Poor Man’s Burden

Posted on May 24, 2015



Poor Man’s Burden By Farrukh Khan Pitafi

The whole world is going to the dogs. Officially so. Angry hordes are winning in almost every capital. Well, with the exception of London, where our British friends surprised us by making the most prudent choice possible. When the poor get angry, you understand it. Poverty does strange things to people. But when the rich choose to go mad, you consider it to be the signs of the times and throw in the towel.

Pakistan’s case is no different. I have seen people being able to find happiness even in grinding poverty. They struggle and laugh, confront tragedies and overcome them. I am not saying life is a bed of roses. Of course, it is not. People’s actual source of strength is one word: hope. As long as there is hope they will fight. At a very basic level you do see upward mobility within the lower class. People manage to buy a shop or multiply the number of cabs they own. But whining is not a hallmark of this class. Yes, you will find an odd one here or there incessantly complaining or begging but you cannot call that one person an ambassador of an entire class.

Now let us go to the place where actual whining does take place. Surprise, surprise among the richest of the country. I know there are those who are different among the rich also. I respect them and am not talking about them. But a decent sample of this class brings to your attention a huge number of whiners. Sit with them when they are relaxed and they will complain about this and that. Oh the country’s system is broken, how no one wants to work here and basically how primitive we are as a nation. This coming from people who have never known hard labour, real pain, real hunger or any aspect of poverty. In this class it is customary to complain about your country’s political system. Despite having studied at Stanford, Yale, Harvard or Oxford, they tell you why what passes for democracy in this country cannot be remotely considered true democracy. I have seen members of renowned business dynasties question the rationale of political dynasties. And at the end of a prolonged discussion, they conclude that we need a strongman like the last dictator.

One more interesting aspect of such discussions is that our rich friends talk too much of the poor man’s problems. I can tell you that many fell in love with the people sitting in Tahirul Qadri’s dharna in a heartbeat. It was the most adorable show of organised poverty, where masses sit around their benefactors and are ready to die just to please him. That is true democracy. Poor at their rightful place. Outside the container. Vulnerable. Hungry. But singing your hymns. In a similar drawing room discussion, I asked a proponent of ‘true democracy’ what became of his recent manufacturing venture. I was told it has to be shut down. Reason? Well the labour union was getting out of hand. It was demanding perks hitherto unheard of. That they have to be kept in their place. I couldn’t resist asking a question out of force of habit: was there any difference between the common man who needs empowerment and the workers demanding some basic rights? Yes, both are totally different, came the terse reply. The next thing I knew our ‘true democrat’ collected his belongings and left without saying another word.

What is the moral of the story? That the rich complain and whine because they have the luxury to do so. For the poor, every moment is a struggle for survival. The poor can take care of themselves. If the institutions in society are strengthened and start delivering, the poor can become rich one day. So your complaints about the quality of the country’s political class are irrelevant. What matters is the due process and the electoral cycle. You elect a government, learn from your mistakes for five years and then on Election Day remove it if you don’t like the performance. For a poor man or woman, five years isn’t that long a period. For the rich it might be. Rising anger in our country is due to the affluent class’ lack of grasp of this simple fact. The impatience of the rich is now threatening to rob the poor of their main source of strength: hope. More anger then?

Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2015.