Discussing the adverse effects of lockdown on economy, the writer suggests that it is prime time to think about labor intensive projects, promotion of natural resilience mechanisms, and upholding ideas of sustainability
By Zaffar Junejo
Today, our neighborhood transformer blasted. Our home was filled with plastic burning smell, and the power supply stopped. I went out to find an electrician. I thought I wouldn’t find one. I reached Nasim Nagar Chowk, Qasimabad and headed to the electric shop, from where I usually buy the electric blubs, capacitors and belts for the electric motor. I reached the shop, it was closed. But three persons at a gap of the suggested social distance were sitting at the shop’s stairs. I asked them about the electrician. One of them responded, and asked, ‘what is the problem?’ I told the problem. They discussed with each other and one of them agreed to accompany me. I assumed all of them were electricians. He followed me on his motor bike. We reached, and he started the work. During the work, he also talked about the lockdown days. I said how these lockdown days are affecting his earning. He instantly uttered, ‘Allah Jo Shukur Aa.’ In a lighter mood I said, ‘Generally in Sindh these words communicate two meanings – ‘whatever the meager resources God has given, I am thankful. The other meaning of the same words state, ‘God has given me in abundance, I am Thankful.’ So, in your case which is the correct state?’ He tightened the screws of the main board, and delicately kept the electric tester in his pocket, and responded that last one is correct in his case.
The response, teased me, so I asked how it is happening? He gave me reply in a block sentence ‘if there is electricity, there is work’ and furnished the extended sentence – ‘Saeen offices and shops are closed. But houses are opened, so there is work.’ He took my silence as agreement with his views. So, he asked ‘Saeen Twanahan Bbhudho Muhenja Sathi Chha Peya Chawan (Sir, Did you hear, what my colleagues were saying?’ I moved my head in no. He told that they said to him that they are tired, so asked him to perform the job. I enquired, about the other laborers. He told that Kiryana shops, hospitals, medical stores, vegetable vendors, milk shops are open. Therefore, Mazdoor (laborers) associated with these outlets are on job, and in demand. But, the hotel people are in loss, and demand of milk is also reduced. He shared another insight that in Qasimabad, services for air-conditioner, television, generator, electric motor, solar panel, solar battery, car, cable and carpenter are available on cell phone. But Mistri (mechanic/ electrician) must have motor bike, Hunar (skill) and Neeyat (will) for earning. Then, he could not die – ‘Bhali Poe Bam Pia Wasan’ (even there is situation like of carpet-bombing). I countered him, and told that present situation is not normal. So, there must be less demand for these skilled people. He agreed, but added ‘Kharch Be Ghatia Ahin’ (expenditures are also lessened). He told the long story. But cutting it into short, he said ‘before the coronavirus days, he was listed with an electric shop, and he was asked to convince the customers to buy the electric items from there, and second he was bound to give certain percentage from earned amount to that shop owner. Now, I operate from my home, and jobs are assigned to me through the cell phone. So, I save the amount which I used to give the shop owner. Another aspect of the saving is the closure of hotels. He told that before this lockdown most of his friends used to sit at local Lali Ji Hotel, and spend at least Rs.350 to Rs.500 on tea, and it was day’s regular feature. Now that amount is also being saved. I asked him that what about the daily-wagers? He interrupted me and abruptly asked, ‘Sain, mazdoorn Ji Galh Tha Kayo Na (Sir, you are talking about the construction workers?) ‘Yes,’ I responded. He told, ‘Saeen Kam Ta Hale Peo (Saeen, all construction sites are opened.) He further included that only Peno (beggars), Totti (ultra-lazy), Losi (unprincipled) and Adh-Parrheya (incompetent-just degree holders) are crying for earnings and jobs.’ I partially, agreed. He cursed Qasimabad’s well-off residents and charged them that they are the ones who have promoted beggary in Qasimabad, and more than half of these beggars are petty thieves, and bootleggers. I wanted to end the conversation. So, I asked him to suggest the solution. He proposed an interesting idea that there should be policy about the opening of mosques and tea houses. ‘But, how it could be done,’ I checked him. ‘Saeen, Sarkar Andazo lagae ta Ghanna Nimazi Ahen and Ghanna Hotlae Ahen, Aen issue perwana (Saeen the Government should calculate the average of Mosque-goers and Hotel-goers, and issue permits). I smiled, he took it positively, and told that ‘Je Car Aen Dhokarr Ahen Ta har Shae Hazur Hae’ (If there is money and car, everything is possible), He paused and continued, Hanne phone, bbephethea and Charphethe, Dunia Ee Bhee tabdeel Kare Chadhee Ahe, Saeen (Sir, now cell, phone, motor bike and car [personal transport] have changed the world). He ended the conversation, announced that the task is finished and demanded Rs.1000/-. He restored our electricity, and told that fridge, electric motor, one fan and three bulbs and their holders and button are burned.
The ideas of this smart electrician induced me to know situation of villages. I called one of my friends. And asked him about the situation, his told story to some extent was similar with Qasiamabad’s electrician. He told me that there is no change in services, the electricity’s load shedding is the same and the Sui gas schedule is the usual. The farmers are engaged in the harvesting and threshing. However, some people who were working in towns (Khairpur Nathan Shah, Dadu) are at home, the government employees (primary teachers and other petty employees) are getting salaries and hotels are closed. He was of the view that there would be no such crash (financial) whatever being aired on the television channels. However, he believed poor people, who are living in Katchiabadis, perhaps at initial phase face some challenges. But within weeks’ time they would come with their own survival strategies. It is so, because they are most creative people. He asked me that have I checked ‘who is behind these hand-made masks and sanitizers, which are being sold in almost all types of general and medical stores?’ He didn’t wait for my reply. He shared some names of his acquaintances, who are living in Katchhiabadis, they are also making sanitizers and selling in market with a quite abnormal margin. I asked him, so in the villages, who is at the loss? He said, none. However, there is the stress, and its big share goes to ‘Pahreen Tarek Ja Qatari’ (men who wait for first date of month, and help their sisters or women folk to get salaries from National Banks) and Wanda (hotel-goers). I needed more explanation, so I asked why these people would suffer more. ‘Because, uncertainty has changed the priorities’, he told. Laughingly, he told that closer of Dargahs and Masjids has dented the myth belief. But, he was of the view that fear would make the people more religious, because our media and state sell religion. He ended the call with information that his cell phone’s battery is going to die.
Now I had two personal opinions. One was day-earner and other was farmer. Both shared their context. But I couldn’t jump on conclusions, and generalize because both are narrow views as well as local observations. We must have a considerable data to generalize. The present situation reminded me the year, when Pakistan and India showed their nuclear capacities. At those times, it was generally viewed that both countries’ economy would be shambled. Factually, both countries’ economy was affected and reshaped. But there was no upheaval and mass-disturbances. Why it happened, there may be more than one reasons. But Indian economists responded that Indian economy’s scale was large, it was diversified, and non-dependent to highly organized urban development models. So, Indian economy was capable for resilience, and its diversified sources gave it a natural cushion to sustain the shock which occurred through bans and cancellation of the international agreements. However, about Pakistan, I have not listened any idea, which has set the context of those troubled times. Now, it is prime time to think about labor intensive projects, promotion of natural resilience mechanisms, and uphold ideas of sustainability, and these must include the species and ecosystems.
(Zaffar Junejo, Ph.D. Scholar, Department of History, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur – The areas of interest: Peasants’ Studies, Social History, Cultural History, Colonial and Post-Colonial Periods)
For writer’s previous blog click on Sindh Courier