Story 26: Work is worship
Abdul Khan wiped the drop of sweat trickling down his brow. After the pleasant month of March, temperatures were beginning to rise in Delhi. But it was nowhere as bad as his native village in Uttar Pradesh. Bhai wahan ki to garmi baat hi kuch aur hai. Aur wahan ke aam ki bhi. His mouth watered at the memory.
“Which world are you lost in,” snapped the supervisor. “Focus on your work!”
Abdul was startled out of his reverie. His fingers had momentarily stopped sewing buttons. Mentally, he kicked himself. This job was precious – he could not afford to lose it. Never mind if his eyes were tired, or fingers stiff. Living like this, far away from home and family, was not his choice. But he was determined to make it out of here. With something to show for it.
Ammi jaan had begged him not to leave. He did look, quite desperately, for a job. Any job. But what decent option is available in such a backward area? There are government schemes like MNREGA but should a 12th pass chap like him be doing sadak banane ka kaam? What was the point of passing exams, getting an education?
It was then that he decided, sheher to jaana padega. I will earn enough every month to send something back home. That’s what people say. If that useless Babban Sheikh can do it, why not me?
Reluctantly, ammi gave him dua, dawa and khaane ka dabba. And off he went, in an unreserved compartment of an Indian Railways coach, towards destination Dilli.
And here he was, two years later. Things had not worked out quite the way Abdul had planned. He wasn’t doing a job worthy of a graduate. But he had 3 square meals, and a roof over his head.
“Hamesha achcha socho,” Ammi used to say. And that’s what kept Abdul going.
This job, in which he had to sit and do mindless work for hours, was something to be grateful for. The sookhi roti and dal he ate for lunch day after day, there was no taste to it. But it kept him alive. The image of Nazneen in a white salwar kameez, the girl he secretly liked and hoped to marry someday, brought solace in his worst moments. When he wanted to run away from this place…
“Abdul!” barked the supervisor. “Madam ne bulaya hai. Come with me.”
His co-workers stared, as Abdul walked out of the karkhaana, down the corridor, to Madam’s office. She was a legendary figure, not many had a chance to meet her personally. Abdul considered himself lucky. Besides, jab maine koi galat kaam kiya hi nahi, to darna kyun. When he was ushered in to the large office, he looked Madam in the eye with confidence.
She was poring over some papers, but looked up and met his gaze. And liked what she saw. A young man with no fear, no insolence. His work record was impeccable – no rowdy behaviour, always exceeding the target. Managing human resources was a huge challenge. This one had a spark of potential…
It was a tough job, giving these angry young men some sense of agency, some hope. Often, it failed but she kept trying anyway.
“Abdul, tumhara kaam acchha hai aur padhe likhe hue bhi ho. We have a new job in mind for you.”
It was in an adjacent unit, which made snacks and potato chips. Abdul would be in charge of the production diary. Recording the wastage of potatoes, the number of bags of chips sealed per day. And all other data pertaining to the snacks factory. This would be in addition to working on the assembly line, so it was extra effort. With only slightly more pay.
But Abdul was happy. It was a sign of progress! Kisi na kisi din achche din aayenge. I will go back to the village, to my Ammi jaan. To Nazneen.
Till then I will survive. Inshallah.
In April 2020, Abdul was released from Tihar jail, on emergency parole, along with 4000 undertrials. Thanks to the coronavirus scare.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” Madam warned them. Go home, rest, stay in quarantine, enjoy this time with your family. “
Abdul knew he would do just that. He could waste his life plotting revenge against the seth who had falsely implicated him, or serve his time and start afresh.
For unlike the majority, Abdul had already made his escape. From the most powerful prison – the prison of the mind.
Don’t miss the audio file below: Inside the Author’s Mind – Why I wrote ‘Work is Worship’
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