Braving all odds of life, Ghulam Qasim dares dream small

PIR Wadhai fruit and vegetable market blew up with a massive bang on March 14. While dozens suffered injuries, 15 lost their lives. Islamabad trembled in shock. Security agencies swung into action to secure the federal capital.
Hundreds of loaders and labourers felt insecure too, in more than one ways. Those who lost lives left behind grim reminders of the state’s indifference. Neither their employers offered some money as compensation nor did the state bother to rehabilitate the grieving families and orphaned children. “Exactly then I decided to quit working in this market as a laborer. I knew they won’t dispatch my body to Jatoi, near Muzafargarh. My three daughters may have waited for me forever,” recalls Ghulam Qasim. At 41, this slender but sturdy Baloch began to wash cars, at a safe distance from bustling and vulnerable fruit market.
“I feel secure here. Car washing is easy and less tiring,” he explains, hastening to add that it’s less rewarding too. The downside notwithstanding, Ghulam Qasim gets work every day. He spends Rs 150 for breakfast, lunch and dinner and saves around 400 each to feed five mouths at home. Besides his three daughters and wife, the mother-in-law also lives in his house. Tailor by profession, Ghulam Qasim has had his good days too. “When there were no power cuts and terrorism, our garments industry was doing great. I used to work overtime,” he remembers. At the age of 24, he moved to Karachi to work in a garment factory that produced ready-to-wear clothes for export.
Someone from his shift got a job in Faisalabad and invited many of them to work there. Compared to Karachi, the garment capital of the nation was much safer and also closer to his home. “I happily moved there and worked really hard. I symbolised success for my family and the village.” Meanwhile, Ghulam Qasim got married and had to move to Multan where the work was not bad at all. Soon came the hard times. Pervez Musharraf had embraced America and the war against terror fully by 2004. “The factories started to close down. Our clients were not interested to work with us due to Pakistan’s poor image,” he says. The owner slashed the labour and being a latent entry, the ax fell on him.
Instead of returning to the cotton fields of the village’s feudal, he bought a train ticket to Islamabad. “I was lucky to get the job of a security guard in ERRA which came with food and accommodation. But I was away from my family and parents.” By the time, he had been blessed with two daughters. However, his job contract expired despite promises of its renewal. “My wife was pregnant and we were hoping for a son, this time,” he recollects. He was blessed with another daughter, the third one. Soon, his wife was found infected with Hepatitis C, a disease commonly prevalent in lower social strata.
“Each day is like a mountain to me. I can’t afford her medical tests done for an expert opinion. Then I lose my daily labour too while attending to my family in a hospital.” Ghulam Qasim has consulted a doctor in Islamabad about his wife’s ailment. “I wash his car every second day. I told him the symptoms and he wrote a prescription for her.” He does not even know the physician’s specialisation. “Believe me, she is doing much better now,” he says in his defence. Qasim says it is still better than being treated by hakeems. Like countless other daily labourers, life comes with newer and tougher challenges every day. “For a light bulb and a fan, we have to pay Rs 1,000 as electricity bill. Our family of five consumes five kilogrammes wheat flour daily,” he explains. In today’s Pakistan, 40 kilogrammes of the nation’s staple food – wheat flour – cost Rs 2,000. Ghulam Qasim must be spending Rs 8,000 for bread alone. “Now no one gives free vegetables in the village,” he complains.
Besides his wife’s treatment for Hepatitis C, he desperately needs money for his daughters’ education. “The public schools don’t even teach them how to write basic Urdu or English. I need to educate them so they are good citizens and helpful wives.” Qasim thinks that he needs to start saving money for the elder one’s dowry. “She is 14 and I have nothing in savings. For her education and wedding, I can’t go begging. I must find some good work.”

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