait for them to grow, the daily routine of most in the village consists the following:
Waking up from sleep.
Going to sleep.
Sitting in the chowk
with the other men and talking.
Sleeping in the chowk.
Waking up from sleep in the chowk.
Harassing the wives for favors.
There are so many ways they could make themselves useful in the village. They could finish the sewer line they started so that the wastewater from the houses no longer snakes across their streets. But no, such activities are the government’s job, not theirs. They could get a job. But no someone has to stay back and do the scratching.
It’s argued that these people are stuck in poverty and for this reason, much cannot be expected of them. But shouldn’t they take responsibility for their own condition? They don’t work hard in the first place, so don’t they deserve to be where they are? How much is due to the poverty they were born into, and how much due to their own laziness? I’m coming to think that for many such people, even if opportunities present themselves, they will make little use of them. Their biggest setbacks are self-inflicted. Perhaps when Jinnah used to say ‘Work, work and more work,’ he was saying it with a certain degree of exasperation.